By: Lisa King, DVM
For decades many people have beleived that the surgical declaw was a standard part of caring for a kitten like vaccines or spaying. Declawing is amputating the toes at the last joint, similiar to removing a humans finger tips. It is usually done only to the front feet, although in extreme situations, the back feet have been done. There is no medical benefit to declawing and should be considered as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted. What many owners are unaware of is that with our current knowledge of cats and their behaviors, declawing is rarely required to share a home with a cat and still have nice furniture.
Misconception - Declawing is not a big deal.
Declawing is a major surgery and can result in life time changes in the way your cat walks. Most people do not realize that a portion of the bone, not only the nail, is removed. It is a major surgery and may result in lameness that may or may not be permanent, arthritis and other long-term complications. However the surgical technique we use here is the least likely to have serious complications. Even with laser surgery, adequate pain control and good aftercare, complications are possible. If there are truly no other options, then we take every precaution to avoid long-term complications, but we think it should be considered a choice, not a routine procedure.
Misconception - Cats scratch things to sharpen their claws.
A cat’s natural instinct to scratch serves physical, psychological and social needs. Scratching does remove excessive tissue from the nails but this is not the physical purpose is serves.
Scratching stretches and flexes muscles and serves as a form of communication. Not only do the scratch marks leave visible evidence but scent that is unique to each cat. It tells other cats that I was here, where they have been, how long it has been (visible lasts longer, scent more recent) and what items belong to that cat. It also releases stress and excitement.
Feline scratching should not be interpreted as vindictive or “cat-titude”. In fact, it is a common, innate behavior that is integral to so many aspects of the cat’s identity, routines, health and comfort. It can, should be a managed behaviour, not a punishable one.
Misconception - My cat doesn’t like a scratching post.
Most owners are unaware that a kitten has to be taught to use a scratching post, but after that training, the behavior will last a life time.
Some scratching posts are made without consideration of what a cat really needs to scratch and why they will use them. They may be made of the wrong material, be too short, unstable, or not located in the best areas.
My perfect scratching post....
Have vertical, horizontal and angled surfaces that allows for stretching different muscles
· Vertical posts should be at least 30 inches or higher with a sturdy base –the post should be tall enough for your cat to fully extend
· Sisal fabrics seem to be preferred, corrugated cardboard and real wood are also favorites
· Posts/scratching pads should be placed near feeding and sleeping areas, along with high traffic areas in the home-cats mark resources-food, water, sleeping areas and where their favorite people tend to be.
· Encourage use of scratching surfaces with catnip, lavender, jasmine, yarrow
· Deter use of areas/objects that you don’t want scratched by making them less accessible, e.g., tightly tucking blanket on arm of sofa, double sided sticky tape, scat mats
· Multiple scratching surfaces if multiple cats in the household
· Play with kittens on each surface
Weekly nail trims.
Rubber nail caps called “Soft Paws” along with other brands. The caps cover the sharp nail and prevent unwanted damage to your home. The caps do not cause discomfort, but do need to be changed every 2-3 months.
Please ask us for more information about the pros and cons of declawing and allow
us the opportunity to help you make an informed decision for your loved one.