By Ruth (Monty’s Mom)
This is a short video of Monty doing some tree climbing, taken recently at six in the morning with my iPhone before I had to leave for work. Monty was begging to go outside using what I call his “starving baby kitten meow.” Since coming to live with me he has become very vocal, boldly demanding food or attention. But when he really wants something he meows like he did when he first came to live with me– a soft meow, almost inaudible, that gives the impression that he is too frightened and weak to manage anything louder.
So outside we go into the chilly morning, which must have felt very good to Monty. Since the weather has turned warm he has done very little tree climbing, but on that morning he went right to one of his favorite trees. I thought of filming him to see if I could capture his characteristic head first method of descent. He did not disappoint. During the winter he had been consistently climbing down rear paws first, all the way to the ground. I think this was because jumping out of the tree or running down head first caused his front paws to hit the snow with enough force to wedge snow between his toes, and he hates that. So all winter he climbed down backwards, as a cat should. He’s back to trying to do it like a squirrel now.
Sometimes gravity will pull his back end into proper position, but often he just turns again to resume head first climbing. I thought he would learn to go backwards from gravity teaching him it was easier that way. Plus, his claws don’t grip the tree in the forward descent position. I think he does know how to climb down backwards, he just doesn’t want to. He is a stubborn cat and will continue to do things his own way, so long as it suits him.
I personally like the part of the video where he jumps up suddenly and exercises his claws on the tree. This is a good workout for the muscles of his shoulders and upper back. He needs those to be strong to protect him from the osteoarthritis he is at risk for with all the jumping out of trees he does. All those hard landings from jumping or racing down trees head first can take their toll. However, since he is a stubborn cat who does exactly what he wants, I have given up scolding him for his head first descents, but I do encourage him to exercise his claws on lots of trees. Sometimes I hold him in my arms next to various trees and he will reach out and dig his claws in just about every time. I like to place my hand on his little body as he does this and feel his muscles tightening, pulling against the resistance. This exercise is his best defense against repetitive stress injuries down the road from all the jumping out of trees he does.
Sometimes on PoC we seem to suggest that only declawed cats are at risk for osteoarthritis, and this is not true. Cats who like to jump down from heights a lot and cats who are overweight and/or inactive are also at risk. Encouraging these cats to exercise their front claws on a tree or tall scratching post is the best protection for their joints. Strong muscles around a joint give stability. Sadly, this type of exercise is exactly what declawed cats are deprived of.
Perhaps because I am a physical therapist assistant, I find myself thinking often of how to design something that could give declawed cats the ability to reach up and pull down against resistance. Most of my ideas have centered around something using hook and loop material, but the issue is how to attach this to the cat, since declawed paws are often painful. Perhaps something that would attach farther back around the limb, avoiding pressure on the paws, or perhaps the cat’s caretaker could gently hold, avoiding direct pressure on the paw, but encouraging the cat to pull back against gentle resistance, rewarding him with a little treat for doing so. Sometimes I simply stop these thoughts, because to design such a system or exercise program might in some small way legitimize declawing, since it would essentially remove one of the downsides for the cat, by restoring his ability to exercise the muscles of his shoulders and upper back.
Working in physical therapy must truly be a calling for me, since I think of Monty’s outside time almost in terms of a physical therapy session at times. I’m often doing my workout while he is out there. When I get more active, running wind sprints across the yard or going up and down the back porch steps, he will get more active too, racing across the yard, climbing up and down trees or exercising his claws near the base of a tree. Monty suggests what he would like to do at times, like asking to be taken outside, but quite often throughout the day he takes his cues from me. If I am sedentary, he sits quietly, if I am busy looking through papers, he will start exploring little nooks and crannies of a room as if he is looking for something too.
I wish I could climb the way he does. Having done a fair amount of tree climbing as a child, I know the pleasure of it, but no human could ever climb up a tree with the same ease as a cat. They are truly built for it, and I know Monty gets great pleasure from it. I thought readers of PoC might get pleasure from watching Monty enjoying himself. I know I do!”
Thanks for featuring Monty again!
Ruth and Monty
(who wants to go outside in the morning again– what have I started?)