Q: We read your column about the importance of not declawing cats — or, as you put it, amputating their toes. We're convinced! Now our question is: What can we do to prevent our cats from scratching our furniture?
A: Multiple toe amputation, euphemistically called declawing, causes long-term medical and behavioral problems in cats. Readers who missed the Dec. 7 column you cited can read it at arkansasonline.com/31vet. [Ask the Vet columns also are archived on the ADG Families page.]
The best way to teach cats not to scratch furniture is to attract them to more appropriate surfaces through behavior modification and pheromones. Punishment is not effective.
Start by filling your home with a variety of cat scratchers, such as scratching posts and cat trees. Provide at least one more scratcher than the number of cats in your home. Position them near doors and windows and where your cats socialize with the family, nap and sleep.
Make sure each scratcher is tall enough or long enough that the cats can fully stretch their limbs and backs while scratching. The scratcher also must be stable so it won't topple over while the cat is using it.
Offer several surfaces, including sisal, corrugated cardboard scratching mats and thick, padded carpet. Some scratchers should be vertical, others tilted, still others horizontal.
Entice your cats to use them by covering the scratchers with catnip. Attract your kitties with toys, such as a fishing pole with a feather on the string or a stick with crinkly, plastic foil ribbons on the end.
Pheromones can also help. Apply Feliscratch paw pheromone to each scratcher to chemically lure your cats and visually signal where to scratch. Spray Feliway calming facial pheromone on furniture you want the cats to stop scratching.
Trimming claws at least once a month helps decrease destructive scratching. Plastic nail caps also work for some cats.
If your kitties persist despite these measures, apply double-stick tape or aluminum foil to surfaces they're scratching but shouldn't. If they still damage your furniture, a veterinarian board-certified in animal behavior will be able to help.
Q: Max, our 8-year-old German shepherd, was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma of the spleen. Our veterinarian removed his spleen and recommends chemotherapy. What causes hemangiosarcoma? Does chemotherapy help?
A: I'm sorry to hear about Max's hemangiosarcoma, which is a blood (hem-) vessel (-angio-) cancer (-sarcoma).
Since hemangiosarcoma forms in blood vessels, it can occur anywhere in the body. The spleen is the usual location, but other common sites are the liver, the heart's right atrium and sometimes even the skin or just beneath the skin. Unfortunately, hemangiosarcoma quickly spreads through the blood to other parts of the body.
Two-thirds of spleen masses are cancer, and two-thirds of those are hemangiosarcoma. The only way to determine whether a spleen mass is cancerous or benign is to biopsy it, as your veterinarian did.
The cause of hemangiosarcoma is unknown, as it is for most cancers. However, dogs that are middle-aged and older are at increased risk, as are large-breed dogs, especially German shepherds, golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers.
There could be no obvious clinical signs, or the dog could show decreased energy, poor appetite, pale gums or an enlarging belly, because the tumor is growing or oozing blood into the abdomen.
Chemotherapy is effective at prolonging life, but not for long. Typical survival time after removal of the spleen is one to three months. Post-operative chemotherapy lengthens survival to six to nine months. Yunnan baiyao, a popular Chinese herb, can reduce tumor bleeding, extending survival even farther. Still, fewer than 10% of dogs are alive one year after diagnosis.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at