stay educated — don't amputate!
By Barb Wehmann
As a cat owner, I had always been misinformed about declawing. What is declawing? Declawing, or “onychectomy,” is actually multiple amputations comparable to the removal of human fingertips at the first knuckle. Sensory and motor nerves are cut and destroyed, and recovery from the surgery can be a slow and painful process.
While declawing seems to be a popular and lucrative practice in most of the United States, it is not practiced in most European countries. In fact, declawing is illegal in countries such as England, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. In the United States, certain areas of California are working to legislate against declawing and West Hollywood has recently banned the practice.
Why do cats scratch?
It is a natural and instinctive behavior. Also, cats scratch to leave scent marks and these marks let other cats know of their presence. To mark territory, cats rub their heads, mouths, and tails on things, leaving their scent behind. Cats also mark territory by scratching conspicuous objects in their environment. Animal behaviorists believe that this behavior leaves clear visual marks as well as scent marks for other cats. Because scratching frequently occurs after naps, some believe it allows the cat to stretch out tight muscles in the body and legs. Others believe the behavior helps the cat remove the outer layers of its claws to keep them in good condition. Animal behaviorists currently believe that the primary function of scratching is communication and that stretching and claw conditioning are only secondary functions.
what are the consequences of declawing?
Many cat owners who elect to declaw their cats believe that they will never have to deal with damage of their possessions. However, besides the pain immediately after surgery, there are various long-term consequences to declawing:
Pain & Litterbox Avoidance. A cat may develop sensitivity and/or chronic phantom pain in their paws, which could in turn result in litter box avoidance and urine-soaked furnishings or carpeting.
Stress-Induced Illness. A cat relies on its claws as its primary means of defense, so removing the claws may make a cat feel defenseless. This could lead to a constant state of stress which could make some declawed cats more prone to diseases such as cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Change in Temperament. Cats, like people, react differently to physical handicaps. Some appear to be unaffected, and others will show a nervous and defensive state. Cat owners often decide to relinquish their cat or have him or her euthanized by a veterinarian when a dramatic temperament or behavior change occurs.
Biting. Stripping a cat of its primary defense system can result in a cat resorting to nipping or biting with very little warning, or destructive chewing problems.
Arthritis & Crippling. Cats walk on their toes; pain in the toes can cause changes to the cat's normal gait, which eventually can cause stiffness and pain in the legs, hips, and spine. If you've experienced prolonged pain, you will likely be able to relate to this.
Less Enjoyment. The procedure could hinder the sensations and enjoyment involved in walking, running, springing, climbing, and stretching in the future. Scratching is also a natural instinct for cats; cats enjoy scratching, and declawing may cause a significant degree of deprivation with respect to satisfying the instinctive impulses to climb, chase, exercise, and mark territory by scratching.
Defenselessness. Declawed cats who are allowed outdoors are at an increased risk of injury or death because they cannot defend themselves adequately against attacks by other animals.
What are my alternatives as a cat owner?
The most sensible and humane solution to scratching is to modify the cat's behavior, making changes in the living environment so that a cat’s natural scratching behavior is done on an appropriate area such as a scratching post. Owners need to allow more than one scratching surface, and the scratching posts or boxes cannot be in hidden areas, but rather need to be in all areas of the home where the cats reside. In addition, different types of scratching surfaces should be provided such as corrugated horizontal cardboard boxes, and vertical (at least 30 inches tall) and sturdy sisal or carpeted posts that do not tip when scratched. Using flimsy or short posts that tip may be a reason that cats scratch sturdy furniture. Rewarding spontaneous scratching on the post with praise, petting, or a treat will help encourage that behavior.
Other solutions are:
Covering your cat’s claws with protective soft covers
Adding sticky tape on furniture that is being scratched
Using a nontoxic spray deterrent such as "No Scratch" on furniture
Applying a pheromone product such as "Feliway" that mimics the scent of a cat’s facial glands
Keeping your cat’s claws trimmed. When nails are trimmed, cats cannot do serious damage with their claws to people, furniture, drapery, and rugs.
The key is not to try to change or prevent the natural scratching behavior, but rather to change the preference for the location or surface for scratching. Please understand that declawing is multiple amputations and that scratching behavior is natural for cats. Carefully consider the possible short-term and long-term consequences to declawing. For the welfare of your cat, take the time and effort to explore and implement the alternatives. Make the humane choice. Stay educated—don't amputate!