|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
MF: I’m really excited for this next conversation for multiple reasons. First is, I don’t know Dr. Gaskin particularly well. I’ve bumped into him a few times. I’m really thrilled about his work at Main Street Veterinary in Shakopee, Minnesota. He clearly is a very big thinker in terms of veterinary work. He has helped us actually reverse diabetes in multiple animals at Animal Ark. He is not necessarily one to follow the herd. If the herd is going off a cliff, he likes to …
BN: Maybe think about it before he goes.
MF: Yes – and he’s really good at doing that! He’s maybe seen as a little bit of a maverick, and that’s the side of him that I probably like the most. We have not had him on Animal Wise Radio. We’ve invited him on to talk specifically about a movie that is debuting in New York this weekend. It’s a fascinating topic. It’s going to be shown here as well. He’s bringing it to Minnesota, and it’s on the topic of declawing. It’s a fascinating conversation. Dr. Gaskin, welcome to Animal Wise Radio. Thanks for joining us.
Dr. Gaskin: Thanks a lot, Mike and Beth, for hosting me on the show today.
MF: I have to first ask this question. Many veterinarians that I’ve talked to over the years still promote declawing. For many years, I would say maybe 20 years, when I go to find a veterinarian, one of the very first questions I ask them, even if I don’t have a cat, is, “Do you do unnecessary cat declawing procedures? Do you sell that service?” If they say, “Yes,” I don’t go to them. I was really surprised to see that you are a practicing veterinarian, and you’re bringing this film in that is clearly not necessarily a fan of the declawing procedure. Can you talk to me about what got you first interested in looking at the fact that there might be problems with declawing cats?
Dr. Gaskin: I have to thank a colleague that was practicing in Kansas. It’s amazing what the Internet can do and how it connects people. She opened my eyes. It was Dr. Letrisa Miller. She’s moved her practice to a cat only clinic in Connecticut. I had a feeling that declaws were going bad, and something was happening, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. After talking with her, I almost fell off my chair. Yes … we can see now. We can see and we can track this.
Then to add a picture to it, I was walking by my dental radiograph machine and it had a paw on there. The light went on. Why don’t we put a high resolution digital dental sensor under some of these declawed paws and shoot pictures and bring them up to 8 ½ x 11? The stuff we saw would make you cry.
BN: You’re going to have to take that thought a little bit farther for people who make not even have any sense for what the anatomy might be in a cat’s paw, and why would it make people weep?
Dr. Gaskin: In these very small paws in the small cats, unlike what Dr. Jennifer Conrad and the Paw Project movie is pointing out on these big cats, you’ve got some big pathology. In the little cats, it’s more subtle. We really needed a way to get detail on radiographs. We developed a technique so that we could see on a special angle down into these paws. I’ve had a board certified veterinary radiologist over here to help me interpret these, and I offered to pay her for her services. She said, “No, just co-authorship on the paper.” She said, “This needs to get out.”
BN: Very cool.
Dr. Gaskin: It’s now like I’m doing this with the expert input on these images, and we are seeing just a slew of painful things. I think that externally, I became aware that we could see digital pad calluses on the bottom of a cat’s foot, and that’s something that every veterinarian can look for in a physical exam. These digital paw calluses are very different on a normal, healthy paw. It’s where that amputated bone end is being forced next to the floor. In other words, the cat is walking and we can see these, especially on digits three and four. That would be like your middle finger and the one next to the pinky. We can see these digital paw calluses.
MF: We’re going to have to take a quick break at that point. When we come back, we’re going to talk more about some of the other issues. The fact that they’re developing these painful calluses on their toes should tell us a lot about declawing, but I think the anatomy and the issue might even go beyond that. We’ll be back with more of the conversation and more about the movie, “The Paw Project.”
MF: On the line, we’ve got Dr. Gaskin from Main Street Veterinary. He is just an amazing veterinarian. He is bringing a film to Minnesota.
BN: That we want people to see, right Mike?
MF: We do, and you and I are going to be there seeing it. The film is called “The Paw Project.” We have a limited amount of time to sell tickets, so we want people to go online to www.tugg.com. The film is showing, and I believe Dr. Gaskin can confirm that I’m right – it’s October 22nd at 7:30 in the evening?
Dr. Gaskin: That’s correct. In downtown St. Louis Park at the Icon Theater. It’s a beautiful venue and beautiful area of town in St. Louis Park on October 22nd at 7:30 p.m. The movie runs about an hour, and there will be a 20-minute question and answer period afterward. You’ll get to ask your questions that you might think of after the show.
MF: I’m really fascinated, Dr. Gaskin, at a lot of the work that you do. I can't say enough really great things about your broad perspective on veterinary medicine. Most specifically, when we went to the break, you were concerned about declawing, and you saw a radiograph of a paw, and you decided you were going to start taking the highly detailed radiographs of paws, and you were seeing calluses.
BN: The calluses you could see, but I wanted you to explain just one step further.
MF: I want to go back one step first, which is, what is a declaw? People think it’s snipping off the claws, but it’s not. When you talk about this bone that’s hitting the floor, can you talk about what the actual declaw procedure is so that people can understand these calluses that are forming?
Dr. Gaskin: Absolutely. When a declaw is performed, if you look at your finger, you’ve got the bone with the knuckle joint that your fingernail is on – that bone is actually removed. Unlike our fingernail that grows out a tissue, a cat’s nail grows out of that first bone. Really, you have to remove that whole first bone.
MF: So it’s like amputating your finger at the first digit.
Dr. Gaskin: Actually, Jennifer shows it the best. She just sticks her finger inside a cigar cutter and says, “This is what a declaw is.” She doesn’t actually do it to her finger, though.
BN: I’m glad.
Dr. Gaskin: It graphically illustrates what the surgery is. If that whole P3 isn’t removed, you can actually get regrowth of some of that claw, that remnant where the whole nail used to grow out of. The minute that you clip that fragment off from the end of the finger, when you take that P3 (phalange 3) and remove the nail, you have cut the extensor tendon that allows them to straighten out their finger, and you have cut the flexor tendon that allows them to grab and hold something.
MF: You should see the look on Beth’s face.
Dr. Gaskin: Those two are gone. The deep digital flexor is cut and the digital extensor tendon is cut, and it changes the whole anatomy of that cat’s paw. The one thing that we’re forgetting here, and a lot of these cross-section anatomy graphics that we see – forget the superficial flexor tendon that’s right under and attached to the second bone segment in your finger – that keeps pulling that P2 (remember, we removed the P3 with the nail) so it keeps pulling the P2 under, creating what we call hyperflexion or a club foot. You can see that’s pulling that P2 into a perpendicular position so that when the cat tries to walk, it’s forced right down into that digital pad, and that’s where those calluses develop.
MF: I have a really clear picture about what you’re describing now. There’s another point of this. Cats, unlike people, walk on their toes. What we think of as their paw is really just their toes. Our part of what we’d consider our hand is up further on their leg. They’re walking up on their toes, and then we’re causing all that damage to their toes.
Dr. Gaskin: I think that a four-paw declaw is animal cruelty, point blank. I’ll just get that out in the air right now. Four-paw declaw is animal cruelty. There’s no reason for it.
The minute that you do a front declaw, you’ve shifted the weight distribution from 60% on the front feet to 60% on the back, and that’s abnormal. It puts abnormal stresses on the back. When we think of these older cats, one of the three most undiagnosed things in senior and geriatric cats is hip arthritis. If you’re putting 60% of the weight on the back because you’ve done a declaw on the front, you get some very painful cats.
That’s exactly what we’ve been documenting at Main Street. Between seven and 12 years of age is when the problems start occurring, and that’s who we’re documenting. It’s not right after the declaw, necessarily.
BN: And that’s sort of a young cat to middle-aged cat, still, really.
Dr. Gaskin: With the new standard, with proper nutrition (and we can talk a couple hours on proper cat nutrition and why we’re having the obesity and diabetes epidemic that’s paralleling the human conditions of the same) we have to realize that there’s some things going on here. How the declaw surgery came into being – this might astound you, but the declaw surgery was never researched. It was never presented as a peer-reviewed scientific paper – ever.
It came into being in 1952 in the Journal of the AVMA, a letter to the editor from a veterinarian in Chicago that this was what he did to a cat to keep it in its good home. This is 1952, folks – we’re in 2013 now.
Then, in 1961, another letter to the editor comes from the same vet, but he’s got bib sites now including his letter to the editor in 1952, and a TV broadcast. It was never researched.
I called up veterinary anatomists. Who ever knew veterinary anatomy could be so exciting? I asked one veterinary anatomist, “Is there an attachment of an extensor tendon on the top of P2?” (That’s the bone that’s left after you do a declaw.) One veterinary anatomist says, “Absolutely.” The next veterinary anatomist I called up said, “Absolutely not.” Okay, so if we don’t even know the fundamental anatomy on the front digit of a cat and we’re whacking off P3, is there a problem there?
MF: I totally get it. We’re just in there monkeying around. I’m fascinated. Have you seen the documentary that is going to be shown on the 22nd? Have you seen it yet or not?
Dr. Gaskin: I’m sponsoring it, yes. I will be totally honest with you. I’ve known Jennifer Conrad and her work for a long time, and she’s been part of the inspiration, along with Dr. Letrisa Miller opening my eyes up to what was happening with small cats. I’ve known Jennifer, and I trust her.
MF: You have an understanding. I’ve heard reports that veterinarians from around the United States are discontinuing offering the declaw procedure after seeing the film.
Dr. Gaskin: Absolutely. After watching this movie, they walk out and say, “We’re not doing it anymore.” It’s called the ‘practice’ of veterinary medicine, and practice means we’re continually evaluating what we’re doing in medicine and surgery. Is it good for the pet? Is it good for the quality of life? Is it good for their longevity?
In the case of the declaw, when our new recent graduates have a full tool box of behavioral modification, which I never had 30 years ago in school, and we’ve got a full tool box of psychoactive drugs to help behavioral redirection and modification at a rapid rate, the only reason to declaw is sheer convenience.
MF: I have a great tool for dealing with clawing issues at my house. It’s called a nail clipper.
Dr. Gaskin: Or Soft Paws, or even figuring out what kind of scratching post that cat likes. They’ve all got distinct personalities. Some like to scratch horizontal. Some like it upright.
BN: I’m curious, Dr. Gaskin, about what some veterinarians or clients who’ve had this procedure done might push back, and they might say, “This was done with a laser at my vet’s office. That’s supposed to be way better.”
Dr. Gaskin: Lasers scare me on a number of levels. One, they’re very expensive pieces of equipment that need to get paid for. They do seal the nerves. As a matter of fact, I’ve used a laser scalpel, and they sold the laser declaw as one of the selling points for a laser scalpel. I can think of a lot of other uses for that high-end equipment than a declaw.
It seals the nerves, and one of the problems I see is because it really does seal the nerves and blocks the pain that if an owner does not keep their cat on the ground and keep it semi-restrained, i.e. jumping from the counter down to the floor, you’re going to get that P2 coming out the incision. You only have so long to get that fixed before that bone dries out. You can see where the rest of it goes from there.
MF: You’re largely talking about the long-term, chronic side effects of declawing, and I think as near as I can tell – I’ve only seen the trailer of the film – I think the film deals with that a lot. One of my problems with it has been that it is such a painful procedure to do, even when it’s done, that it’s actually a surgery that they use to research pain medications in cats because it’s the most painful thing they can do to a cat. I just can’t imagine why anybody would want to do it. Typically, you’ve got to stick a cat on a morphine patch after the procedure.
Dr. Gaskin: A Fentanyl patch is one of them, when you can get them. You’re absolutely right. A plug for how far we’ve come in the profession and the practice of medicine is in the last 12 to 15 years, the number and the types and amounts of analgesics and nerve blocks and things we’re doing for cats especially, because when I graduated from school, no narcotics – it would make them crazy. You give them NSAIDs, it will rot their kidneys out. Nerve blocks were just in their infancy. Now, we’ve got a specific NSAID just for cats. I’m not going to say that this is going to make the declaw acceptable, but it will make it much, much less painful perisurgically, after the surgery.
We’re talking like you said, Mike, out seven to 12 years. I think it’s very hard for a professional to evaluate or do quality control on a surgery they might have done seven to 10 years earlier. It’s a very hard thing. It’s an introspective kind of thing. I don’t hurt animals. I’m a veterinarian. I’m here to help. It’s a very, very hard thing to do. I remember seven or eight years ago, I went through it.
MF: They might not even remember that they’re the vet who declawed that cat from seven years ago, unless they’re going back and remembering the complete history of every patient that they see.
Dr. Gaskin: That brings up a very interesting point. A lot of them do the shelter shuffle. These cats are not using the litter box, have inappropriate elimination, biting, or personality changes. They get shuffled off to the rescue, and then they get adopted again, and we have no trail of how the surgery was done or their history. Everything disappears. You’re absolutely right.
MF: Dr. Gaskin, the time has flown. We are out of time. We just have to put another plug in for the film. It’s “The Paw Project.” You can see more about the film at www.pawproject.org. You can get tickets for the October 22nd event at www.tugg.com. We’ve also got links to the film at the Main Street Veterinary Facebook page, at the Animal Wise Radio Facebook page, and the Animal Ark Facebook page.
BN: Folks who are interested in this film can also see when it might be playing in your neighborhood or you can see how you maybe can bring it to your own community, just as Dr. Gaskin has done for us in Minnesota. So Minnesotans, get behind this. Cat loves, veterinarians, we want to see you at this film.
MF: Thanks, Dr. Gaskin, for all of your really important work. We’ll have to have you back sometime to have that nutrition conversation.
Dr. Gaskin: Thank you very much, Mike and Beth, for this opportunity to get the word out about declawing. My final message is, just don’t declaw your cat.
BN: Clear enough.