De-clawing Your Cat â€“ Necessary Evil or Just Evil
First, let me clarify that de-clawing is a bit of a misnomer; while it sounds as simple as a pedicure, it is considerably more than just clipping and filing nails. De-clawing is a surgical procedure, wherein the entire first joint of each of a catâ€™s “toes” is amputated. Imagine having all of your fingers amputated to the first knuckle.
More importantly, cats are digitigrade. This means that they walk on their “toes”. Try to imagine walking on your fingertips after the amputations I described earlier.
Cats use their claws for several things vital to their physiology. They provide protection, balance and mobility. They are used for exercise â€“ hooking into an object (such as a tree) and pulling against its resistance is your catâ€™s version of a BowFlexÂ®. Unfortunately, that object is just as likely to be your sofa for an indoor cat. Scent glands in the feet are used to “mark” a territory (indoor/outdoor cats often do this with trees). Certainly, we cannot forget grooming. What cat owner could imagine a period of more than an hour without licking and scratching (unless Fluffy is napping)? Scratching is a very important part of the grooming process, used to rid itself of skin irritations, dead hair, and tangles. Even with a humanâ€™s help brushing and combing, the natural urge, and the sudden itch or irritation cannot be quelled. Have you ever had an itch you could not scratch?
Whether we like it or not, climbing is second nature to cats. It is next to impossible to stop. De-clawing may stop a cat from climbing but it will not repress the urge to do so.
A catâ€™s main line of defense is his claws. Likewise, his ability to hunt lies in his claws. Swiping at a mouse or bird with no claws is pretty useless. Surely, most people who have a cat de-clawed intend for them to never be outdoors, but letâ€™s face it, that is a pipe dream in many cases. What if a de-clawed, supposedly indoor-only cat were to slip out in the real world and get lost. With no defense mechanism and the inability to hunt for food, it might just as well be a toddler.
The long-term and short-term effects of de-clawing are many. Short-term include excruciating pain that can last for days or weeks, as well as balance and mobility problems. Long-term can include “phantom limb” pain similar to that experienced by human amputees, biting and aggression or the opposite â€“ depression and withdrawal, arthritis or crippling due to walking on the “wrists” instead of the “toes” and avoiding the litter box. Because it is painful or uncomfortable to walk on certain surfaces (such as cat litter), many cats will “miss” or stop using the box and often relieve themselves just outside of the proper area. Owners usually do not even realize this is connected to the surgery.
What Do The Experts Say?
Dr Jennifer Conrad, DVM, says:
There are many scientific studies that show the rates of immediate and long-term complications from declawing may be as high as 50% and 20% respectively. This means that one out of two and one out of five will have post-surgical complications. These complications include permanent lameness and death. One must only ask a concerned shelter worker to know that the chances of behavior changes are too large for declawing to be acceptableâ€¦ Some cats will have immediate changes; some will have problems as they get olderâ€¦
She lists several subtle problems she has seen in de-clawed domestic cats:
- Have truncated paws.
- The digital pads (the four little gummy-drop pads on the bottom of the catâ€™s paws) are not oval, supple and plump but instead, rounded, atrophied and dry.
- They miss the litter box regularly.
- Often extreme in shyness or aggression.
Dr. Conrad is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and is a member of the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV).
“The ASPCA does not approve of the declawing of cats as a matter of supposed convenience to cat owners. It is a form of mutilation and it does cause pain.”
“It is the policy of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to opposeâ€¦ declawing of cats when done solely for the convenience of the owners and without benefit to the animal.”
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (www.avar.org):
Declawing is “unacceptable because the suffering and disfigurement it causes is not offset by any benefits to the cat. Declawing is done strictly to provide convenience to people.”
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, author of “The Cat Who Cried for Help”, says this about the subject:
The inhumanity of the procedure is clearly demonstrated by the nature of catsâ€™ recovery from anesthesia following the surgery. Unlike routine recoveries, including recovery from neutering surgeries, which are fairly peaceful, declawing surgery results in cats bouncing off the walls of the recovery cage because of excruciating pain. â€“Declawing fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war, and in veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as a model of severe pain for testing the efficacy of analgesic drugs.
There is no medical reason to de-claw a cat and the reasons normally given can be solved by several alternatives. Among the alternatives designed to solve or eradicate a “behavior problem“, which generally is just a cat being a cat, are:
- Scratching Posts â€“ A favorite alternative, they come in many different sizes and shapes and often are or can be treated with catnip. A sisal doormat can be just as good.
- Choosing your furniture carefully is an alternative if you are buying new furniture. Close-knit woven fabrics are harder to penetrate and resist cat damage slightly better.
- Nail-Trimming â€“ When done properly, this can be a safe, simple and inexpensive alternative. Only clipping the sharp curved part of the nail solves the destructive issue without causing major or long-term, irreversible damage. ONLY USE NAIL TRIMMERS DESIGNED FOR CATS. If you are squeamish or reluctant to clip nails, try a nail grinder. Try doing this when your cat is sleepy and calm or try a grooming bag such as the Klaw Kontrol bag.
- An important fact when you get a young cat or kitten is to remember proper training can avoid many if not most problems. NEVER use your hands to play with the cat as this teaches him it is ok for him to do the same. If he scratches you in play, give a loud “OUCH” and leave the room. Cats hate to be ignored.
- During the training phase, that is until your cat understands what is OK and not, you could cover the areas of furniture with foil wrap, another closely woven fabric, blown-up balloons, Sticky PawsÂ® or double-sided tape. If he continues to scratch, give a firm “NO” and a quick squirt from a mister, spray bottle or water gun (USE PLAIN WATER ONLY). Be sure to remind him of his scratching post and praise or reward him when he does well.
- Soft PawsÂ® Nail Caps â€“ Developed by a veterinarian, these vinyl caps glue onto the catâ€™s claws and come in clear or colors, which can look like fancy grooming. They are said to last, on average, 4-6 weeks.
- FeliwayÂ® – Mimics the natural facial pheromones found in cats. These pheromones work naturally to reduce stress-related behaviors such as urine marking, scratching, loss of appetite and reduced desire to play or interact. Comes in spray or plug-in module.
Scratching is a very large, natural part of being a cat. A procedure so painful and fraught with peril should never be decided on lightly, without weighing all the alternatives.
Opinions vary on this and many subjects. The opinion expressed here is that of one person under Jeffers’ employ and does not necessarily reflect that of the organization or its owners. Please feel free to comment your views here both for and against. No personal attacks, profanity or flaming will be tolerated.
Next time â€“ Dog-Gone Heat!
As always, information given here is meant to be helpful and/or educational. It is, in no way, intended to supersede, challenge or supplant the diagnosis, treatment or advice of a licensed veterinarian.
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