The Repercussions and Alternatives to Declawing Your Kitty
Declawing is the practice of removing the nails of a pet – mainly cats. Pet owners have the procedure done for couple of different reasons: destroying their furniture, clawing up them and their other family members, and to prevent any damage to their other pets if they get into a scuffle. Below are a couple reasons I have heard in the past and some reasons why you should think twice before getting your kitty declawed. Consider the behavioral and medical side effects of declawing and educate yourself as much as possible.
“They are under anesthesia and declawing doesn’t really hurt. It’s just like any other procedure.”
Unfortunately a lot of pet owners think this is fact. They truly believe it does not hurt and they will be fine afterwards. They also do not realize what actually happens in the surgery. Many believe that only the nail is being taken. This is incorrect. When a cat gets declawed, not only does the nail get removed, but also the last bone on each digit gets removed. In human terms, it would be like cutting off all our fingers to the last knuckle. Here is an image that shows exactly how much gets cut off:
Just like any other surgical procedure, imagine the recovery time. It could be as long as 3 weeks! That is 3 weeks of painful walking and needing to be constantly on pain medication. During this time period, a lot of bad things can start happening. One of the things that is likely to happen is that your kitty may stop using the litter box. When they first get declawed, continuing to use regular litter is unsafe because it can get trapped in your cats’ bandaged paws and then cause an infection. You will need to use some kind of newspaper so that you can clean it up right away. Your kitty may not use the litter box after the bandages come off and she is finally healed.
Another problem that commonly occurs after your kitty gets declawed is they get aggressive because they have lost one out of two lines of defense. Instead of using their paws to swipe at something when they are annoyed or upset, they will use their teeth. This is a behavior that is difficult to correct because they feel they have no choice – and if you think about it, they really do not have a choice.
The truth: Most veterinarians now won’t do declawing!
That is the absolute truth! I have worked for six different clinics – each and every one of the vets wont do it, unless medically necessary. One of the few reasons they would do it is if there was a tumor in one of the toes. Even then, that’s only one toe. They won’t do the rest of the claws for one toe.
Why? With all the alternatives available, they consider it unnecessary and inhumane (just like tail docking and ear cropping). Putting a pet (or any living thing) under anesthesia is always a risk – even if the patient is young and healthy. Why do it if you can train your kitty not to do it? In some countries, it is actually illegal to declaw your cat.
“My cat is indoor only – she doesn’t need her claws anyway.”
First of all – your cat is indoor only – yay!! That is definitely a good decision. However, many owners don’t realize that their cat might be outside at some point: what if a door gets left open and suddenly your indoor kitty becomes an accidental outdoor kitty. What are the claws used for? They are used for protection, defense, and hunting. To get away from predators, cats will also climb trees. Because they do not have claws for grip, they won’t be able to climb and trees to flee from predators. They can’t use their claws to fight back either. In the wild, cats will sink their claws into their enemy and then tear the skin to fight back. They would not be able to do that if they don’t have their claws. It is one of their best weapons for survival. Without their claws, they will have to rely on their teeth – and that’s not going to be enough in some cases. They need both claws and teeth in order to have a chance at survival.
The other reason they need claws in the wild is to hunt and eat. Cats will use their claws to capture any rodents and other small animals so that they can eat. Again, without their claws they will need to rely on their teeth. It ends up being very difficult to catch prey and make it a meal. Watch as this cat uses her claws first to catch the pigeon and then carry it away for eating.
If your kitty escapes, she will encounter a lot of different predators and she will need to be able to defend herself and find food to survive – she needs her claws for that!
“My cat is scratching up my kids and myself.”
That is a big concern for many owners. They have kids, many of them young, and they don’t want the cat scratching them up. That is definitely understandable. Nobody wants to be scratched up; a lot of times it bleeds and hurts for days afterwards. If it is deep enough, it can actually scar! That is a very valid concern but with some proper training, your kitty can be taught that an arm is not a scratching post.
Cats are smart creatures. They are not trying to intentionally hurt you! The main reason for scratching is defense and playfulness. To stop this behavior lets go with the first reason: defense. If a cat feels threatened in any way, she will first paw and swipe with claws out. The fairly simple solution is: don’t give her a reason to feel that way. Don’t be rough with her, and don’t let your kids be rough with her. Teach your kids not to pull at her tail, flick her ears, blow on her face, etc. All of those things, and other things, will cause a cat to be upset and want to defend herself.
Teach her how to play without her sharp claws. As soon as she extends her claws to scratch, end the play session. This will quickly teach her that she can’t play and have her claws at the same time. Again, cats are smart and will catch on very quickly. Do not scold your cat, yell at her or hit her to discipline her. This will cause her to go into defensive mode: with her claws and possibly teeth.
“Declawing will stop her from destroying my furniture.”
Technically? Sure. That’s true. This is probably one of the most common reason for getting a cat declawed. Pretty easy logic – no claws, no furniture destruction. However, there are many alternatives to solve this problem that doesn’t include a surgical procedure. Unfortunately, declawing is something some owners look at as an easy fix, and Band-Aid. Please see this list of alternatives and maybe try them before going to declaw your cat.
This is the main one: training with scratching posts. Put up a scratching post wherever the kitty is scratching to show her that the appropriate spot to scratch is on this post – not the couch. As she starts using the post, reward her. Give her treats and lots of chin rubs. Slowly move the scratching post away from the touch day by day so that she continues to scratch, just not the couch. Provide many scratching posts so that she has lots of options! Sprinkle some catnip on them so that they’re that much more appealing. A lot of scratching posts are included in cat trees and a lot of them have toys as well. Fun fact! Cats scratch for a couple reasons: boredom, to get attentions, to stretch out their paws, and to transfer their scent onto something else. All of those things can be redirected and their needs supplied by a scratching post. Cats don’t innately know that they’re not supposed to claw the furniture – teach her! She’s not doing it to spite you or make you furious – she does it for the reasons listed above.
If the scratching posts aren’t quite working, try a different approach. Pet stores sell some long strips of double stick tape that you can temporarily tape onto your couch. This way, when you kitty tries to scratch, she will not like the stickiness and then try to scratch somewhere else – hopefully the scratching post!
Another alternative, and I do this with my own kitty – a product called SoftPaws and you can get this at a pet store or even online. These are little plastic flexible caps you put on their nails with a special type of glue and that way they can still stretch out their paws and scratch as they would, except there is no damage! They are usually good for 1-2 months and either fall off as the nail grows, or the kitty chews it off once it’s too long, as a kitty would chew off her own nail if it got too long. They are very easy to put on: you cut the nail, put a little glue in the nail cap, slide it on the nail and then hold it for about 5 seconds. Yes, it will take a little bit for the kitty to get used to them, but it’s a great alternative to declawing. It’s not permanent and it doesn’t hurt your kitty at all. You can have fun with them too! They sell a wide range of colors from clear to glittery to solid colors. You can even do seasonal colors – like red and green for Christmas!
An alternative to all of these examples is to trim your cats nails often. There is also the option of using a dremel – which is an instrument just like a nail file. It grinds the nails down so that they are not sharp even if they are short. If this is hard to do yourself, take your cat to your groomer or your vet. Both can do it for a small fee of usually $11-15 and usually do not require an appointment. You can also have your veterinary office place the soft paws on your cat. If you get a cat at an early age, start the nail trims and nail caps (yes, they sell kitten nail caps) right away. That way, they are used to it and it will be easier and easier to put them on. It may be challenging at first, but don’t give up! Have two people, go very slow and have treats or wet food available. When I started with my cat, she was about 3 months and at first it was very frustrating. She was very wiggly and very vocal in her protests. About 6 months later, she just lays there and lets me do it with ease.
In conclusion, there are many alternatives to declawing your cat, and many repercussions if you do end up declawing her. Hopefully this article was informative so that you can make an educated decision. Seriously consider all the alternatives available to you and it won’t hurt you to try before thinking about declawing. If you think you might be too busy to take the time to properly train your kitty, maybe consider now is not a good time in your life to have a kitty – and that okay! However if you are seriously considering declawing your cat, please consult with your veterinarian so they can explain all the details so you know you understand the procedure itself and life with your kitty afterwards. This way, there will be no surprises and you can be prepared for the behavioral issues that may follow the procedure.