By: Talin Seta Shahinian
If you have a cat whose scratching has become a nuisance, you may be considering declawing them. You love your kitty but also want to keep your furniture intact and your rugs from becoming frayed. If you have young children, you may be considering declawing to prevent them from being scratched, especially if they haven’t yet mastered the art of gentle play with the cat. However, taking this dramatic surgical step to correct inappropriate scratching isn’t your only option. It’s essential to know all that declawing entails and the potential adverse effects to make an informed decision.
Why Do Cats Scratch?
First of all, it’s important to know that cats have instinctual reasons for scratching. To them, it’s not a destructive behavior; it’s just part of being a cat. It helps them stretch, and it’s how they mark territory, settle differences with other cats, and protect themselves from dangers from other animals or threatening humans if they go outside. In addition, it’s how they trim their claws, as cats’ claws grow in layers, and scratching removes the outer dead husks of the claw. It also provides them with stress relief.
What Is Declawing?
Declawing is a surgical procedure that removes your cat’s claws completely. Declawing surgery not only removes the claws but also removes the last bone of each toe to prevent your cat’s claws from regrowing. There are a few surgical methods used, including:
- Blade Declawing. The most common method of declawing is also the most invasive. A surgical instrument using a sliding blade cuts directly through the joint that holds the cat’s claw, and the claw is then removed.
- Cosmetic Declawing. A tiny blade is used to dissect the claw and the piece of bone attached to the claw. This method leaves the soft tissue and paw pad intact, so there’s less discomfort post-surgery and quicker recovery time than blade declawing. This surgery is more precise but also more time-consuming.
- Laser Declawing, A laser is utilized to remove the third bone of the cat’s paw. Laser declawing can result in less bleeding during surgery and less pain afterward. Recovery time may also be shortened. However, it’s important to note that while laser declawing has slight advantages over traditional declawing methods, the pain after surgery and the other effects of leaving your cat without claws are the same.
No matter what declawing method is used, appropriate amounts of pain medication should be provided during the recovery period. Also, you shouldn’t use the traditional litter, which is very painful on your cat’s tender paws right after surgery and can get stuck in the incisions. Instead, you should line their litter box with strips of newspaper.
Potential Adverse After-Effects
- Your cat may have trouble using the litter box, even after full recovery from the surgery. Your cat may associate the pain on their tender paw pads that they experienced post-surgery with using the litter box. Even with the newspaper strips instead of litter, the unfamiliarity may turn them off to the litter box.
- Declawing is major surgery, so it risks pain, infection, and tissue necrosis. There are also risks of long-term health problems, such as nerve damage, lameness, and regrowth of claws, if they were removed improperly. They can suffer from lifelong back pain due to declawing changing how their paws meet the ground when their claws are absent.
- It can change their personality. Declawing surgery is significant trauma, and your cat certainly can’t understand what happened to them or why. They can feel mistrustful of you afterward. They may become more withdrawn due to pain. They may experience stress, as they can no longer scratch to let off steam.
- Without their claws as their first line of defense, your cat may resort to biting if they feel threatened. You shouldn’t let your cat out of the house after declawing, as they won’t be able to defend themselves from cats or other animals adequately. This means if your cat tends to be an escape artist and gets outside, they will be defenseless and could get seriously injured or die.
Alternatives to Declawing
- Scratching Posts/Pads. You want to encourage positive scratching. Providing multiple scratching surfaces is key, as cats like to scratch to stretch, so they desire horizontal and vertical scratching. You can help their natural urges by providing scratchers that are placed on the ground, such as scratching boxes made of corrugated cardboard or sisal. Then put some upright scratchers around the house, whether stand-alone or part of a cat tree.
- Training Cats to Scratch Appropriately. You can encourage usage by leading them to their scratching posts or boxes by sprinkling catnip on the scratching surfaces. Give them a few cat treats after using the proper scratching surface to reinforce good behavior.
- Regular Claw Maintenance. Trimming their claws cuts down on their urge to scratch excessively. If your cat gets fussy during clipping, there are ways to get them more comfortable with it, or you can take your kitty to a groomer or vet to clip their claws for you.
- Synthetic Temporary Nail Caps. Soft Paws are soft plastic nail caps that cover the cat’s claws to prevent damage from scratching.
- Environmental Enrichment. More playtime with you and more cat toys they can hunt to mimic their wild hunting behaviors helps cut down on the urge to scratch.
- Synthetic Pheromone Sprays/Diffusers. These provide calming benefits to cut down on any stress-related scratching.
- Protect the furniture. Sticky Paws is a double-sided tape that you can place on the edges of furniture and even on plants to discourage scratching. This tape is safe for paws and works because cats don’t enjoy the sticky sensation.
It’s worth noting that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA,) The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP,) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) all discourage declawing. Many veterinarians now refuse to perform this surgery. Declawing should be seen as a last resort, as in cases where all alternative methods have been tried, and a cat is in danger of being euthanized.
If you live in NW Wisconsin, Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic is here to help you keep your cat healthy and happy. We’re a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. We see cats exclusively. Scheduling information is available on our www.purplecatvet.com website. You can also check out our Facebook page for more helpful information on all things feline!