For many new cat parents, the decision to declaw the cat is made before any attempts at training are done and before gaining a thorough understanding of what this permanent procedure actually involves. Too many people look at the cat’s claws as things that cause destruction and injury to family members, rather than understanding how important claws are to the cat both physically and emotionally. In too many cases, cat parents aren’t given all the accurate information about this surgery and they certainly aren’t given enough information about how to properly train their cats so declawing wouldn’t even be needed.
Any procedure that can never be reversed requires adequate understanding of what’s involved and whether proper training has been done before making that surgery appointment. We owe it to our cats to not make quick decisions about something that will affect their lives forever.
Kittens are Getting to Know Their New Equipment
With a new kitten, their sharp little claws always seem to be doing something unwanted but that’s actually normal because the youngster is just learning about her new skills and the role her claws play in helping her navigate around her environment. If you combine positive, proper training and purchase (or make) a scratching post that meets a cat’s needs, your cat will learn where it’s acceptable to scratch and where it isn’t. Additionally, as your kitten grows, she’ll learn to keep her claws sheathed. Without humane, proper training and the availability of an effective and conveniently located scratching surface, your cat will probably end up scratching furniture because the act of scratching is a normal and vital part of being a cat.
As with any aspect of having a kitten (or any young pet), you have to allow time for that animal to learn about her emerging skills and have adequate time to become trained. It’s also up to us to make sure we do the proper training.
Does Your Cat Feel Backed in a Corner?
If you’re considering declawing because your adult cat is displaying aggressive behavior with her claws, it may mean you’re not accurately reading her body language. She may feel as if she only has one option to say “no.” Cats prefer to not have physical confrontations. That’s why they do so much posturing. If your cat has resorted to using her claws to communicate to others to “back off” then declawing in that case will not change the behavior. She’ll still feel backed in a corner. Cats usually give multiple warning signs before feeling the need to scratch or bite.
What’s Involved in the Declaw Surgery?
It’s important to understand what declawing actually involves. It’s not just the removal of the cat’s claw – it’s the severing of the entire first joint. It’s basically an amputation, or rather, 10 amputations. After declaw surgery, the cat’s paws are tightly bandaged and she’s kept overnight at the veterinary clinic. In some cases, cats aren’t even given pain medication after this surgery. Pain medication costs extra and many veterinary hospitals require you to sign off on whether you will agree to pay for the medication or not. If you choose not to pay for pain medication then your cat will suffer.
Once the bandages are removed the morning after surgery, the cat is able to go home. Imagine how painful it must be for the cat to go home and have to start walking on those very tender paws. In the extremely inhumane cases where cat parents elect to have ALL of their cat’s claws removed (front and back feet), I can’t even imagine how painful movement must be.
The cat parent is instructed to use special litter in the box for about 10 days during the healing process. Many cats recover without complications but some cats experience tenderness or sensitivity in their paws long after the initial healing period. Some cats remain reluctant to have their paws touched for the rest of their lives. Improperly done surgery (it does happen) can cause paw deformities.
Life After Declawing
Once declawed, the cat must never be allowed outdoors again. A cat without claws in an outdoor environment is at a serious disadvantage to defend herself. She will not be able to climb in order to escape predators. I’m amazed at how many declawed cats I do see outdoors because their cat parents are convinced their cats stay close to home or just sun themselves on the back deck. That doesn’t prevent another cat or predator from entering the yard. That also doesn’t stop your cat from running off should she become afraid of something or spot potential prey worth chasing. Once the cat is outdoors, she’s vulnerable. With a declawed cat you must never put her in any position where she could be at risk. If you have chosen to have your cat declawed, you must never let her outdoors… period.
Scratching is an Important Part of Feline Life
Declawing denies the cat some very important aspects of being feline. Scratching is not only a way for a cat to maintain the health of her claws, it’s also a marking behavior. It leaves a visual mark and an olfactory mark (there are scent glands in the paw pads). Marking is an important part of being a cat. It’s a vital form of communication.
Scratching is also a great way for your cat to get a full stretch of her back and shoulder muscles. She can dig her claws into the post, lean her weight against it and fully unkink all those muscles. Scratching is a displacement behavior as well and your cat may often go over to her scratching post when she’s excited or anticipating something pleasant (such as dinner) or when she’s anxious or frustrated. It’s important to have that option available for your cat.
Training is Easier Than You Think
If your cat is currently scratching the furniture, rather than declawing her, spend time training her to the right kind of scratching surface. Just because you bought a post doesn’t mean it’s one kitty will want to use. It needs to be sturdy, covered in the right material, and located where your cat wants to scratch. There are also some cats who prefer to scratch horizontally so you need to provide scratching pads to meet those needs. You can find horizontal corrugated cardboard scratching pads at your local pet product store and online.
For vertical scratchers, choose a post that is covered in a rough material such as sisal. The post should be tall enough for your cat to get a full stretch and the base needs to be wide enough so she can stand on it in order to lean her weight against the post. If you’re considering declawing because your cat isn’t using the current scratching post, take a good, hard look at it to make sure it meets her needs. If it’s a carpet-covered post or it’s too small, then it’s not adequate. There are so many scratching posts in pet product stores that aren’t worth anything. Invest in something that your cat will prefer instead of the furniture and you’re well on your way to a happy cat household.
With proper positive training and the right supplies, you can teach your cat to scratch in the right places and never have to put her through the trauma of being declawed.
Be Informed Before Making That Permanent Decision
Whether you decide to have your cat declawed or not is obviously your decision. In some cases declawing is done as a last resort to prevent the cat from being euthanized, or maybe because the cat parent has an immune problem or bleeding complications. Before agreeing to this permanent surgery though, make sure you have all the information about the procedure and have a good understanding of why cats scratch and how they can be trained to use a scratching post. You may find that declawing isn’t necessary after all.
Declawing is such a controversial topic and people get very passionate on both sides of the issue. I feel the best tool is to make sure you are armed with accurate information and the resources to train your cat. You can find step-by-step training information in my book, Think Like a Cat, as well as instructions on how to construct a homemade scratching post or what to look for when purchasing one.
Be informed. Be responsible. Be humane.
Note: the information in this post isn’t meant to be a medical diagnosis. If you notice a change in your cat’s behavior, please consult your veterinarian.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.