"Declawing" is a benign-sounding term which many people think involves some sort of radical claw-clipping. In fact, declawing involves amputation of the distal (end) of the toe to the first joint, the adjoining ligaments and the nerve endings. This is usually done to the ten toes on the front paws.
While some people may callously say, “So… they get over it”. Unlike us who walk on our feet and dogs who walk on their pads, cats walk on their toes. How comfortable do you think you’d be walking around on partially amputated feet?
Additionally, cats use claws for traction, communication, exercise, gripping items, stress relief and perhaps most importantly for protection, enabling a cat to climb to safety or thwart an attacker. Claws are an integral part of everything cats do.
The reason most pet owners cite for approaching a veterinarian about declawing is to prevent their cat from clawing their furniture or carpets. Is pristine furniture and carpets really worth permanently maiming an animal and potentially causing it crippling physical and mental pain for the rest of its life?
A cat’s life is forever changed when it is declawed. In fact many undesirable behaviors have been known to manifest as a result of declawing, such as litterbox avoidance, aggressiveness, biting and depression.
If you’re considering declawing your cat because you have young children, you should know that the only recourse for a declawed cat to defend itself from unwanted attention is biting. Far more infections occur from cat bites than from cat scratches. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, declawed cats often become more aggressive and can stop using the litterbox. You could therefore be creating more problems for your children by having your cat declawed. Teaching your children how to handle and respect animals and your cat what is acceptable behavior with children will result in a happy, healthy home for all.
It is entirely possible to have a cat that does not damage your furniture or carpet. We recommend taking the following steps, ideally as soon as you bring the cat into your house:
- Trim your cat’s nails regularly, at a minimum every two weeks for indoor cats. If you start this process when they are kittens and make it a calm, rewarding experience (with lots of pets, praise and treats at the end) most cats will consider it simply routine. Make sure you do this when the cat is relaxed and unafraid.
- To trim nails, gently press on the cat’s toe pad until the claw extends. Use a pair of nail clippers, and cut only the tip of the nail, taking care not to damage the vein, or “quick.” The dewclaws may require slightly more force to get them to extend.
- Provide multiple scratching posts and surfaces in your house of varying kinds and sizes. Don’t buy just carpeted posts, get some wrapped with sisal rope and some with cardboard inserts so your cat will have a choice of surface. Cats often scratch for exercise so make sure that scratching posts are sturdy and tall enough to allow your cat to stretch (3 feet or taller). Cats also scratch to mark their territory (they have scent glands between their toes) so it’s a good idea to position posts near their sleeping areas and wherever you tend to spend the most time in your home – generally sofas and beds.
- Most importantly - teach your cat where you want it to scratch. Encourage your cat to use scratching posts/surfaces by sprinkling catnip on these once a week and giving them treats right after they use them. Discourage your cat from scratching furniture by clapping sharply and using a loud, firm voice whenever it starts to scratch - never use physical force.
- If you have an avid furniture scratcher, consider buying furniture that is covered in material your cat is less likely to want to scratch.Microfiber, imitation leather and other man-made fabrics are usually less appealing to cats (Note: some cats find real leather furniture very attractive because of the smell!). You can also place unappealing surfaces, like double-sided sticky tape or tinfoil, on key areas of the furniture, but be careful that the cats do not ingest these.
- We also encourage you to read Jackson Galaxy’s article Cats and Claws – Living Happily Ever After for additional information.
If you’re still considering declawing your cat, please read these excellent articles – Why Cats Need Claws and Cat Declawing: The Vet Tech Perspective. We sincerely hope that the content of these articles will change your mind and that you will ultimately decide to leave your cat whole and healthy.