One of the many questions asked of our staff all too frequently is, “Is the cat declawed?” While the answer varies depending on the cat, felines who are relinquished to the shelter from home environments are often declawed; sometimes, an adopter will only consider adoption if a cat is declawed. But as any cat owner knows, a cat with his or her claws in-tact make loyal and loving companions, as well. This month, we at PAHS would like to bring attention to the painful reality of declawing our feline friends; in addition, we want to offer alternatives to this widely-debated issue among cat owners, veterinarians, and non-profit organizations.
To begin with, the term “declawing” is misleading. According to information provided by The Paw Project, a California-based non-profit whose mission is to educate the public about the painful truths of declawing, an onychectomy, or declawing, is a series of bone amputations. Declawing is more accurately described by the term “de-knuckling” and is not merely the removal of the claws, as the term “declawing” implies. In humans, fingernails grow from the skin, but in animals that hunt prey, the claws grow from the bone; therefore, the last bone is amputated so the claw cannot re-grow. The last bone of each of the ten front toes of a cat’s paw is amputated. Also, the tendons, nerves, and ligaments that enable normal function and movement of the paw are severed. If this procedure were applied to humans, it would involve cutting off each finger at the last joint. With felines, complications are not uncommon as bleeding, infection, arthritis, chronic pain, lameness, nerve and tissue damage can result from this procedure.
While the physical effects of declawing are painful, more disturbing is the emotional and behavioral trauma that occurs frequently with declawed cats. As noted, the cat’s first line of defense—its claws—is gone; if ever let outdoors, the cat has no way to protect itself. The Paw Project cites veterinary studies that reveal how the pain of declawing sometimes causes cats to be reluctant to walk or play, and as a result, owners sometimes neglect them or mistreat them. In fact, what many supporters of declawing do not realize is that declawing leads to aggression, biting, and litter box avoidance; in turn, the cats are often abandoned or relinquished to a local shelter. Despite being declawed, a cat that bites or has a history of urinating or defecating in unwanted areas is difficult to place into a home. Cats with these behaviors are more likely to end up in shelters, where an estimated 70% will be euthanized.
Luckily, there are several alternatives to declawing that benefit not only the cat, but also diminish furniture and carpet damage. One of the most common cat behavior problems is scratching furniture. A cat can be trained to use scratching posts—vertical or horizontal—by sprinkling catnip near or on the scratching post. Posts come in a variety of prices, shapes, sizes, and textures; they range from large carpeted, wooden cat trees, to smaller corrugated cardboard scratchers. Many people are not aware that they should provide a scratching post for their cats. Because scratching is a deeply ingrained instinct in cats, if there is no appropriate spot, they will be forced to substitute furniture or other objects.
Holistic veterinarian, Dr. Jean Hofve, and cat behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy, featured on Animal Planet’s program My Cat from Hell, offer numerous alternatives to “de-toeing” your cat. Regularly trim the cat’s claws as a way to prevent damage to home furnishings. One of the most purchased items to deter scratching are nail caps called Soft Paws® or Soft Claws® which can be glued painlessly to a cat’s claws to prevent damage due to scratching. These items can be purchased at pet supply stores or through your veterinarian. Double-sided sticky tape like Sticky Paws® can be applied to furniture to help prevent a cat from scratching that surface. When the cat goes to scratch there, the tape feels funny to their paws and they learn not to use that surface anymore.
In closing, declawing is illegal or considered inhumane in various countries throughout the world, including over twenty-five European nations, Australia, and Brazil. While the United States has not voted on any wide-sweeping legislation regarding this issue, there are non-profit groups lobbying for such laws to be passed. You can do your part, however, and rethink declawing your cat. For more information or questions about “de-knuckling” our feline companions visit www.pawproject.org and www.littlebigcat.com.