To often, people think that declawing is a simple surgery that removes a cat's nails~the equivalent of having your fingernails trimmed. Sadly, this is far from the truth!
Declawing is not like a manicure. It's a serious surgery that involves 10 individual amputations—not just of the cats' nails but of the last digit of each toe as well. If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.
To cats, clawing is a natural, healthy, and important behavior. Cats claw to exercise and enjoy themselves, to maintain the condition of their nails, to stretch their muscles, and to mark their territory—both visually and with scent.
Cats often experience extreme pain when they awaken from the surgery and often have difficulty walking. Declawing results in a gradual weakening of leg, shoulder, and back muscles. Because of impaired balance caused by the procedure, declawed cats have to relearn how to walk, much as a person would after losing his or her toes and many become crippled for life. After the surgery, the nails can grow back inside the paw, causing extreme pain unbeknownst to the cat's guardian.
Without claws, even house-trained cats might start to urinate and defecate outside the litterbox in an attempt to mark their territory. Declawed cats might become morose, reclusive, withdrawn, irritable, aggressive, and unpredictable. Many people think that declawed cats are safer around babies, but, in fact, the lack of claws (a cat's first line of defense) makes many cats feel so insecure that they tend to bite more often as a means of self-protection.
Nearly two dozen countries—including England, Australia, and Japan—have prohibited or severely restricted veterinarians from performing the painful, permanently crippling, and mutilating procedure.
Many compassionate veterinarians refuse to declaw cats, even in areas where the procedure is legal, because declawing is cruel and of no benefit to cats—and it violates veterinarians' oath to "do no harm."
With a little bit of patience and effort, it's easy to keep cats from shredding couches and curtains—without resorting to cruel declawing surgery.
With a little effort and patience, you can protect your furnishings and preserve your cat's claws at the same time. The following hints will help:
- Trim your cat's nails regularly. When the cat is relaxed and unafraid, gently press on the toes until the claws extend. Use a pair of nail clippers and cut only the tip of the nail, taking care not to damage the vein or "quick." The nail hook is what tears upholstery, so removing it virtually eliminates damage.
- Buy or build two or more scratching posts. They must be sturdy, tall enough to allow the cat to stretch (3 feet or taller), and properly placed. Bark-covered logs, posts covered with sisal, or posts covered with tightly woven burlap work well. Soft, fluffy, carpeted scratching posts don't work—they are one of the greatest causes of declawing because cats don't like the posts, and frustrated human companions resort to surgery. If you use carpet, secure it to the posts with the rough backing on the outside; soft carpeting will not satisfy a cat's need to claw. Place one scratching post where your cat is already clawing and another near the area where he or she normally sleeps (cats like to stretch and scratch when they first wake up). An excellent scratching post is available from Felix Katnip Tree Company, 3623 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103; 206-547-0042.
- Consider cardboard or sisal "scratching boxes" that lie flat on the floor. These are inexpensive and small enough to scatter around the house, allowing your cat easy access to an "approved" scratching spot at all times. They do wear out fairly quickly, however, and will need to be replaced every few months—otherwise, cats may get frustrated and revert to using furniture.
- Teach your cat where to claw and where not to claw. Place your cat on the new scratching post and move his or her paws, or pretend to scratch it yourself. This will scent the posts and encourage exploratory clawing. Make the post a "fun" place to be. Play games with your cat on and around the post, and attach hanging strings, balls, and/or bouncy wire toys to it. Try sprinkling catnip on the post, too. (A once-a-week or so refresher application will keep your cat interested.) When kitty uses the post, reinforce this behavior with praise, but be careful not to startle or frighten him or her. When your cat claws furniture, discourage this behavior with a firm voice or other loud noise, but never with physical force. Directing lukewarm water from a squirt gun at the animal's back is often successful. During the training period, you may need to cover upholstery with plastic or other protection (cats don't like the slippery feel and will quickly learn to stay away).