Declawing and Alternatives
Cats have retractile claws and keep them protected by
withdrawing them into a sheath. Thus, cat claws require sharpening and need to
be worn down so they can be retracted within their sheath. It is therefore
important for cats to scratch various surfaces. In addition, when cats scratch
they are also marking their territory. It is essential for outdoor cats to have
sharp claws for protection. Outdoor cats may need to climb trees to escape
predators or to defend themselves against other animals. Also, climbing is a
highly enjoyable normal activity for all cats, including indoor cats.
Indoor cats exhibiting normal behaviour such as scratching can
sometimes interfere with the bond between a cat and their owners. Adolescent
cats in particular, may scratch furniture, destroy the household, play rough
and even scratch children.
Declawing is the surgical amputation of the distal phalanx
(last bone) of each digit of the front feet, which includes the nail. There is
a common misconception that only the nail is being removed but in fact it is an
amputation of the last bone of each front toe.
Surgical declawing is not a medically necessary procedure
and although rare, there are potential anesthetic and surgical complications
such as hemorrhage, infection and pain. Most of these complications can be
minimized with an effective anesthetic protocol, pain management protocol and
the appropriate use of antibiotics. There are many pros and cons to the
surgical declaw method and pet owners should try other alternatives prior to
the surgical solution.
The non surgical methods to declawing include behaviour
modification, nail trimming and blunt acrylic nail caps, or ideally a combination of all
Since scratching and scent marking are natural behaviours
for cats, we must provide them with a suitable outlet for this behaviour, such
as scratching posts. Behaviour modification is essential to help increase
wanted behaviour, such as using a scratching post and reduce unwanted
behaviour, such as scratching furniture. It is important to understand that
reinforcing appropriate behaviour will yield much better results than using
Encouraging your cat to use scratching posts can be
accomplished by putting treats or catnip on your scratching posts and place
scratching posts near areas favored by cats. These areas include windows and
sleeping areas, since cats often stretch and scratch upon awakening. Scratching
posts should be tall or long enough to allow full stretching, and be firmly
anchored to provide necessary resistance to scratching. If you find your cat
scratching the scratching post, give praise and reward your cat with a special
treat. If you find your cat scratching something inappropriate, bring your cat
to the scratching post, praise and then give a treat. Alternatives to
scratching posts include, cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric
remnants affixed to stationary objects.
Reducing unwanted behaviour can be accomplished by spraying
your cat with a water squirt bottle, but only if the cat does not see where the
water comes from. This is important as the cat cannot connect the punishment
with the person administering it, otherwise the cat will simply learn not to
scratch while that person is watching. Scratching furniture can be made
unacceptable by using plastic, or even aluminum foil to cover the target
pieces. Spray-on antiperspirants can be sprayed on the furniture as a
repellent. In addition, double stick tape can be used on furniture to create an
undesirable scratching area.
Keeping your cats nails trimmed short is also helpful. This
can reduce the risk of the claws causing damage to furniture or skin.
Blunt acrylic nail caps are available that can be glued onto
the cat's claws every 4-6 weeks. They are becoming more and more popular for a
variety of reasons. They are easy to use, they let your cat exhibit normal
scratching behaviour without ruining furniture, they can be removed if necessary
and they are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to surgery.
Cats scratching can have a large impact on the relationship
one has with their cat and therefore needs to be addressed at an early age. It
is imperative to try non-surgical alternatives prior to considering surgical
For more information on declawing and non-surgical
alternatives, please refer to www.vspn.ca