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.
In fact, it has already been banned in several European countries. The USA needs to play catch-up.
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 declaw a cat. It is no minor procedure, and it is a cruel, inhumane, and 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, However, the claws will still grow, but the cat will be unable to extend them on his own to exercise his feet. His claws will still have to be manually extended for trimming purposes, so they do not overgrow into his paw pads, causing a new and painful problem.
This is truly not a good alternative.
Pulling no Punches:
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!
It is an inhumane and barbaric practice.
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 need to 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 scratched, you asked for it, so don't blame the cat!
Remember: fingers are not toys!
That said, however, normally, the cat will not swipe at or 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.
One of our cats was a stray whom we rescued, and I've taught her to understand the words, "soft paws; no claws" and she immediately retracts her claws.
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.
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 other toys 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
- special double-sided sticky tape, for discouraging clawing furniture
The tape goes on the corners; the most likely area for cats to scratch. The majority of cats don't like sticky stuff on their paws. And, you want exceptions to the rule of cats? I'll give you one of my own. One of our cats (out of a household of six plus foster kittens), does not let the sticky tape stop her; she simply licks the tape until the sticky is gone, and claws away anyhow! She's weird! But in our case, it doesn't really matter--the furniture was already in bad shape.
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.
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. I plan to look into those!
We've used this with better results than the sticky tape, with our silly kitty who licks the sticky stuff off
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.
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.
You have to get to know your cat and its personality. I know none of ours would sit still for having fake claws applied! We just give them pedicures every now and then. You can use the specialized cat nail trimmers, but we have found those work best on kittens. On an adult cat, the claws are thicker, and those don't cut well enough. We use the same thing our vet uses: ordinary human-type nail clippers.
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 Liz Elias
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