Cat Care: Is Declawing Your Cat Really Necessary?

One of the most frequent cat care questions that vets receive is whether or not it is a good idea to have a destructive or ‘scratchy’ cat declawed.  While most veterinarians today will give a blanket answer of no, it is important to take a deeper look at declawing and why it might not be an effective long-term cat care strategy, before you consider taking your pet to a backstreet and possibly uncertified vet.


Before you make your decision, here are the practicalities of the operation itself. It is a little-known fact that when the vet declaws a cat, they don’t simply remove the cat’s claws, it’s ‘fingernails.’  Instead, the cat’s fingers are surgically removed to the first knuckle, due to the fact that the first knuckle houses the nail bed and the ‘roots’ of the nail bed run deep.  While this is done under general anesthesia, pain medication is usually not provided once the cat leaves the vets, leaving the cat walking around on raw and painful paws for weeks while its cut-off ‘fingers’ heal.


In addition, the cat’s nerves are very sensitive and easily damaged, meaning a botched or incorrect surgery can leave your cat crippled and limping until a further surgery can be performed to correct the procedure. 


The surgery may also leave psychological scars – just think how you’d feel if you woke up to find that the tops of your fingers had been cut off in your sleep. Cats are intelligent, sensitive creatures and the mental stress created by the shock of losing their fingernails can cause them to act out in other ways. Deprived of the ability to scratch themselves or your furniture to relieve stress (and relieve itches!), they may start misbehaving in other more extreme ways to make their displeasure known, such as peeing on your furniture or pooping around the house – all of which have been known to happen to a previously docile cat after a painful surgery.


The long-term implications of even a successful operation should make you think twice before booking your pet in for declawing surgery. Removal of the claws and first knuckles can cause balance problems, and many vets will no longer do the procedure for this reason alone, due to the potential for falls should your cat ever try to climb anything.  The reasoning behind this is that even though your cat may be an ‘indoor’ cat now, if it escapes or you decide to re-home your pet in future due to circumstances beyond your control, you cat will forever after be helpless outside. 


Cats need their claws not just to climb trees, but to balance on walls and for for traction when running away from predators such as dogs, coyotes and cars.  If cornered by a predator or even another aggressive cat looking for a fight, they will also have no means to defend themselves. If you have an outdoor cat, declawing is out of the question if you want your cat to survive outside. 


If you want to protect your home and furniture without declawing, a great cat care strategy is to simply purchase a scratch pad or scratching post.  You can even make one yourself out of an old log or wooden box with some old carpeting glued on. Or provide an old chair from a thrift store specifically for scratching purposes.  Choose a chair made of corduroy or a similar thick material as cats love textured material to scratch on.


Cats often scratch when bored or frustrated, so give them plenty of toys and make sure you spend at least half an hour a day playing with them.  Cats enjoy games such as chasing a Laser pointer, chasing you (and being chased by you), playing catch and fetch with rolled up balls of newspaper, and they simply adore playing with big empty cardboard boxes or paper sacks.  If you wear your cat out for a few minutes each night you might find that the problem scratching stops all by itself.


Also consider behavioral training. If your cat claws your furniture or wallpaper, simply pick them up and move them to the appropriate place to scratch.  They’ll soon get the message.  The use of a water bottle can also help them associate scratching furniture with being wet, which is a much safer and less risky way to offer cat care while discouraging bad behavior.

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