Last week, a young woman came into our clinic with her eight-month old cat. She was concerned that her cat has suddenly become unfriendly, aggressive and restless over the past two weeks. A previously loving and friendly indoor cat has developed strange behaviours. Her parent said the cat’s now biting every time she caresses her, hissing when someone comes too close, has general lack of appetite, and avoid even her favourite kibbles.
Our vet team followed the usual nose-to-tail check routine and all was going well, until it was time to check cat’s teeth: the cat jumped, pinned her ears back and hissed at us angrily. We managed to take a look at the front teeth and it all became clear: her front teeth (canine) were cut off. We questioned the owner further and she told us that indeed, she had “clipped” her cat’s teeth with a nail clipper at home to stop her cat from play-biting too hard about two weeks ago. Two out of four teeth assessed were cut so short that nerves were exposed, which obviously caused severe discomfort and pain to the poor animal.
Unfortunately, this is not the first case of teeth clipping we have seen. In fact, we see it way too often. Animals come to our center for various reasons, unrelated to dental matters, but when we do the mandatory general veterinary check, we find that the teeth have been cut or filed down. Over a year of seeing these cases and talking to many owners, we have learned that in Cambodia is it considered normal and even useful and necessary procedure. The reasons cited by owners for performing this procedure are few: mainly to stop biting, to reduce aggression and in case of cats, there is a local belief (although, we are not sure how widespread this one is) that teeth of a cat contain chemical that causes lung infection in humans – which is, of course, not true.
The biggest issue is not only that is done so often, but also the methods used to carry this out. The animal is usually restrained or in case of larger animals, the animal is restrained using ropes, wire and human force. One by one, the teeth are clipped or filed without any anesthetic, using household and industrial instruments – pliers, files, nail clippers, etc. Given that this process happens in the houses or backyards, there is little concern or understanding about the pain or permanent damage to the animal.
One owner explained: “but they also don’t like when I cut their nails, also fight a lot, but we do it anyway and force them to comply”. It would be true, if not for one fundamental difference: teeth do not grow back and the damage inflicted is horrific, because it is both painful and permanent. And naturally, the behaviour of animal will change according to the amount of permanent damage inflicted. The animal who lives in a constant pain will certainly become antisocial, may lose appetite due to toothache, may even become more aggressive and unwilling to play.
It is important to note that this practice, also known as “disarming dogs (or cats)” is not exclusive to Cambodia. In the US for instance, it has been performed as well, on working dogs, although most often by a vet and under general anesthetics as a surgical procedure. It was believed as well that procedure will reduce the potential of human injury from animal bites. According to Dr. Kressin, who co-authored a journal on the ‘Myth and Misconceptions in Veterinary Medicine’, this dental procedure misleads “the companion animal owners to believe their pet will not bite and that humans and other animals will be “safe” from injury when interacting with disarmed animals.” However, “the fundamental problem with disarming animals is that disarmed dogs will continue to bite even without teeth and they can cause human and animal injury.”
Moreover, the procedure causes severe pain and sensitivity from teeth nerve exposure. It is so serious that even the American Veterinary Dental College has taken a formal position on the procedure, issuing the following statement: “Grinding teeth down is an unacceptable procedure. These teeth must be treated by vital pulpotomy or by root canal therapy only, when required”.
What is most upsetting is that the biting and aggression can never be fixed by grinding the teeth and in fact, may very well do just the opposite. Due to constant pain, your pet will become your worst nightmare and vet bills will pile up, too. To stop your dog or cat from biting you must work on modifying the behaviour of the animal, understanding the trigger signs of biting and learn how to stop them. Seek professional opinion of animal behaviourists, vets and trainers and work with your companion animal before doing anything drastic to your pet. Knowing your pet and how to correctly and systematically train and handle them is what makes a difference in their behaviour.
As for our customer and her cat’s teeth, the prognosis is upsetting, but fixable: two of her teeth must be removed as the nerves in both are completely exposed and obviously causes a lot of pain to the animal. Luckily the owner was willing to learn, asked lots of questions and once she realised that clipping her cat’s teeth is no different than clipping her own – in pain levels both during the procedure and after – she was in tears. “I did not know, but I harmed my own cat so badly I thought I was doing the right thing”.
We all can learn a lot from our mistakes when we are not too busy denying or justifying them. Changing the behaviour – any behaviour – is not easy, but if it leads to kinder, better and more compassionate treatment of animals, it is worth the effort.
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311