A lot of people take the idea of declawing their cat too lightly. Many do not understand what declawing is, thinking that it is some form of simply clipping the cat’s claws.
Too frequently, vets and clinic staff deliberately misinform and mislead clients into believing that declawing removes only the claws in the hopes that clients are left with the impression that the procedure is a “minor” surgery that doesn’t involve amputation of the end of the toe, ligaments and tendons.
In fact, this is a mutilating surgery that is banned in some countries due to its abusive and inhumane nature. These countries include, but are not limited to England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand.
And thanks to The PAW Project, anti-declawing legislation is starting to take hold i n the United States.
The declawing procedure
Declawing a cat involves cutting the bone at the end of the cat’s toe – like cutting off the tip of your finger.
Depending on the vet, this bone can be totally removed like cutting off the tip of your finger at the first joint.
Or it can be cut in half removing the claw and the top end of the bone like cutting off the tip of your finger at the base of your fingernail.
Is it painful?
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a prominent veterinary behaviorist, writes in The Cat Who Cried for Help:
“Unlike routine recovery, including recovery from neutering surgeries, which are fairly peaceful, declawing surgery results in cats bouncing off the walls of the recovery cage because of excruciating pain. Cats that are more stoic huddle in the corner of the recovery cage, immobilized in a state of helplessness, presumably by the overwhelming pain.”
There are many complications that frequently occur after this procedure.
- Excruciating pain and limping
- Excessive bleeding
- Bone chips that prevent healing
- Pad injury during surgery
- Damage to the radial nerve
- Painful regrowth of deformed claw inside of the paw which is not visible to the eye
Long term physical effect
Cats actually walk on their toes rather than on their paws. They use their claws for balance and for exercising and stretching their legs, back, shoulders and paws.
A cat’s body is structured to support and distribute the cat’s weight across its toes as it walks, runs and climbs. Their back, shoulder, paw and leg joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves all work together.
When you remove the claws and tips of their toes, you interfere with this natural design leading to chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken.
Potential behavioral problems
Declawing is not a necessary surgery that makes a cat feel better due to some medical issue. It is a traumatizing and painful event that can lead to changes in the cat’s personality and behavior.
Cats who were lively and friendly can become withdrawn and introverted.
The trauma of declawing can lead to a cat living perched on top of doors and refrigerators, out of reach of real and imaginary predators against whom they no longer have any adequate defense.
This feeling of vulnerability can also lead to the cat becoming nervous, fearful, and aggressive, often resorting to their only remaining means of defense – their teeth.
Feeling defenseless causes a constant state of stress that may make some declawed cats more prone to disease. Stress leads to a variety of physical and psychological disorders including suppression of the immune system, cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Litter box usage can also be affected. After being declawed, a cat’s feet are so tender that it is painful for them to step on and dig in litter. This leads to them associating pain with the litter box and they develop an aversion to using it.
One of the reasons cats scratch is to “mark” their territory. Scratching stimulates the scent glands in a cat’s paw, letting the cat “mark” their territory with a scent smelled only by other cats. Some cats resort to urine marking when they lose this natural marking ability.
Humane alternatives to declawing
There are many alternatives to declawing. With patience, training and giving the cat items to scratch, your cat will not scratch the items you do not want it to.
Dealing with cat claws
Trim your cat’s claws regularly. There are special trimmers made with a rounded cutting surface to safely and easily trim your cat’s claws. With practice, you and your cat will both get comfortable with a kitty salon session.
You can also use Soft Paws Cat Claw Covers. These are non-toxic, soft nail caps that are glued on to the existing trimmed nail.
Provide cat scratchers
There are a variety of surfaces made especially for a cat to scratch and they come in all many of designs and sizes.
Cat scratchers are made of sisal, carpet, corrugated cardboard and emery board. There are towers, posts, flat and angled surfaces – from the simplest to the most elaborate.
Give your cat a variety of cat specific surfaces to choose from and use catnip on these surfaces to attract the cat to them. Praise them when they do scratch their cat scratchers. And if you are in training mode, give them a treat when they use their scratcher. Positive rewards reinforce positive behavior.
Deterring a cat
Cats can be trained to stay away and not scratch surfaces. When you see a cat starting to scratch where it shouldn’t you can either spray it lightly with water from a spray bottle or rattle an empty can filled with coins. With both of these, the cat associates a bad feeling with the behavior you want them to stop.
In extreme cases, you can temporarily line the surface with foil – cats hate the feel and sound of it and will stay away.
Please note – hitting a cat in any way does not work. They do not respond to this type of punishment and it will have a negative effect on the cat, its behavior and its relationship with you.
Cats need their claws
Scratching is a natural behavior for a cat – they need their claws to live a happy and healthy life. There are ethical and humane alternatives to declawing a cat. If you want to live with a cat companion, do the right thing and do not declaw them.
Many of the cats surrendered to shelters are surrendered because of behavioral problems which developed after the cats were declawed. Do not let your cat become one of them.
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