Rare Cats, Common Cats, and Declawing

There are some 38 feline species in the world, including the domestic cat. Many are rare, and some are so incredibly elusive they’re almost never seen and little is known about them. This video highlights 10 of these exquisite, small wild cats:

My mammalogy professor was fond of saying that if you “undress” any cat, the underlying animal is virtually identical across all sizes and species. Sure, there are a few functional adaptations here and there, like the non-retractable claws and large nose of the cheetah, but as the saying goes, “A cat’s a cat, and that’s that.”

Strange, then, that different species of cats are considered completely different when it comes to veterinary medicine.

On the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association, we find two separate policy statements about declawing.

The first (discussed here) says that declawing may sometimes be justified even though it is not medically necessary for the cat, and gives specific criteria (that most vets completely ignore) about prerequisites and informed consent.

However, the AVMA has another policy statement about declawing:

“The AVMA condemns declawing captive exotic and other wild indigenous cats for nonmedical reasons.” *

While AVMA did not provide its reasoning within the policy statement, it put out a press release (dated 1/15/13), which stated: “Concerns that pain and suffering associated with declawing may be exacerbated in wild and exotic felines prompted the Executive Board to revise the Association’s position on the matter, from opposition to condemnation.” (Emphasis added.)

While “condemning” declawing of wild and exotic cats, the AVMA sees absolutely nothing wrong with declawing pet cats. However, it is very difficult to see what, exactly, the difference is that makes one type of cat okay to declaw, and the other not, and the AVMA does not say why they make their differentiation.

The main consideration that gets mentioned in the discussions around this issue is weight. Certainly, the suffering of declawed big cats is obvious. For example, see this short clip from The Paw Project:

However, all cats — large and small — are built exactly the same, with identical proportions, and they’re built to carry about 60% of their weight on their front paws. A 400-lb. tiger puts 240 lb. of weight on his front feet, while a 10-lb. cat puts 6 lbs. on his — but it’s the same 60% of total body weight. It’s no easier for a small cat than a big one to walk on declawed paws.

If, as the AVMA itself admits, there is “pain and suffering associated with declawing” for one cat, then there obviously is pain and suffering associated with declawing for all cats. They can’t have it both ways.

To illustrate the absurdity of the distinction AVMA is trying to make between exotic and domestic cats, let’s take a look at some of the actual species involved, and how they compare size-wise to the average house cat, which averages 10-12 pounds — although veterinarians estimate that more than 53% of pet cats are overweight. Many pet cats weigh well over 15 lbs., and a few tip the scales at 20 lbs. or more. (Unfortunately, because about 25% of U.S. cats are declawed, at least 5 million declawed American cats are putting far too many pounds per square inch on their truncated paws. That’s gotta hurt.)

There are 37 species, more or less, of cat in the world, that are covered under these broad policies. (The exact genetic relationship of some exotic cats is still being debated, so the species vs. subspecies classification is somewhat fluid.) The domestic cat is one of them. Then there are the familiar “big” cats: lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, jaguars, cougars, snow leopards, and clouded leopards. Then there are a few medium-sized cats, like bobcats and lynx, but both can fall in the same age range as house cats.

But the cat species for whom declawing is condemned by the AVMA include cats much closer to our own domestic kitties in size and weight (some breeds are slim at 25 pounds!).

  • African Golden Cats, which live in the rainforests of Western and Central Africa, weigh somewhere between 12 and 35 lbs. Despite its name, this rainforest-dwelling cat can be most any solid color, from gold to chestnut to dark gray.
  • Andean Mountain Cats, which live high above treeline in the Andes of South America, are similar in size to a domestic cat, about 12 lbs. As you might expect, its fur is on the long side and very thick.
  • Asian Golden cats are found in Southeastern Asia. They can weigh up to 35 pounds, but more typical weights are a little less than 30 lbs. for males, and about 17 lbs. for females.
  • Bobcats roam much of North America. Their weight ranges from 9 to 40 pounds, with an average for females of 15 pounds. Their tufted ears and stumpy tail are easy to recognize, although a small bobcat can be confused with a large domestic cat; and a large bobcat can be confused with a small lynx. The lynx’s solid black tail tip differentiates it from the bobcat’s, which is black on top and white underneath.
  • The highly endangered Bornean Bay Cat lives only on the island of Borneo. This very small (6-9 pound) cat is disappearing due to habitat destruction.
  • The smallest African wildcat, the Black-Footed Cat, is very petite: less than 6 pounds. Desert dwellers, they are found only in the southern tip of the African continent. An individual can consume a dozen small rodents per night; or about 3,000 per year.
  • Canadian lynx were once common in the continental U.S., but were hunted to extinction. They were re-introduced into Colorado in 1997, where they are doing well. Lynx preferentially prey on Snowshoe Hares. Bigger than a bobcat, lynx weigh in at 22-44 pounds.
  • Caracals, beautiful sandy or golden cats with black-tufted ears, weigh between 15 and 35 pounds. A tough, talented hunter, the Caracal can bring down prey three times its size, and jump 10 feet straight up to catch birds on the wing. Sadly, farmers consider them a threat, and put out poisoned carcasses for them… but they also kill all the other predators looking for an easy meal. Domestic cats crossed with caracals are called “Caracats.”
  • The Chinese Mountain Cat, aka the Chinese Desert Cat, resembles a bobcat with its tufted ears, but it has a somewhat short, ringed tail. DNA analysis classifies it as a subspecies of Wildcat. Adults weight 14-20 pounds.
  • The Colocolo is a small, stocky, spotted and striped cat of South America. It weighs around 6-7 pounds. This versatile cat can live in nearly any habitat, from the subtropics to the Andes.
  • Fishing cats, which live throughout Southeast Asia, weigh 11-35 pounds. Fish makes up about 3/4 of its diet. Its population is dwindling rapidly due to the destruction of its wetland habitat.
  • Flat-Headed Cats are found only in Sumatra, Borneo, and Malaysia. Like their big cousin, the cheetah, their claws do not fully retract. They are very small: only 3-6 pounds.
  • Geoffroy’s Cat lives in South America. Its average weight is 4-11 pounds, with a record of 17 lbs. Unlike so many feline species, this cat is doing very well in its range, and is not considered endangered. These normally spotted cats can also be solid black.
  • Iriomote cats are found exclusively on the Japanese island of, as you might guess, Iriomote. Considered a subspecies of the leopard cat, these critically endangered cats weigh between 6 and 11 pounds.
  • The Central and South American Jaguarundi has a solid-color coat of either grayish or reddish hue, and weighs between 7-20 pounds. They have occasionally been spotted as far north as Texas.
  • The Jungle Cat is found from the Nile River valley to China. It averages about 18 pounds, with a range of 6-35 pounds; cats living further south, toward the tropics, tend to be smaller. It has been cross-bred with domestic cats to produce a breed known as “Chaussie.”
  • The Kodkod or güiña is the smallest cat in the Americas, living only in Chile, and weighing up to 5.5 lbs. Its coat is dotted with solid black spots. Like the largest cat, the Siberian Tiger, the kodkod has white spots on the back of its black ears.
  • Leopard Cats live in South and East Asia. Northern cats weigh up to 16 pounds, while those in the southern reaches of its range are more petite at just 1-8 pounds. The Bengal breed is said to have originated as a cross between domestic and Jungle cats. Although they may be genetically distant, the behavior of today’s Bengals can definitely be wild.
  • The beautiful and mysterious Marbled Cat, another Southeast Asian inhabitant, weighs from 4 to 11 lbs.
  • Margays, from South America, look similar to Ocelots, but smaller: only 5-9 pounds. A skilled climber, these cats may spend nearly their whole lives up in the trees. The Margay population is widely distributed across South America, but it’s in decline due to destruction of their forest habitat. Fossils show that these cats once lived from Texas to Florida to Georgia.
  • Big-eyed Ocelots, which were fashionable as pets among movie stars in the 1960s (who remembers Ann Francis as “Honey West”?), are considerably bigger: 18-40 lbs.
  • The Oncilla, or Northern Tiger Cat, roams from Central America to Brazil. It’s been proposed to classify the southern-dwellng cats as a separate species. The coat has rosettes like a leopard; and like its larger cousins, they also come in black. These tiny cats weigh between 3 and 7 pounds.
  • Pallas’ Cats are found in Central Asia; they weigh only 5-10 pounds. They are the only feline species with round pupils, and they have two less teeth. They are thought to be the oldest existing feline species.
  • Pampas Cats, named after the South American prairies of Chile and Argentina, look much like Andean Mountain Cats and are of similar size, about 12 lbs.
  • The diminutive Rusty-Spotted Cat, found only in India and Sri Lanka, is the smallest wild cat in the world: it weighs in at just 2-3.5 pounds.
  • Sand Cats, desert dwellers of northern Africa, weigh only 3-7 lbs. Their Latin name, Felis Margarita, is as cheerful as these little guys can be in captivity.
  • Servals, lithe, long-legged African cats, weigh 15-40 pounds. Dainty eaters, they will pluck birds’ feathers and remove rodents’ internal organs. Servals are notable for being part of the ancestry of the semi-domestic breed, the Savannah.
  • The Panatanal Cat is similar to the Colocolo and some consider it a subspecies. It is found on the western Andean slope, and is around the same weight, 6-7 pounds.
  • The Wildcat (Felis silvestris) is found in Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia, and is the direct ancestor of our domestic pet cats. The still-wild relatives of our kitty cats weigh 5-11 pounds.

According to AVMA, none of these cats should be declawed, because declawing causes pain and suffering. Their suggestion that this pain and suffering is worse in some species of cats than others is absurd.

The question also arises, since domestic (or semi-domestic, as some would argue) like Bengals, Caracats, Chaussies, and Savannahs, are all part exotic wildcat (up to 50%), can they be declawed or not?

Clearly, the double standard being applied by the veterinary profession, led by the AVMA, is nothing but smoke and mirrors. By its own logic, AVMA should condemn declawing of all cats, regardless of size, species, lifestyle, or any other made-up distinctions.

 


* The USDA’s Animal Welfare Act (AWA) prohibits declawing of all exotic carnivores (including cats, wolves, and bears) owned by institutions that fall under its provisions, such as zoos, laboratories, and universities. Privately owned animals, and those kept in small roadside or traveling exhibits, are not covered or protected by the AWA.

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