It is always exciting sending a lucky kitty chosen for adoption to the veterinarian for its spay or neuter before heading home. Sometimes adopters opt for front paw declawing of their new kitty and that is probably one of the most important decisions they will ever make for the pet. Shelters come under attack for allowing the procedure to be done, and we are left choosing between a wonderful home with this procedure and potentially no home for the cat as he waits for another person to maybe notice him among all the others. I’ve been told that we should refuse to adopt a cat to anyone who would declaw a cat. It is indeed a gut wrenching position to be in. We love cats and all critters, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
So maybe we need to ask “WHY do cats scratch”? Kitty nails can get frayed, just like ours do, and they need to smooth them off. Also, it is a way cats instinctively mark their territory. Every scratch they make leaves a secretion from the gland in a cat’s paw…and other cats can smell it! Besides being a feline defense tool, those amazing retractable claws help with the amazing graceful acrobatic abilities of the species.
Many people who choose to declaw feel the destructiveness of the claws on the couch or to another pet outweighs the self-defense needs if they are strictly indoor cats. Sometimes people feel it is okay for kittens to be declawed but not adults and think it helps with training a new pet to not damage the furniture. But from where we sit, an awful lot of declawed cats arrive at shelters every day as stray cats and many have owners who never come to find them.
So what IS declawing? It is a surgical procedure called “onychectomy” where the nail AND last bone are removed from all the toes of the cat’s front feet. Cats undergo general anesthesia as the procedure is done with instruments or laser. Later the paws are wrapped and bandaged and it can take several weeks for a cat to walk normally again. Sometimes the surgical glue or the stitches can become undone and another trip to the vet is required. While it is true kittens seem to “bounce back” quicker than adult cats the procedure is still the same.
Problems for cats can include an incorrectly positioned cut which can remove too much of the toe, taking with it part of the toe’s pad. This is indeed painful. If the whole claw doesn’t get removed a misshapen claw can grow back. If a bone fragment is left at the surgery site the area may become infected. While post-surgical blood loss is a concern, great care is taken to place the bandages to control bleeding.
If you are like us, your fingers and toes probably ache a little right now.
What do the experts suggest?
Buy or make a scratching post. It should be strong, not wobbly, and tall enough to accommodate a cat at full stretch. Sisal and corrugated cardboard make good scratching post surfaces. Avoid carpeting as it is easy to shred in no time. (Also, the cat will have a hard time differentiating between “good” carpet to scratch (the post) and “bad” carpet to scratch (your living room rug) and you may create a new problem.) Praise your cat when it uses the post. Make it fun by placing toys on or around it. Some folks rub it with catnip! Be sure to put it in an accessible area. If you’re trying to discourage the cat from scratching furniture placed it in front of the furniture until kitty gets in the habit of using it regularly.
Make the desired piece of furniture less pleasant to scratch. Cover it with a bunched up sheet to make it wobbly or by covering it with sticky double-sided tape (check to be sure it won’t hurt the material) on the furniture’s surface.
Use a dual approach. Encourage the cat to claw the right things, and discourage from clawing the wrong things. Each time you bring the cat to the scratching post or when kitty goes on its own, start praising! Give lots of pets and spend a little time playing at the post. If kitty decides to scratch where it isn’t allowed, call his name firmly saying “no,” and move the cat to the scratching post. Manually place its front legs up on the post and make scratching motions with them. Try dangling a toy in front of the post so as kitty goes for the toy he’ll touch the post. Most likely, he’ll enjoy the feeling and continue using it.
“Use” the post yourself! Get your scent on it and entice your cat to mark the territory with its claws. Some owners keep a spray bottle filled with plain water handy and squirt the cat on the back when it claws the furnishings. The only problem here is that you run the risk of the cat simply being afraid of you and the bottle and will still scratch when you are not around. If you do use the bottle, make sure to never spray her in the face.
Keep your cat’s nails trimmed. Regular nail trims may help a cat keep from needing to scratch as much while mitigating the damage it can do. Get kitty used to having its feet handled and nails clipped while young. With an older cat, it may help to begin by handling the cat’s feet under happy circumstances. When the cat is relaxed or even napping, just do one nail followed by a treat. All the fancy equipment you need is a good pair of nail clippers. Never use scissors, since they can tear the nail. Slide the blade onto the nail you will be trimming. Before cutting, look for the pink “quick” that runs down the center of the nail. The clipper blade should be placed about an eighth of an inch forward of the quick, and the nail clipped with one smooth squeezing action of the clippers. Be extremely careful not to cut into the quick. If this happens, the cat will experience pain, and bleeding is likely. The bleeding may stop without assistance or you may need to hold a soft cloth on the nail or apply a little styptic powder. If you trim a small amount of nail every couple of weeks, the quick will tend to recede.
Nail Covers. Soft Paws”™ (or Soft Claws®) are plastic nail caps that can be super-glued to a cat’s claws following a preliminary nail trim. The results are often much more than hoped for, with damage to furniture practically non-existent while the nail caps remain in place. Manufacturers recommend you do a complete replacement every month or so, but most owners simply replace lost nails individually as they fall off, which is a lot less work and expense. .
So there you have it, the story about cat declaws. If you have more questions feel free to call the shelter or better yet, speak with your own veterinarian.
Now let’s find homes for ALL the kitties!