Should you consider having your cat declawed?
Cats by nature absolutely love to stretch and scratch certain surfaces. Scratching allows the cat not only to stretch, but to sharpen their claws and mark their territory. This is a very normal behavior for all cats, but sometimes the cat chooses scratching sites that are not particularly ideal- the new couch that was just delivered, you with your new pants on, or the expensive sheers hanging in the window! Obviously these are not ideal surfaces and the cat’s behavior must be curbed.
Most cats can be trained to use a scratching post instead of the alternatives. This is done by first purchasing a scratching post that has a wide base, is secure, at least two to three feet tall, and has a rough surface on it that is attractive to the cat- such as burlap or wound rope. It must have these features because the cat has to be able to stand up and pull down on the post to scratch and stretch, yet not pull it over. These posts can be made or purchased from many different stores.
Training begins with placing the scratching post where the cat sleeps or somewhere that it enjoys hanging out. Then, carry your cat to the scratching post, gently take its front feet, and rub them up and down on the post. If the cat struggles or is scared, don’t restrain it or continue to frighten it- remember this must be fun! The key is repetition, and gradually your cat will learn that the scratching post is an approved surface to destroy at any time.
It is also important that you realize cats can be trained, and you must teach the cat that scratching the curtains, couch, your new pants, or any place besides the scratching post is unacceptable. This may involve using a squirt gun, loud noise, or something else that alerts the cat while it’s scratching off-limit places. Never strike or hit the cat as this will cause more harm than good. Be patient and don’t give up – repetition is important.
If you have tried unsuccessfully to train your cat and are considering giving it up, declawing is another option. This procedure is only to be done on cats that are strictly indoors. Only the front feet should be declawed. The back feet are usually not a problem and are left alone so that if the cat were ever to get outside, it could still climb up a tree or partly defend itself.
Owners should be aware that several prominent animal welfare organizations are opposed to declawing cats. For example, the Humane Society will not adopt out a cat if an owner plans to declaw it. For more information, contact the ASPCA (www.aspca.org) or The Humane Society of the United States (www.hsus.org)
Declawing is best done at the time of spaying or neutering- approximately five to six months of age. This procedure can be done very humanely with the use of pain medications. Pain management has the best results if it is started approximately 15 to 20 minutes before the surgery and continued for the next 24 to 48 hours. There are many different pain medications that can be used safely by veterinarians in cats, and they are relatively inexpensive and very effective! They ensure a pain-free experience and allow the cat to rest comfortably for the next 24 to 48 hours. This also helps the cat to not associate the veterinarian with a negative experience! Consult with your veterinarian about the use of medications such as butorphanol, fentanyl patches, morphine, and buprinex.
There are other surgical procedures that are available, such as “tenectomy” (or tendonectomy). This procedure involves cutting out part of the tendon that controls the cat’s ability to use its claws- flex and extend them. The claws are not actually removed as they are in a declaw procedure, but they are left permanently extended. This means the cat can no longer control its claws to scratch up surfaces, but they are still able to grow. The claws have to be trimmed every 4 to 8 weeks for life because the nails tend to overgrow and can turn into the pads of the paw causing pain and infection.
Consult with your veterinarian about these options and alternatives to declawing your cat. Also discuss pain management options with your veterinarian. There is no reason for animals to have to experience any pain today because of the availability of so many safe pain medications.