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To Declaw or not to Declaw?

posted November 24th, 2012 by
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 Claws are an integral part of a cat’s anatomy. They are used for balance, climbing, striking in defense, capturing prey and marking territory. In spite of this, one of the most frequent questions asked by new cat owners is, “Should I declaw my cat?”

This is a very controversial and emotionally charged issue in the cat world. Many feel that this is cruel mutilation— so much, in fact, that many countries, such as England, Australia and New Zealand, have outlawed it. Others feel that declawing saves the lives of many cats that would otherwise be given up to shelters and, ultimately, euthanized.

The most valid justification for declawing is to prevent injury or infection to a member of the household who may be elderly with thin skin, on blood thinners, or whose immune system is compromised. However, declawing is done primarily to prevent damage to furnishings.

If you are considering declawing, consider this. Declawing is serious surgery. It is not simply removal of the claw, but bone as well. Bone must be removed, or the claw will grow back. Many would equivocate this to the removal of a human fingertip down to the first knuckle. There are various techniques, but all involve removal of the bone down to the first joint.

The newest laser techniques can certainly be more precise if properly executed, but as with any surgery, there is some pain and discomfort; so pain management medication is indicated. Most cats recover quickly without complication. To prevent infection, special litter should be used during recuperation.

What are the long-term effects of declawing? Some say that it alters a cat’s personality, although no scientific study has supported this. However, I can testify from personal observation that cats without claws are more prone to biting. After all, you have removed their first line of defense, so this makes common sense, doesn’t it? And, in light of this, declawed cats should remain indoors.

What are the alternatives? Perhaps the simplest is regular kitty manicures. It may take a while for Kitty to get used to this, but you can easily clip your cat’s claws at home with an inexpensive pair of clippers from the pet store. I have found this easiest to do when the unsuspecting kitty is in a mellow mood sitting on my lap. If all else fails, your veterinarian will gladly do it for you. The claws can still do some damage to furniture, but it is minimized. Another alternative is plastic nail caps. These are applied with super glue to the clipped claws and last for about a month. (Caution: other cats may laugh at the big boy cat with blue fingernails!)

A scratching post is an absolute necessity in any cat friendly home. A variety of styles are available, and some can actually be attractive. The post should be tall enough and sturdy enough for the cat to extend full length to use it; sisal rope is usually the most desirable covering. It is easier to train a kitten than an adult cat, but start training Kitty to use it when she first comes to live with you, regardless of age. Whenever the cat scratches something inappropriately, take her to the post. Catnip will often entice her to use it.

In spite of the lengths and expense to which some people will go to declaw their cats, many declawed cats are found abandoned on the street. I must ask, “Did they really want a cat to begin with? Or did they want just another toy for their own satisfaction? Do they not realize that all the furnishings and material goods in the world cannot replace the love of a cat?”

Camille Hulen