8th October 2015
Once a common practice, declawing cats is becoming less frequent as it declines in popularity. The procedure, called an ocychectomy, is a veterinary surgery that removes an animal’s claws by means of amputation. Some pet owners elect to have the surgery performed because they want to prevent damage to their furniture or avoid being scratched themselves during play. Declawing is not the only option though! Countless products and strategies exist to manage your kitty’s claws and scratching that do not require expensive, major surgery and protect the natural behaviors of your cat.
Cats have strong natural urges to scratch. The behavior is one way that cats mark their territory! Within the pads of their front paws, cats have scent glands. By scratching, they leave their scent and communicate to other cats that the area belongs to them. When your cat rubs its cheeks and body against you, it’s doing the same thing: claiming you as its human! Scent marking allows your cat to be comfortable and confident in its surroundings. Scratching also provides your cat with a means to stretch important muscles, remove dead layers of nails, and protect itself.
Declawing your cat can hinder or eliminate its ability to perform these natural behaviors and the surgery can occasionally lead to medical complications and behavioral issues. Risks involved with the surgery include anesthetic complications, hemorrhage, infection, and pain. Declawing can also cause muscle damage and lasting problems with balance. Due to the stress and pain of the surgery, cats can develop undesirable behavioral issues such as inappropriate elimination and biting. Because the surgery is medically unnecessary, some countries view declawing as inhumane and fourteen have passed laws deeming the procedure illegal (twelve European countries, Australia, and Brazil). Some cities and counties in the United States have followed their example.
Before declawing your cat, we suggest that you consider the many other available options!
• First, provide your cat with a variety of scratching options! The most important of these is a study scratching post at least 3 feet tall and covered in sisal rope or carpet. Trees serve this purpose for your cat’s wild relatives (lions, tigers, etc.) but the post is an acceptable mimic for your indoor cat. You should also provide your cat with horizontal scratching options such as sisal doormats or corrugated cardboard scratchers. The latter of these comes in an incredible array of options ranging from simple boxes to racecars and little sofas! Not all cats have the same preferences so this may be a trial and error process.
• Your cat may not immediately use the scratchers, so give your cat a bit of training! Place the post and scratchers in high-traffic areas. Your cat wants to show off! Encourage your cat by playing near and rubbing catnip on the scratchers. You can even simulate scratching the post yourself! Cats are great observers! Offer lots of praise and the occasional treat for scratching appropriately.
• Discourage your cat from scratching places that are off-limits (such as furniture or carpeting) by redirecting them to an appropriate place to practice that behavior and employing deterrents. Deterrents are effective even when you are not home. These include double-sided tape, bubble wrap, and plastic (such as a shower curtain). Place these on or around areas that your cat is inappropriately scratching.
• Don’t use your hands or arms during play! Use wand toys, mice, rattles, balls, etc. instead. If your cat does scratch you during play, say “OUCH” loudly and end the play session. One of the most effective punishments for a cat is being ignored. To prevent scratches outside of play, always handle your cat gently and respectfully. Do not force your cat to snuggle with you and be attune to feline behavioral cues expressing annoyance, fear, and discomfort. Respect your cat’s boundaries.
• Trimming the tips of your cat’s claws should become part of your regular cat care routine. With a bit of practice, it becomes relatively easy. Consult your veterinarian for instructions if you have no experience doing so. Always use pet nail clippers! Try your best to make the process as stress-free as possible for your cat by being gentle and calm. Offer praise and a nice treat to your cat for tolerating the clipping. Trimming will further limit furniture damage and human injuries from scratching.
• Nail covers, such as Soft Paws, are also an option. These small vinyl caps make your cat’s claws less sharp while still allowing it to scratch and stretch naturally. Soft Paws are easily glued to a cat’s nails. You can ask your vet to show you how to apply these! They come in an array of fun colors too!
We encourage you to find out more about declawing and its alternatives by talking to your vet and reading online resources. As always, make smart decisions that are best for you and your pet!
***Interested in helping our kitties express their natural need to scratch? Consider donating specially designed scratchers for shelter cages! Our cats love them! Order online here: http://www.stretchandscratch.com/
Liberty, enjoying the perch atop one of our "office cat" scratching posts!