Healthy Winter Walking


By Michelle Mullins, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP

If you're hoping to get your pet in better shape, the Gentle Leader Headcollar is a great place to start!

If you’re hoping to get your pet in better shape, the Gentle Leader Headcollar is a great place to start!

So yet again I have made a health related New Year’s resolution. Considering 80% of resolutions are history by January 31st, I decided to try a different approach this year. My resolution involves the health of my dog. I’d do anything for my dogs, and one of my furry friends is looking a bit chunky monkey. I’ve made excuses for him.  He’s old, has arthritis and the cold bothers him, but those really are excuses. He is still a fun loving boy, and it’s my job to take the best care of him, so my resolution is to get him healthy.  Despite the cold, we are going to put on our coats and his Gentle Leader® and hit the walking trails! He used to be the worst kind of pulling machine on walks until we found the Gentle Leader Headcollar. I’ve used it ever since, even though with it I trained him to walk politely, and was then able to fade it out and just use a regular collar or harness. I went back to the Gentle Leader for a couple of reasons. My dog is somewhat fearful of new people and dogs, and the Gentle Leader seems to have a calming effect on him. I’ve seen and heard of this effect on other dogs as well, and while every dog doesn’t react this way, it is great when it does help. The other reason is due to the gentle control it provides, when needed, like when he sees a SQUIRREL! We both enjoy walks more with the Gentle Leader, and I’m more willing to take him.

I’ve worked with many dogs, and for pulling machines, the Gentle Leader is a fantastic solution.

The most important thing for your pup is to love putting on the Gentle Leader and going for a walk. Taking time to acclimate your pup to wearing the Gentle Leader is the best advice I can give you. I mean, your dog has probably been pulling you down the street for quite some time, so will a few extra days really make a difference?

We appreciate making choices rather than being forced into something. I’m all about giving dogs choices as well. So get out your Gentle Leader and some very small yummy treats, like bits of romano cheese, hotdog or peanut butter on a spoon. Hold the nose loop open and invite your dog to place his snout through the loop. When your dog puts his nose even partially in the loop, say “yes,” and give him a treat. No pressure, just let him choose. If he doesn’t move toward the headcollar, just remove the Gentle Leader for a few seconds and try again. You may simply try getting the dog to just touch the Gentle Leader at first. Remember, you are not in a hurry.

Practice this once or twice a day just before dinner so your dog is hungry. To avoid adding extra calories to their daily intake, replace a portion of their regular meal with the treats you use for this training. Once he is happily putting his nose into the loop you can begin fastening the neck strap and letting him eat his dinner with the Gentle Leader on. Take it off at the end of the meal. This will help your dog associate the Gentle Leader with something they like – dinner! Repeat this until your dog acts happy and excited to put on the Gentle Leader for dinner, and then repeat it two more days.

In days you will be ready to begin transitioning to wearing the Gentle Leader during walks.

Ensure proper fit of the headcollar before using it on a walk.

Ensure proper fit of the headcollar before using it on a walk.

Let’s review the proper fit.

  • The neck strap should be high and snug on your dog, just behind the ears. It should be snug enough so it does not rotate. This will keep it from rubbing or chafing.
  • The nose loop should fit loose enough so the strap can slide down to the fleshy part of the dog’s nose but it won’t come off over the snout. The dog should be able to open its mouth normally.

Now that the fit is correct the next very important part of this equation is how you handle the leash.

Whenever you are walking your dog, think about the name of this product – Gentle Leader. You want to gently direct your dog to walk near you and reward him with a loose leash and a tasty treat when he does. Be very conscious about keeping a loose leash as much as possible. This will help the training equipment be part of the communication between you and the dog instead of an annoying, new thing on their face.

You can check out our Gentle Leader video showing all the steps here.

Of course each person and dog will have a different experience. I have three dogs, and each of them reacted differently to the Gentle Leader and with getting acclimated to wearing it.  If you ever need to talk with someone here at Petsafe give us a call, we are here to help.

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Health Benefits of Walking Your Dog



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Take a Walk: Step Into a Healthier Family in 2014

Sarah with son Dylan and pets Sheeba and Tyson.

Sarah with son Dylan and pets Sheeba and Tyson.

By Sarah Folmar, Brand Communications Specialist

I love the movies. There are so many magical events that happen in films that are so much more glamorous than in regular non-movie world. For instance, did you know that in movie world if you have a baby you are instantly transformed to having a healthy and fit post-baby body immediately after giving birth? Your kids are angels. And your dogs? They might as well model for all of the pet training videos out there. For those of us who live in the regular world, we know this is not the case.

So how can you continue to have a healthy lifestyle when kids and pets demand more of your attention? Take a walk. We do this when we need to calm down, get our thoughts together or just need a moment to ourselves. Taking a walk gets our minds in great shape. So why not use this practice to get ourselves in better physical shape, too? Walking doesn’t seem to be that complex, but you can build a better bond with you and your family by making the commitment to this simple daily task.

Find a routine – Sure, it’s winter. As long as the weather is acceptable for a comfortable walk (remember that if it’s too cold for you it is probably pretty cold for your pets), then go ahead and take one. Be consistent in the time that you choose to take your walks. Do your dogs do well with a brisk morning walk? Are the kids a little rowdy after school? Life will get in the way on many occasions, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t stick to the exact same routine each day. You will probably find that your dogs are sitting by the door waiting to go out at the time you normally walk though.

The Easy Walk Harness gives you and your dog a better walk!

The Easy Walk Harness gives you and your dog a better walk!

Start Slow and Be Patient – You may not think of walking as a vigorous exercise. As long as you aren’t hiking up Everest, it probably won’t be, but it can still be a great workout! Don’t be surprised if you are a little out of breath if you haven’t taken a long walk in quite some time. Start slowly. Remember that your dogs will need to learn how to walk without dragging you and your family members down the sidewalk. We have the Gentle Leader® Headcollar and Easy Walk® Harness available to help! If your dog is just having issues with pulling, the Easy Walk Harness is a great tool to prevent this unnecessary habit during walks. Sheeba, our Shiba Inu, is notorious for pulling. As if walking a stroller and two dogs through the neighborhood wasn’t crazy enough! She uses the Easy Walk Harness, and our walks are no longer a pull fest! If you are trying to correct other behaviors like lunging and jumping, the Gentle Leader will be a great tool to use. Make sure you are getting the proper fit with both options.

Incorporate the Family – Remember that if you haven’t been taking regular walks, your dogs and your kids probably haven’t either. Don’t get upset if it takes quite a few walks with the dogs before they seem to really be well behaved during the strolls.  If you have an infant or toddler, make sure to pack enough of your baby supplies to ensure you won’t have to just walk right back home. For older children, ask them about their day. Walks can be a great time to bond with your family. Maybe it’s just me, but walking while trying to text or check my social media accounts usually ends up in me tripping over a stick and breaking something. Walking with your family can guarantee a technology-free moment to bond and enjoy each other.

We hope that you have a healthy and memorable 2014. If you have any photos of your pet that you feel could use a wellness makeover this year, check out our Best Moments Photo Contest on our Facebook page for a chance to win a great wellness prize package.

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New Tricks for the New Year


By Roslyn McKenna, PetSafe Web Content Specialist

My dog’s New Year’s Resolution is to learn at least one new trick this year. It’s a good thing he got so many treats for Christmas for his clicker training! He’s already made a lot of progress learning Place/Bed. Does your dog need to add a new command to his bag of tricks too? Start your dog’s training with these 2 new tricks to teach your dog for the new year.


Get your dog to stay on his bed.

Get your dog to stay on his bed.

Doc is an “underfoot” dog. He likes to be where the action is, which means he’s often in the way. For example, if I’m cooking, Doc will lie down by the sink or the stove, so I have to step over him every time I go to stir the pot or wash my hands. To keep him out of the way, I’ve started to teach him to go to his bed when I say “Place.”


Place/Bed is a really easy trick to teach your dog.

  • Pick a spot you want your dog to go when you give the command. Put your dog’s bed or crate there (we’ll use a bed for this example).
  • Toss a treat on the bed.
  • When your dog goes over to it, click and give your dog another treat away from the bed.
  • Repeat until your dog starts to walk over to the bed to get the treat before you throw it.
  • Once your dog starts to go to the bed before you throw the treat, click and treat after your dog walks onto the bed.
  • Start by clicking when he puts 1 foot on the bed, then work up to all 4 feet on the bed.
  • Repeat in 10-minute sessions until he reliably goes over to the bed.

Now you need to pair the action with the command.

  • Pick a consistent command such as Place, Bed, Crate or Bedtime.
  • Say the command right as he gets on the bed, and click at the same time.
  • Repeat in 10-minute sessions.
  • Once your dog has associated the action and command, start saying the command before your dog touches the bed.
  • Repeat in 10-minute sessions until your dog goes over to the bed each time you say the command.

Next, chain the command with Down or Sit and Stay so your dog will go to the bed and stay there.

  • Give the command and wait until your dog is on the bed. Click and give a treat, but keep your dog on the bed.
  • Say Down/Sit (whichever you prefer) then Stay. Click and throw the treat away from the bed.
  • Repeat this combo until your dog does both automatically after you say Place.
  • (Optional) Practice in different places so you can use the trick anywhere. Move the bed a few inches away, then give the command. Practice in different rooms and different locations too. Repeat in 10-minute sessions until your dog goes over to the bed after you give the command no matter where the bed is.


A simple but helpful trick is to teach your dog to go to the bathroom on command. Before Doc had a consistent bathroom routine, Doc didn’t know the difference between potty time and playtime. When I took him outside for one last potty break before bed, Doc would go outside and stare at his ball until I threw it for him. He refused to pee until I threw the ball. If I hid the ball and tried to get him to go in the yard, he would just sit down on the grass. He didn’t know what I wanted him to do. It was frustrating for both of us.

Now Doc’s bathroom routine before bedtime is to go outside, do his business, then come back inside. No sniffing, no playing, just peeing. If he walks over to his tennis ball, I nudge him towards the grass and say “Go Potty.” I don’t throw the ball for him; I want to show him it’s bathroom time, not playtime.

I did my business, Mom. Now where’s my treat?

I did my business, Mom. Now where’s my treat?

Once he goes to the yard and starts to do his business, I say “Good boy, good potty,” so he knows that’s what I want him to do. You can easily turn this into a command with a clicker. When your dog starts to do his business, click when he’s almost done. That way he won’t come rushing back to you for his treat and forget to finish his business. You can also have separate commands for your dog’s #1 and #2. This technique works for potty training puppies too, or for teaching your dog to go to the bathroom in a specific place.

After Doc is finished, we go right inside and he gets a treat. He’s learned that the sooner he finishes his business, the sooner he gets “dessert,” so he doesn’t linger outside. This routine makes bedtime so much easier for both of us.

What tricks are you planning to teach your dog this year?

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Behind the Scenes: Dogs Helping at Work


By Andrick Buggs, PetSafe Video Coordinator

Is this what you picture when you think of our dogs at work?

Is this what you picture when you think of our dogs at work?

I love my job for a myriad of reasons, but one that stands out from time to time is when I walk in the office, and I am approached by one of our “resident dogs.” One in particular, and I’m sure you’ve seen him in some capacity or another is our beloved “Finn,” a French Bulldog whose life-sized personality can penetrate the hardest of hearts. His owner just so happens to be my boss, and they sit right behind me. As you can imagine, the fun never ends.

I remember when I first started working here, the idea of having your pet at work seemed like it would be counterproductive to the work environment, but it’s quite the contrary.  Having our four-legged buddies at work has made coming to the office conducive to a productive, fun and exciting environment.

Another great thing about having dogs in the office? It’s a good place to find talent for any upcoming video shoots. Finn even starred in our recent holiday deterrent shoot, along with Emmitt, another great office dog at PetSafe!

Even if you were an employee who didn’t have a dog when you first started working here, a good pat on the head to a resident office dog makes everything better.  No matter what type of day you are having, dogs seem to always have the right medicine for clearing the clouds. I have inherited two dogs since starting work at PetSafe. While my busy schedule doesn’t allow for me to always bring my pets to work, dogs like Finn and Cleo (a Pit Bull mix) in my work area seem to be a good temporary stand-in for my “Chorgi” (Faith) and my Westie-Schnauzer mix (Hope). If you own or work for a company that’s looking to jolt their work environment, trust me, the pets at work concept is not overrated…thank us later!

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Cold Weather Clothing for Your Pets


By Toni Gibson-Mark, KPA-CTP

Making sure dogs get enough exercise in the winter is super important!

Making sure dogs get enough exercise in the winter is super important!

There sure is truth to the lyric “The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful!”  In the winter time, it is so tempting to stay indoors with our pets because it can be very cold outside!  Although, the truth is that dogs need just as much exercise in the winter as they do in the warmer months.  That means taking them outside for walks and playtime is just as important as letting them romp around in the grass on the warm spring days.

As always, safety and comfort for our pets is a top priority, even when we are exercising our dogs outside.  Our Fido Fleece® coats serve that exact purpose!  With 9 designs and 15 sizes to choose from, there really is a coat for every dog.  The warm fleece material keeps the entire body warm, including the belly.  The collar-to-tail Velcro closure makes it easy to put on and take off the coat.  Even better, we carry certain sizes that are tailored to broad-chested dogs!


Fido Fleece coats are comfortable and stylish!

Fido Fleece coats are comfortable and stylish!

We also carry Fido Fleece® Booties.  These boots that are designed specifically for dogs keep feet warm and protected.  They stay on the dog’s feet using a hook-and-loop strap, and a draw cord with a toggle lock.  They come in a variety of sizes, and in red and black.  This is where practicality and fashion meet!

Booties keep feet warm and protected!

Booties keep feet warm and protected!

How do you know if your dog is a good candidate for these fleece jackets or booties?  Some dogs get colder easier than others.  Dogs with thick coats, such as Huskies, might be better able to handle cold temperatures than short-haired dogs, such as Chihuahuas.

Hairless dogs always need coats in the winter!

Hairless dogs always need coats in the winter!

A short-haired dog would be a great candidate for our Fido Fleece jackets or booties. Similarly, some dogs are better accustomed to cold temperatures.  If your dog regularly goes outside to tromp in the snow, a particularly cold day might not be that bad.  However, for dogs that spend most of their time indoors, the cold might be a shock to them.  Consider using a jacket or booties with dogs that don’t spend much time outside.

Pay attention to your dog’s body language outside.  Similar to humans, dogs shiver when they’re cold.  If you see your dog shivering, take him inside and use a fleece jacket the next time you go out.  If your dog is consistently lifting his paw, his feet might be cold.  This might be a good indication that the booties would be a good match.  Finally, your dog might whimper when he is cold.  If your dog is reluctant to move around as much and is whimpering, this could be an indication that he is too cold and could benefit from a jacket and/or booties.

It’s very important to pay attention to your dog’s comfort level.  As a general rule of thumb, remember this—if it’s too cold for you without a jacket, it very well might be too cold for your dog!  Consider a jacket for your dog whenever you would wear a jacket.

Making sure your dog is acclimated and comfortable with the jacket is the best thing you can do!

Making sure your dog is acclimated and comfortable with the jacket is the best thing you can do!

Some dogs get accustomed to jackets and booties quickly, while others need some acclimation time.  When you’re introducing a jacket or booties for the first time, do it slowly.  Let your dog sniff and become comfortable with the new clothing.  When you put the jackets or booties on your dog, pair it with lots of desirable things, like treats and praise.  Consider letting your dog eat his dinner while wearing the jacket or booties so that he associates the clothing with food.  Make sure he is completely comfortable with his new apparel before sending him off on an outdoor adventure—the only thing worse than a cold dog is a scared or uncomfortable cold dog!

With our Fido Fleece jackets and booties, your dog is sure to be prepared for the winter.  It’s our goal at Petsafe to make sure that your dogs are not only safe and comfortable, but that they’ll be in great fashion too!  Send us pictures of your dogs sporting our Fido Fleece jackets and booties—we’d love to see them!

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Get Fit With Your Pets


By Jim Tedford, Director of Animal Welfare Initiatives and Alliances  

By this point in time you are probably fed up with hearing about New Year’s resolutions.  Me too! I decided not to resolve to do anything in 2014!  Once you pass the half-century mark you may as well accept the fact that resolutions are really easy to make and very difficult to keep.

I suspect, though, that the most often made resolution is to get physically fit.  Everyone wants to lose weight and/or exercise more consistently.  And, in the aftermath of the holidays, it feels even more critical.  So we resolve to workout daily and eat nothing but lettuce…and, then we settle down for a long winter’s nap with a bag of corn chips and a six-pack of soda.

how to feed my pet

Plastic food dispensing toys are great for dogs who need more activity in their life!

So, instead of making a resolution on January 1 this year, I made a decision last Fall to give it my best shot.  The treadmill in our basement has actually been put to use for something other than a clothes rack or dust-collection device.  In fact, it’s used quite regularly along with its next-door-neighbor, the recumbent bike.  We’re not eating ONLY lettuce, but we’re eating much more lettuce than we used to, and are shying away from carbs whenever possible.


Like most everything else in life, getting ourselves into better shape (and staying there!) is much easier with a buddy!  We’re fortunate to have four workout buddies in the form of our canine best friends.  When Bodie, the black lab, came to us, he weighed in at a solid 97 pounds! He’s a big boy…but, not THAT big.  Within a few months he trimmed down to a svelte 85 lbs, and has managed to maintain that physique for nearly 3 years.  Sam, the yellow lab, on the other hand has struggled a bit more.  He has lost a little of his bulk, but he LOVES food, and he panics if his meals are even a few minutes behind schedule.  The good news is that they both really enjoy their walks.

So, if you’ve ever questioned the benefits of adding a dog to your life, here’s another: dogs are the most dependable workout buddies you could ever have.  They never make excuses for not working out.  It matters not whether the wind is howling, the snow flying or the season finale of The Voice is on television, they are ready to go.  And they’ll set a pace that is enviable by the average marathon runner, so there’s no slacking when you’re working out with a four-legged buddy!

Exercise makes everybody feel better.  Dogs have an innate need to walk in a straight line and explore their universe.  Running around a fenced yard is fine, but going on a walk with their people is far more satisfying emotionally.  Burning off energy is as important for dogs as burning off calories is for us humans.

What’s that? You don’t own a treadmill?  Not a problem…get yourself a dog and head out onto the open road. Bond with your best friend and get healthy together.  Dogs are the best kind of exercise equipment.  My treadmill never licked my face or snuggled with me after a workout!

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5 Steps to Achieve Your Pet & Personal Resolutions

Make it a Happy New Year

Make it a Happy New Year

By Robin Hawn Rhea, Senior Brand Manager

If you are like millions of us, on Jan 1 you made a commitment to make a change in your life as a part of the New Year.  With the many To Do’s on our lists, following through on our commitments can be a challenge. Training ourselves to follow through on steps to achieve our goals is just like training our pets.

Counselors, Self-help gurus, Pet Trainers and Behaviorists agree, there are a few key practices that when consistently applied result in lasting changes. Regardless of whether these changes are for us or our furry family members, including the following 5 elements in our plan for success will help make our resolutions a permanent part of our life.

  1. Get clear on what you want – We need to show our pets what we want first, and we need to show ourselves, too. We demonstrate our desired outcome to our pets so they can know the behavior. For ourselves, we need to identify our goal, the key steps and barriers to achieving it and give ourselves a realistic timeline for attainment.
  2. Choose a pattern interruption  - When our dogs consistently jump on guests or bark, and we can’t stop a disempowering habit like smoking, drinking, over-eating or negative thinking, we must choose a pattern interruption to retrain our brains and our pets to not expect the status quo.  This might come in the form of using a Clicker and treating your pets when you have visitors entering your home, and choosing a self-empowering mantra to repeat to yourself.
  3. Replace it with something else – Consider the behavior you want in your pets and yourself, instead of what you’ve been experiencing. Do you want your pet to sit instead of jump? Do you want to want to grab fresh fruits and veggies instead of fries and desserts? Decide on what you want instead of what you don’t want.
  4. Put reminders where you can see them – Keep your Clicker and treats by your front door and get your whole family on board with the training. For yourself, wear a reminder bracelet or arm band and place sticky notes strategically. This will help keep honoring your commitments at the forefront of your mind.
  5. Celebrate – Reward and praise your pets and yourself when you reach important milestones so that the process of improvement and training feels fun to our pets and our own brain.

Whatever big things we choose to pursue for our lives, and the many ways we work to enjoy more best moments with ours pets, we owe it to our goals and our pets to set ourselves up for success. Put these 5 steps in place so that your 2014 is an exceptional year for you and your pets. The changes you make in your life can be lasting ones.  If you are taking on a new challenge this year, share it with us below!


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Paw Print Blog: Best of 2013


By Sarah Folmar, Brand Communications Specialist

We love to give you information on our products, humorous stories about our pets and great resources for you and your pets to build better relationships. 2013 was filled with entertaining blogs. We made you laugh. We tried our best to educate you about the pet products industry. Heck, we may have even made you cry (hopefully in a “This is such a touching story kind of way,” though). 2014 has begun, but we wanted to take you on a stroll down memory lane with some of our favorite blogs from a year at PetSafe.

What Toy is Right For Your Pet?

The Busy Buddy® Tug-A-Jug™ rewards and challenges your dog at the same time!

The Busy Buddy® Tug-A-Jug™ rewards and challenges your dog at the same time!


2013 started off with giving our readers some insight into the different kinds of toys we make here at PetSafe. We aren’t just a throw a ball around with your dog kind of company. We want to make sure your pets are happy and entertained for hours! We even had a contest asking about your pet’s favorite toy would be. The responses were great and plentiful, and it put 2012 to shame!

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Renji and Doc enjoy a Lickety Stik.

Renji and Doc enjoy a Lickety Stik.

Do you have a dog? How about a cat? Well, for those of you who happen to have both, sometimes these furry friends aren’t so friendly with each other. One of our great bloggers here at PetSafe, Roslyn, wrote about what it was like to bring a dog into her household. A household of all cats! While it may have been a little intimidating to her dog, Doc, her patience and great techniques made it a smooth transition. This is a must read if you are planning on bringing home a new pet, especially one of a different species.


Automatic pet feeder

Automatic feeders can make feeding your pets even more convenient.

Pet Food: The Good, The Bad and The Healthy

Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD, is a regular contributor to our Paw Print Blog. He brings a great perspective on the pet wellness industry to our blog because, well, he lives it all day every day. With all of the health food scares in the last decade, and with the possibility of overfeeding your pet, it can be daunting to be a pet owner. Sometimes you may think that you are feeding them just the right amount, but you could be over or underfeeding your pets. This blog helps you look for the right ingredients in your pet’s food and treats, which is why it was selected as part of our favorite blogs from the year!

Post Bark For Your Park

In case you didn’t realize, Bark For Your Park is kind of a big deal around PetSafe. We absolutely LOVE being able to give away funds to build dog parks in the US. Seeing the community involvement, videos, pictures and hearing about the dogs who will enjoy the new parks are all reasons that we enjoy the promotion. The follow-up blog to our 2013 contest gave our fans a chance to let us know what they thought of the contest this year. What a great way to learn from our fans about what we can do better, what we did right and how much everyone enjoyed Bark For Your Park 2013! We are so excited to have our 2014 contest, and we’re sure there will be plenty of new blogs about it!

Mountain House, CA made sure their efforts in Bark For Your Park were extra sweet with these cookies!

Mountain House, CA made sure their efforts in Bark For Your Park were extra sweet with these cookies!

PetSafe Gives Shelter Dogs a Happy New Year!

Last but certainly not least, our end of the year toy giveaway! Jim wrote about all of the amazing efforts that went into this giveaway, and about all of the shelter pets that would be merry and bright because of their new toys! We even drove to Nashville to hand out 1,000 toys to a shelter that gives so much to its community. What a great way to end the year!

We have a great model showing off a small portion of toy donations!

We have a great model showing off a small portion of toy donations!

We are so excited to begin a new year here at PetSafe. We have a lot of exciting new blogs, fun social media content, product releases and giveaways ready for you! Thank you all for a wonderful 2013, and we can’t wait to share 2014 with you and your pets!

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Frequently Asked Questions about Declawing Cats


By Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD

There are other alternatives to declawing your feline friends.

There are other alternatives to declawing your feline friends.

Have you declawed your feline companion? Do you believe that declawing is a humane procedure? Are you thinking about declawing your cat or kitten? Although you might be worried that declawing your cat is the only way to save your furniture, declawing is considered inhumane by many and is even illegal in certain areas of the U.S. There are also many safer alternatives to stopping your cat’s inappropriate scratching. Get the facts and answers to your questions before you consider declawing your cat.

What is declawing?

Declawing is the surgical removal of the nail and the outermost bone from each of your cat’s toes. The declaw procedure is a surgery called onchyectomy. The term comes from the Greek words onchyo (nail) and ektome (excision). The suffix -ectomy denotes surgical removal of a particular body part. Phalangectomy would be a more accurate description, as the surgery involves the amputation of the third phalanx (“tip of the finger”) from each digit, including the nail.

Post-operatively, the newly declawed cat is hospitalized for 2-3 days with protective bandages covering the healing limbs to reduce swelling, bleeding and potential for self-trauma. Barring complications such as infection, recovery takes 10-14 days. Appropriate pain management protocols, such as nerve blocks and medications, and excellent surgical technique are essential to achieve an optimal outcome.

Should complications occur, the cat may permanently suffer from pain or compromised mobility, and may even be prone to behavior changes including aggression and a tendency to bite.

Why do owners declaw their cats?

Cat owners seek the declaw procedure in an attempt to improve the relationship they have with their cat. Claws have the potential to destroy objects and surfaces in the home environment or inflict injury on pets or people in the cat’s home.

Cat scratches can potentially infect people with life-threatening illnesses. Pregnant women, cancer/HIV patients and the elderly are more prone to infection. Bartonella henselae, which causes cat scratch fever, is a common bacteria found in flea feces that can be carried on a cat’s claws and infect people through a scratch or bite.

When is performing a declaw acceptable?

Declawing a pet for cosmetic (non-medically necessary) reasons is commonly considered to be inhumane. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) advocate against declawing.

From a medical perspective, it’s acceptable to perform a declaw procedure if trauma or disease has made the toe and nail unviable. For example, if a cat’s foot gets stuck in a door or fence that crushes the foot or cuts off the blood supply, then the toes can become a source of infection for the rest of the body, or can cause significant discomfort while standing or walking. Tumors can also grow on the digit or nail bed and metastasize or spread to other body parts.

Is declawing illegal?

In certain areas of the country, it’s illegal to perform a cosmetic declaw on an animal. California has led the way in creating laws that prevent veterinarians from declawing an animal unless there is a medical necessity to do so. In 2003, West Hollywood (my place of residence) was the first California city to ban declawing. Many other cities in Los Angeles county have also followed West Hollywood’s example.

In 2004, California became the first U.S. state to enact a ban on declawing wild and exotic cats. The bill was sponsored by the Paw Project and introduced by California Assembly member Paul Koretz. In 2012, The Paw Project sponsored another bill prohibiting landlords from “requiring declawing and devocalization of animals as a condition of tenancy.” Rhode Island passed a similar bill in 2013 which prevents landlords from “requiring declawing as a condition of occupancy.”

It’s also illegal to declaw a cat in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

"In certain areas of the country, it’s illegal to perform a cosmetic declaw on an animal."

“In certain areas of the country, it’s illegal to perform a cosmetic declaw on an animal.”

As a vet, where do you stand on the topic of declawing?

In my 14 years of veterinary practice, I estimate that I’ve performed the procedure less than 10 times, with the last being before I moved to West Hollywood in 2006. It’s not a surgery that I recommend for cat owners, and always strive to work with my clients to seek the best combination of alternatives.

Yet I’m against a national, state or local government deciding the nature of the procedures that veterinarians can offer their clients. A veterinarian’s determination that a particular service is appropriate for a patient should result from an informed decision-making process between the client and veterinarian and should not be one dictated by the government.

My beliefs coincide with those of the California Veterinary Medical Association’s (CVMA) Policy on Declawing of Domestic Cats.

What are the alternatives to having my cat declawed?

There are many reasonable alternatives to declawing a cat, including:

  • Frequent nail trims- Trim your cat’s claws at least every 14 days to keep nails short and the tips blunt. Make sure you don’t cut the wick. For cats who don’t like nail trims, wrap your cat in a towel or have someone hold your cat and give her treats.
  • Nail caps- Temporary vinyl nail coverings, such as Soft Claws, are glued to your cat’s claws and prevent trauma from scratching.
  • Scratching posts- Have multiple scratching posts available in your cat’s environment. Posts that are taller than other objects which you do not want your cat to scratch will be more desirable scratching surfaces. Include a variety of posts, such as horizontal corrugated cardboard and vertical sisal-rope styles. Infusing the posts with catnip essence can make them more attractive, too!
  • Double-sided tape- Put double-sided tape like Sticky Paws on furniture or carpets to dissuade your cat from scratching.
  • Pet proofing mats and barriers- Keep your cat off carpets and furniture or away from areas where she scratches with mats, sprays, and barriers that give your cat a gentle reminder to stay away.
  • Feline pheromone sprays/diffusers- Feline pheromones such as Feliway can reduce stress and modify undesirable behaviors.
  • Behavior consultation- A board-certified veterinary behaviorist can suggest additional techniques or prescribe behavior-modifying pharmaceuticals. To find a behavior specialist, visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website.
  • Complementary therapies- Acupuncture, herbs, dietary modification and other therapies can address energetic abnormalities from a non-traditional perspective.

If a client has diligently explored these options without success, then pursuing declawing as an alternative to euthanasia is an acceptable path. However, if an owner is willing to terminate the life of their cat as a result of the cat’s scratching tendencies, then it is best that a new home is found for the cat.

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