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Read This Before Declawing Your Cat

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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.

Books by Pam Johnson-Bennett

Kittens are Getting to Know Their New Equipment

With a new kitten, those 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?

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

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.

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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.

Photo: Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia

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 a Cat 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.

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

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 About Your Cat’s Claws

Whether you decide to have your cat declawed or not is obviously your decision but before making that decision, you owe it to your cat to understand what this procedure actually is and how it may negatively impact her for the rest of her life. In some cases, the rationale for declawing is that it must be 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. If the cat is in danger of being euthanized because of a scratching behavior problem, it’s crucial that the pet parent be made aware of behavior modification. Whether the cat is scratching members of the human family or inappropriately scratching furniture, behavior modification techniques can be used to prevent the mutilating surgery. 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’ll find declawing isn’t necessary after all.

Photo: Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia

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. If the scratching problem is serious and you feel you need professional help, please talk to your veterinarian first. Your veterinarian may have important behavior modification tips for you or can refer you to a qualified cat behavior expert. If your cat is scratching out of aggression, then removing her claws will not even be addressing the underlying cause of the behavior.

More and more veterinarians are stepping up and refusing to do declaw surgery. My hope is that someday soon, the United States will ban declawing. In my the 30+ years of working with clients, I’ve met so many who have deeply regretted their decision to declaw their cats. I’ve watched cats develop litter box problems after declawing or become more fearful of being touched, especially near the paws. I’ve also seen older cats who have developed arthritis or trouble walking and jumping.

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.

Books by Pam Johnson-Bennett