To Declaw or Not to Declaw

Posted by on Sep 25, 2013 in Our Blog | 0 comments

Ever had a cat, especially a new kitten, who thought your drapes or your screen door made a great jungle gym? Ever had your cat freak out from a noise while they sat on your lap, and tear you to pieces in their haste to run and hide? If you have, the option to declaw your cat may be a tempting one.
Cats are often declawed to protect furniture from being shredded to pieces, and to protect people from being scratched. Declawing is an important option for families of immune-compromised people who are more prone to dangerous infections from cat scratches. Declawing can also be an alternative to relinquishing or euthanizing a cat that is destructive.
There are some situations where declawing is necessary and beneficial. But before you decide to have your cat declawed consider that their claws are more than just a weapon for catching prey and self-defense. Scratching is a way to mark territory, both visually and by scent (they have scent glands on their feet). If they are outdoors, they use their claws to climb trees or posts to escape predators. Cats will scratch to sharpen their nails and shed older layers of the nail, but they also scratch to help stretch their legs and back muscles.
If you are thinking about declawing due to aggression, please keep in mind that many declawed cats will just resort to biting instead. I suggest trying to identify the underlying cause of the aggression, which your vet can help you with. If you just have a high energy kitten, it may be enough to provide a variety of appropriate toys, and dedicating 15 minutes of your day to playing with the kitten. Be sure to play with a toy, and not rough-house with just your hands. It is hard for a kitten to tell when it is okay to attack your hands and when it is not. Sometimes the aggression is due to stress or anxiety, and your vet can recommend ways to alleviate this.
One of the biggest reasons for declawing a cat is to protect furniture and belongings, so I thought I would provide a few ways to redirect the behavior so that hopefully declawing isn’t necessary. The first step is to provide appropriate scratch posts. You may have to get a few different types to find out what your cat likes. Try a vertical post with sisal rope or carpet, and make it tall enough that they can stretch out completely. Get a cardboard one to lay on the floor. You can get curvy scratch posts so your kitty can stretch at just the right angle, or even a wooden log if your cat really likes to go to town with those nails.
Placement is important too! Your cat won’t use the scratch post if it is down in the basement in a corner. Remember he’s using it to mark territory! It’s best to have them where your cat spends most of his time. If your cat has been scratching on a particular piece of furniture, put the scratch post right next to that spot. Put treats or catnip on the scratch post to encourage him to use it, and put double sided tape (test to make sure it won’t turn your couch fabric funny colors) on the part of the furniture he has been scratching to discourage him from scratching there anymore. You can try using a citrus spray on furniture (again, test first!) or door trim to deter a cat, but make sure the scratch post he’s supposed to use isn’t too close to that spot.
Ever trimmed a cat’s nails with nail clippers? It can be done! It’s easiest if you start when they are kittens, but you can do it with adult cats as well if you’ve got a friend to occupy the cat with some petting and treats. Just trim the clear, narrow part of the nail. You can start by trimming all the nails if your cat is amenable to it, otherwise just do 1 or 2 at a time until you are both more comfortable with the process. Always stop if the cat gets stressed, and give treats or pet them so they associate the trimming with something pleasant. Your vet or groomer can trim the nails for you as well.
Another alternative to declawing is a product called Soft Paws , which is a plastic covering you glue on over your cat’s toenail, similar to a fake nail. This covers the sharp point, but does need to be replaced as your cat’s claws grow out.
If you’ve tried deterrents and nail trimming and decide declawing is still necessary, you may want to know what is involved. There are many techniques for performing a declaw. Check out this AVMA article to read more about the different procedures and potential complications. The procedure at our clinic is done under general anesthesia (often at the same time as their spay or neuter), and we ensure good pain control is provided before, during and after surgery. The foot is cleaned with an antiseptic solution, we surgically remove the entire last digit with a scalpel blade, and bandage the feet for 24 hours. The cats are sent home with a special litter that won’t stick to their toes, as well as more pain medications to keep them comfortable while the feet heal.
Finally, remember that if you do declaw your cat, she should be indoors at all times. There are too many dangers in the outdoors that are made all the more dangerous when a cat loses its primary defense. If you are thinking about declawing your cat please consider the alternatives before making your decision, and don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you have any questions!