One of my strictest rules as a cat breeder is to never sell to anyone who intends to declaw the cat but I am a realist. I know I cannot really come to someone’s home on a weekly basis and do a health check on their cat’s paws to enforce the contract I have them sign. So I am doing the next best thing and trying to educate people about why declawing is a bad idea and teach them better ways of dealing with scratching issues.
For decades now unscrupulous / poorly informed vets have performed declawing operations on cats without really thinking about the consequences. Like most people they do what they are taught to do and vet schools teach declawing as the number one method to deal with cats scratching furniture and woodwork. What they do not teach is the end product of declawing is a disaster in many if not most cases.
Declawing is not the removal of a cat’s claw. It is far more than that. Look at your hand. Do you see the last part of your fingers where the nail grows out? Imagine if someone came along and chopped off every finger at that last knuckle. Now imagine having them do the same to your toes. Cat’s claws grow directly from the bone. The only way to effectively declaw them is to cut off the bone at the last joint.
Often when cats are declawed fragments of bone are left in the tissue. These are often too small to see. These bone fragments will try to grow new claws. That is their job and they do not stop simply because the bone was crushed and damaged. Imagine having tiny crushed pieces of bone with claws growing in them inside your feet. Worse than the physical pain is the risk of infection. I have seen video of large cats who have been declawed that had to have surgery to restore their ability to walk properly. When the vet went in to remove the huge chunks of bone and claw that grew from small bone fragments left behind they also had to clean up pockets of pus because of infections caused by the damage they bone / nail chunks were causing as the freely moved around inside the cat’s foot tissue cutting the flesh with each step. This is easier to see when the work is done on a lion but the results are the same with a housecat and the pain is just as real.
How declawing physically affects your cat…
Let’s cut to the chase here. If you think a cat scratching the sofa is annoying imagine how pleased you will be when the cat starts using that same sofa for a litterbox. No this is not an act of revenge. The cat’s poor toes are too sore to dig in the litter so it seeks out rugs, clothes, bedding and furniture to use the bathroom in.
Walking is painful and many cats become less active. Over time the cats front legs, back and shoulders weaken from a combination of poor posture and lack of exercise. When a cat walks it walks on its toes – only a declawed cat no longer has toes, it now has sore and infected stubs of what used to be toes. A declawed cat walks on its heels. This throws its entire body out of alignment. In addition, cats exercise their front legs and shoulders when sharpening their claws. The combination of these two issues changes a cat’s posture and ultimately this results in arthritis, more bone damage and lameness. Even if you do not know it your declawed cat is doomed to a life of constant pain.
Psychological damage and why you should care…
Obviously cats use their claws for self-defense. This is a big deal. If you take away a cat’s claws they are in danger from cats, dogs and other animals as well as any person that might be a threat. I don’t care if you keep your cat 100% perfectly safe it doesn’t matter, your cat knows cannot defend itself properly.
Cats use their claws for climbing. Have you ever watched cats? They are not ground dwelling animals. Cats like to be on top of things. I don’t care if it is the back of the sofa or a tree branch, up is good in a cat’s mind. Why? Instinctively cats know they are safer when they are off the ground where large predators can reach them. Again it goes back to the fact that no matter how safe you feel your cat is the cat does not feel safe if it is robbed of its ability to fight back or run away by climbing.
Cats are use their claws when they groom, hunt, to communicate and in many other small ways the same as we use our fingers. Imagine you were in an accident and lost your fingers leaving only the palm of your hands. Think of all the things you could no longer do. Just the simple act of no longer being able to scratch an itch effectively would be maddening. Not being able to properly grab and hold things would be so much worse. Cats may not pick up pencils to sign paperwork or tools fix a broken dresser but they still need their claws to grab a great many things. The frustration has a deep psychological impact on a cat. Does your cat have a favorite game / toy… odds are it is some form of pseudo hunting. I don’t care if they are “killing” a toy mouse stuffed with catnip or a balled up piece of paper cats enjoy the thrill of the hunt. It is not a game to them. Hunting or pseudo hunting is an instinctive behavior and even though they can still knock the piece of paper around being unable to get a good grip on it affects them mentally.
In other words when you declaw a cat you steal the very essence of what it is to be a cat from them. Add to that the great physical pain many declawed cats live with daily and the low grade infections many suffer from and you can understand why declawed cats have anger, fear and aggression issues. What does an angry frightened cat do? It acts aggressively and bites. Why? Because it constantly feels it is threatened and unable to properly protect itself. Frequently, cats who have been declawed end up in shelters or put down because of these problems.
So what do you do instead of declawing…
First you buy a scratching post. It sounds simple enough but do you know how many people with cats do not have a scratching post? Cats don’t scratch just for fun and exercise they need to scratch to maintain good claw health. Scratching removes the outer layer of the claw and keeps the nails from growing too long. One form of declawing does not remove the claw but simply cuts the ligaments in the foot making it impossible for a cat to scratch. From this society has learned that cats who cannot scratch and remove that outer layer end up with claws that grow backwards and around into their own feet. The same happens if a cat has nothing to scratch with the same painful results. In other words your cat is not scratching because it wants to, it is scratching because it has to and if you fail to provide a scratching post it is inevitable the cat will scratch elsewhere.
Second, get some catnip spray and a small spray bottle for water. Spray your scratching post with the catnip spray. This makes it an attractive place to scratch because the enjoyable effects of the catnip combine with the act of scratching. Think of it as a spa day for your cat but nothing in life works just because you offer a happy solution. Just as with kids cats need discipline. That is why you have the water bottle. If your cat starts scratching the sofa squirting them with the water bottle doesn’t endanger the cat, send you on a mad chase after an agile feline resulting in you or the cat being injured or every breakable in the house crashing to the floor. A spray bottle gives you super powers. Heck there are times I wish I could use one on my daughter it works so well. You can squirt cats who get on counters, attack electrical cords, scratch the furniture or anything else you disapprove of their doing. No harm is done but they remember and as long as you are consistent they learn what is and is not acceptable.
Third, unless you are going to be home all day you need a cat safe place. No I am not talking about imprisoning your cat in the travel crate you use to go to the vet. I am talking about protecting your pet and your home from disaster. Would you leave a small child alone at home and expect them to never get into trouble? Then why expect a cat to have read the family rule book of good behavior? Some people cat proof their entire houses and some cats just naturally understand the rules of the house better than others but reality is everyone needs to some plan for safely containing their pet. Be it a bathroom with a litterbox and the toilet paper hidden in a drawer or an enclosed cat tower much like the type used for crate training dogs only taller your cat needs a place they can be safe. Wherever you decide to make your cat’s special area make it fun. Include a litterbox, scratching post, some catnip, food, water and toys as well as a soft bedding spot to snuggle up. Putting it near a window or in the case of a room making it easy to look out the window is a plus. Make it a daily ritual. Your cat’s place is where they are fed and each time you use it either give them a treat or some wet food etc. to make sure they cooperate. If you are feeling guilty think of the number of cats who die each year from getting out and getting run over, eating house plants, attacking electrical cords and worst of all in shelters because their families couldn’t / wouldn’t keep them due to behavior issues. Remember cats are not meant to live in their room / kitty tower crate just to spend time there when you are not there to supervise them. Also remember the more time you are away the larger your pet’s area should be.
Wrapping it all up…
Declawing will not fix your cat’s scratching post issues it will only replace them with new problems and make your pet miserable. Please understand that a pet is not an object you own but a family member who needs to be treated with love and respect. Yes, negotiating with cats can be hard UNLESS you work with their instincts but if you do take the time to understand why your cat behaves the way it does you can truly have the perfect pet.