Declawing cats: Think Again!
The Straight Dope
A fair warning: this article, unlike many of my others, is not going to be gentle or pull any punches. I'm going to be very blunt, and put the graphic truth forward, because I believe strongly that the word needs to be spread to eliminate this practice forever.
Why Do People Want To De-Claw Cats?
There are many reasons people will put forth as an excuse for this barbaric practice. These reasons are stated in some of the following ways (although this is an incomplete list):
- The cat might scratch me
- The cat might scratch my child
- Cats claw things--they might ruin my furniture
- The cat might ruin my clothes with his claws
Not a single one of these reasons is valid. De-clawing cats is cruel and unnecessary, period. It is inhumane.
Let's Discuss This--In Human Terms
How would you like it if someone shoved you in a cage, took you to a hospital and spoke to the doctor in a language you could not understand? Suppose the next thing you knew, you were being rendered unconscious.
When you awaken, your hands are in bandages and they hurt terribly. When the bandages come off, you discover to your horror, that not only are all of your fingernails gone, but so is the entire first knuckle joint of all your fingers!
That is what it really means to de-claw a cat. It is no minor procedure, and it is a cruel, inhumane, barbaric practice.
It can, (and often does) alter the cat's entire personality. They may become very timid and afraid, or overly aggressive. Worse, they may become afraid of you, (and justifiably so!) since you were the one who delivered them to the hands of the doctor who performed the surgery.
There are now vets who will perform an alternate procedure of simply severing the nerves that control the claws, but in reality, this is not a better idea. In this case, the claws will still grow, but the cat will be unable to extend them on his own to exercise his feet, and his claws will still have to be manually extended for trimming purposes, so they do not overgrow into his feet, causing a new problem
The Hard-Hitting Truth
Pulling no punches at all here, there is no way to put this but very bluntly:
People who are so worried about their furniture that they would even consider doing this to an innocent, gentle animal are quite simply not suitable candidates to own a pet. Their priorities are in all the wrong places!
Why Do Cats Claw and Scratch Things?
They need to, quite simply. It is exercise for their feet and legs, and it also deposits their scent onto the clawed surface, (from glands between their paw pads), marking it as their territory. Like it or not, cats are territorial. A group of cats can quite easily learn to live together in the same household, but they will still need to do what cats do.
It is essential for their mental health, as discussed above. Even cats who previously have undergone this horrendous surgical alteration will still go through the motions of clawing on things. It is hard-wired in, and you can no more change it than you can turn a tiger into a horse and ride it.
Mistaking Accidental Play Scratches As Being Malicious
Unless the animal is mistreated, it is the rare cat that lashes out and swipes at a person maliciously. If the cat is not being mistreated and this happens, then there is another cause; perhaps kitty is not feeling well, and a visit to the vet is in order to find out if she is in pain somewhere.
Kittens naturally tumble, wrestle and bite each other during play, and yes, they use their claws at times during this play. When you take in a kitten, it is going to need to be trained to play with and claw at appropriate substitutes. Just remember: fingers are not toys, and if you dangle your fingers or wiggle them on the floor to play with kitty and get clawed--you asked for it!
That said, however, normally, the cat will not swipe at/scratch you; they will simply stick out their claws and hold on. So, if this happens, simply take your other hand and gently remove the 'claws-out' paw from your hand, while saying firmly, "No!" If you snatch your hand away instead, of course you are going to end up with a nasty scratch...but you did it, not the cat! The cat was just holding--you did the pulling action that caused the scratch.
Children must be taught this as early as possible, and for that reason, a young kitten is not the very best choice where young children are in the household. A calmer, more mature kitty might be a better companion for small children. This is explained more fully in my two other articles discussing when an adult cat is a better choice and how to care for a kitten.
Keeping Kitty Safe
Any of my followers know by now that I am a stern advocate of keeping cats indoors-only to keep them safe from all manner of things, and to extend their lives. The dangers to cats allowed to roam free include, but are not limited to:
- predatory wild animals and birds of prey
- injury from fights with other cats
The average life expectancy for an outdoor cat is a scant 4 to 6 years, while indoor cats can and do often live to be 12, 15, sometimes as old as 20! Now, don't go carrying on about the "outdoor cat you had as a kid that lived xxx years longer than 6...." The figures are averages, and of course there are exceptions!
Sorry, but I'm not going to toss my cats out to Lady Luck and hope they beat the averages! I'm going to do everything in my power to keep them safe and sound so I can have my loving companions as long as possible.
That said, sometimes accidents happen, and a cat might unintentionally get out. If that happens, and they have been de-clawed, or had the ability to extend their claws removed, they will be defenseless! An indoor cat finding itself suddenly outside is at risk enough, without being defenseless as well. (And I'm sure again, here, some will come along with examples to the contrary. Again--those are exceptions, not the general case.)
Living With a Cat And Your Furnishings
There are many ways to keep cats from ruining your furniture. First and foremost, play with your kitty every day! Wearing off energy by play sessions keeps a bored cat from scratching at things just for something to do. You'll want a variety of types of cat toys: some that kitty can enjoy on her own, if you're busy or not home, and others that include interaction with you.
There are various deterrents to keep cats from the furniture clawing business. First and foremost are to have plenty of acceptable scratching surfaces. These may include:
- cat furniture, consisting of climbing "trees,"
- scratching posts covered in sisal rope or similar coverings
- cardboard scratching mats
Being vigilant is important when you first bring a cat home, (especially a kitten--like little children, their memories tend to be short). Watch the cat, and be ready with a sharp "NO!" accompanied by either clapping your hands or a squirt of plain water from a spray bottle set to shoot a stream. That way, the water travels farther, and you can intercept the activity without leaving your comfy chair.
Position the preferred scratching surface within reach of the forbidden one, and re-direct the cat to the post or mat. Gradually, move the scratching post further and further away from the people furniture. Cats are not stupid. They can learn and be taught.
This type of slick plastic protector is held in place by twist pins. Works great on fabric-covered furnishings--not intended for use on leather
There are also sprays and adhesive products to discourage cats from the people's furniture. Not many cats like sticky stuff on their feet, so the double-sided sticky tape can be applied to areas of the couch, for example, where cats may be tempted to scratch. (Just to prove my point about exceptions to the rule--I have one such cat myself. She doesn't like sticky on her paws, either, so she gets "around" the sticky tape by licking off all the sticky stuff! She's an oddball cat. None of my other kitties do that!)
I understand that there is a new type of adhesive for just such mischievous cats as mine. Instead of being sticky on both sides, it is sticky only on the side to adhere to the furniture; the exposed side is a slick plastic, giving them no purchase for their claws.
There are also repellant sprays available. Just be sure you can test it in the store, to make sure it doesn't have any odor, or at least, not an unpleasant one. You want to train the cats away from the furniture, but you don't want to repel the people at the same time.
Round-tipped specialty scissors with a flat plate to prevent cutting too much nail and hurting kitty
If you are really patient, and have a mellow laid-back cat, you might be able to install these claw-guards. The process is much like putting fake fingernails on yourself
Learn to trim your cat's claws at home. It is not difficult, but not all cats are pleased with the procedure, so it might take two people; one to hold the cat, and one to do the trimming.
Just please, be very careful not to cut too much claw and get into the 'quick.' That would hurt the cat, just as if you cut or tore your own fingernail back too far. It bleeds, and it hurts. It will also make it harder to trim their claws the next time--they will be mistrustful.
You can use any of several types of special trimmers available. If you are not comfortable doing this, you can take kitty to the vet or the groomer to have this done...but expect to pay anywhere from a dollar a paw to a dollar a claw. At an average of 18 claws per cat, (5 on each front paw; 4 on each back paw), that can add up to some fancy money.
Don't forget the dewclaw--it's up the leg a short bit from the main part of the paw, but it is just as important in the grooming/trimming process. Neglected dewclaws can become ingrown, requiring veterinary intervention.
There is a companion option to trimming, but it has to be repeated at intervals, as well. A product called "soft claws" is essentially akin to fake fingernails for people. They are hollow claw-shaped bits of soft vinyl that are glued to each individual claw. As the natural claw grows, the fake 'tips' will have to be cut off and replaced. A cat wearing these will not be able to scratch, but not all cats will tolerate them, either.
Remember--Your Cat Depends On You
Adopting a cat is like adopting a child--a child that never grows up and remains dependent upon you for its care for all its life.
Just as you would not cut off the ends of a childs fingers for continually reaching into the cookie jar or for drawing on the wall, please, never, ever even consider declawing a cat. If after reading this, you still feel that is an acceptable practice, then please, never adopt a cat!
The organization with which I volunteer, H.A.L.O. (Homeless Animals' Lifeline Organization) has potential adopters sign a paper promising to never declaw. If they seem inclined to insist, we show them the door and decline to place any of our kitties with that person. It is that important.
Love your cats; play with your cats; pet your cats, and you will have wonderful companions as long as they live!
© 2012 DzyMsLizzy
More by this Author
A humorous look at some things people believe about cats. Written by the owner of seven cats: one who knows the truth!
Why it might be better to adopt an adult cat than a kitten in various circumstances.
Plumber's snakes: how to use them for clearing simple clogs. Save yourself the cost of a plumber's visit. D.I.Y. household maintenance and repairs.