Declawing Cats: Not Equal to Trimming Your Fingernails

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At a recent party, I was struck at how flippantly one of the guests spoke about declawing her cat. Her explanation was that the cat was scratching her furniture and since she could never part with her beloved companion, the only option left was to have her cat declawed. Then a few weeks later while waiting for a hair appointment, the topic came up again when the woman sitting next to me was telling her companion that she had adopted a cat and was going to have her declawed so that she wouldn’t destroy the furniture or scratch her children.

Stories like this make Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary Executive Director Becky Tegze cringe. In the Cat House at the no-kill animal sanctuary located in Middletown, NY, residents roam freely in rooms that simulate a home environment. There are scratching posts in every room and rarely do the feline residents scratch on the furniture. If they do, staff and volunteers immediately get to work redirecting them to the scratching posts.

Mr. Meowgi enjoys using the scratching post in the Cat House at Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in Middletown, NY

Experts at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) say that, too often, people seek declawing surgery for their cats because they believe it is a simple procedure—the equivalent of trimming your fingernails. In reality, declawing involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe. If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. Cats scratch and use their claws to mark their territory, condition their nails, defend themselves, capture prey and play. They also use their claws to stretch their backs. These are all natural behaviors.

Declawing of cats is illegal in such European countries as England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and many others. The practice is illegal in eight cities in California. Elsewhere in the U.S., the issue of declawing has divided the veterinary community.

The Paw Project, a veterinarian-founded, non-profit is leading a charge against the declawing of cats. The agency that educates on the negative effects of declawing has veterinarian leadership across the U.S. Meanwhile, the American Veterinary Medical Association believes that declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively, or when clawing presents a health risk for humans. In New Jersey and New York, bills have been introduced to ban the declawing of cats. The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association and the New York State Veterinary Medical Association are against the ban. Members of these associations are concerned that if the declawing of cats becomes illegal, more cats will be surrendered to shelters and euthanized. Furthermore, veterinarians against the ban believe that the decision to declaw a cat should be left in the hands of a pet owner and his/her veterinarian.

Munchie takes his turn at one of the many scratching posts set up in the Cat House at Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary.

Tegze says it’s absolutely possible to live in harmony with cats without resorting to declawing. In fact, Pets Alive is one of the many shelters and rescue groups nationwide that will turn away applicants who would even consider declawing cats that they adopt.

“Lots of times people have old-school thinking—they grew up with declawed cats and believe that all indoor cats should be declawed,” Tegze says. “They don’t realize that by declawing a cat you are removing a joint so now the cat has to walk on a bone it was never meant to walk on.”

Instead of solving a behavioral problem sometimes declawing can actually cause even more problems.

“It’s not unusual for declawed cats to stop using the litter box or they start biting because swatting no longer works when they are trying to defend themselves,” Tegze says. “Then these cats end up at animal shelters looking for new homes.”

Destructive scratching cannot be corrected overnight but can be solved over time with patience and perseverance. Here’s how:

      • To eliminate destructive scratching, apply double-sided tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper, a plastic carpet runner or cotton balls soaked in cologne or muscle rub (cats don’t like the smell) to the site being scratched.
      • Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, so you need to provide them with scratching posts that will appeal to them such as corrugated cardboard, sturdy rope, the underside of a carpet or even a small log with the bark still on (make sure it hasn’t been treated with chemicals).
      • When you see the cat scratching somewhere inappropriate, pick him up and take him to the scratching post. Gently rub his paws on the post. Put catnip on the post and/or hang a favorite toy there to make it more attractive for the cat.
      • To help prevent injury from scratches to human family members, keep the cat’s nails trimmed. Families can also consider covering cats’ nails with temporary synthetic nail caps. These are inexpensive and non-toxic and will usually last up to a month.

For more information from the HSUS on how to solve destructive scratching, visit the Humane Society.