Why Cats Need Their Claws
Tree House is firmly against the practice of declawing cats. The surgery (the medical term is onychectomy) involves amputation of the cat’s toes to the equivalent of the first knuckle on your own fingers. The surgery and long recovery period necessitate aggressive pain management for several weeks after surgery. Although laser declawing and advances in analgesia may decrease the amount of pain and the length of the recovery period, the end result is still the same: an amputation. Aside from the pain associated with the surgery and recovery period, we don’t support declawing for these reasons:
1. Scratching serves a purpose
Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, ranging from simple pleasure and exercise to deep seated instinct. Here are some of the reasons cats scratch:
- Scratching communicates a cat’s presence with both physical and scent marks. Cats’ paws have special scent glands between the toes that leave a residual scent (pheromone) after they’ve scratched. We can’t smell these scents, but for cats they’re a powerful form of communication.
- Scratching is a good form of exercise. Indoor cats in particular need all the exercise they can get.
- Scratching helps cats groom by removing old nail sheaths.
- Cats express emotions through scratching. Have you noticed your cat scratching when you arrive home from work or as you prepare his dinner? Your cat is expressing his excitement!
2. There is no health benefit to the cat and serious complications can occur
Surgeries such as spaying and neutering have direct long- and short-term health and behavioral benefits; declawing does not. In fact, many declawed cats suffer health problems as a result of the amputation. Complications that may result from the surgery include hemorrhaging, abscesses, bone chips that prevent healing (if the declaw surgery was not performed correctly), and regrowth of a deformed claw. In the long term, as shoulder, leg, and back muscles weaken due to a shift in balance and weight, your cat may develop chronic conditions such as arthritis or back and joint pain.
3. Declawing may cause behavioral problems
Scratching is instinctive (declawed cats still go through the motions of scratching). Interfering with an instinctive behavior is generally known to be stressful for an animal, and may result in other undesirable behavioral issues. Urinating and defecating outside the litter box and biting are two of the most common behavioral side effects of declawing. Other potential side effects include cats becoming fearful, nervous, withdrawn, or aggressive after being declawed.
4. Cats need claws should they escape
As careful as we try to be with our indoor cats, accidents happen. Should your cat ever escape, he will need claws to ensure his survival.
5. Nonsurgical corrections exist and are effective
You can trim your cat’s nails, train him to use scratching posts, use Soft Paws, apply Sticky Paws to your furniture, or use Feliway spray or diffusers.
How to clip your cat’s nails
Nail clipping is an important part of keeping your housecat groomed. If a cat’s nails grow too long, they can cut into the paw pad and cause infection, or at the very least, discomfort. To clip your cat’s nails, simply grasp the paw and squeeze the pad so that the nails unsheathe. Look for the pink part (the “quick”) inside the base of the nail. This is the sensitive tissue that contains the vessels and nerves. Don’t cut close to the quick. All you need to do is clip off the curved part of the nail. If you only cut off this small part, you run little risk of cutting the quick. If you do accidentally cut the quick, the nail will bleed and the cat will experience a moment of pain. But, you have done no serious damage. Apply pressure to the end of the nail with a clean piece of tissue or gauze until the bleeding stops. If the bleeding persists, a septic pencil or flour should stop the bleeding.
A video demonstration of nail clipping from Cornell Feline Health Center can be found at http://partnersah.vet.cornell. edu/pet/fhc/trimming_claws.
Ideally, nails should be clipped regularly from kittenhood, so that the process becomes familiar and nonthreatening. Touch your cat’s paws often when the cat is calm to help him get accustomed to the way it feels. You also can train your cat to enjoy nail clipping by offering treats when you use the clippers. For adult cats who will not tolerate nail clippings without biting and struggling, it is best to get someone to assist. Two people can easily wrap the cat in a towel or blanket (make sure to cover his face so your cat cannot bite anyone), and then clip the nails. If this isn’t possible, a veterinarian or a qualified groomer can clip your cat’s nails.
Recommendations for a good scratching post
A good scratching post should have a strong and sturdy base (so it will not rock or tip over when your cat uses it) and should be no less than two feet high (taller is preferable), so your cat can get a full-body stretch. The post should be covered in sisal or a similar natural fiber. Smaller, carpet-covered posts are unappealing to many cats because they won’t reliably hold a cat’s weight. In addition, there’s no clear distinction for your cat between a carpet-covered post and the carpet on your floor. We recommend spending a little extra money for a good, natural fiber-covered post that will keep for years, save your furniture, and appeal to your cats. It’s a good idea to have several different kinds of scratching posts, especially if you live in a multicat household. This is because individual cats may differ in the surfaces they prefer to scratch (sisal, cardboard, carpet, bark, etc.) Also, cats are territorial, and while they may share their posts, some prefer their own. Lastly, individual cats stretch and scratch differently; some cats enjoy a good horizontal stretch or even a semihorizontal stretch, and you can find good, inexpensive cardboard scratchers to fulfill these purposes. Be sure to securely anchor all posts so they don’t slide across the floor.
Tree House offers excellent scratching posts at very competitive prices that help support our life-saving mission. You can purchase a great post and many other items and support Tree House at the same time! Visit our online ‘Cat’alog at treehouseanimals.org/store or stop by one of our locations to shop.
Introducing a scratching post
Initially, your cat may need some help discovering the new scratching post(s). Positive reinforcement is a great teaching method. Encourage your cat to use the new post by dangling toys from the top or scratching your own nails at the top of the post. When your cat reaches up and scratches, offer praise and reward the cat with a treat. You can even rub catnip on the post to encourage interest. Clicker training is an excellent technique to encourage scratching (see more about clicker training in How to Train Your Cat). We do not recommend placing your cat’s paws on the post. This will only create confusion as your cat will be more focused on getting your hands off his paws than discovering the new scratching post.
If you have tried all the recommended techniques but your cat continues to scratch your furniture, don’t panic. Be patient and try the following alternatives: cover the furniture with an unappealing scratching surface, such as a shower curtain, plastic furniture covering, plastic carpet runners (nubby-side up), plastic car mats (nubby-side up), or Sticky Paws double-sided tape. You can rearrange the furniture or, if possible, temporarily remove furniture from the room. Place the scratching post either right next to the furniture or in place of the furniture that your cat has been scratching, and begin the retraining process as described above. Remember, it is far more effective to praise good behavior and positively redirect negative behavior than to discourage or punish undesirable behavior. Doing the latter may result in your cat learning to exhibit the undesirable behavior when you are not around, and in some cases, it may actually reinforce the negative behavior. After several weeks of training, or when your cat is successfully using the post on a regular basis, you can uncover the furniture or bring it back into the room and move the post to its new location.
Don’t tuck away that post
When it comes to scratching posts, it’s all about location, location, location. Try these spots:
Try Soft Paws Soft Paws is a painless and simple alternative to declawing. Soft Paws are vinyl caps that glue to your cat’s claws. The caps prevent damage to furniture, protect people from getting accidentally scratched, and prevent cats from scratching and aggravating skin conditions under treatment.
Feliway contains a synthetic version of the facial pheromone that cats use to mark their territory. Although generally marketed to combat spraying, it also has been shown to decrease scratching behavior.
Tree House is not alone
The American Association of Feline Practitioners discourages the practice of declawing and advises veterinarians never to include declawing along with spay/neuter as a promotional incentive or to present declawing as a routine surgical procedure. Many European countries have outlawed onychectomy. In addition, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Turkey, and the city of West Hollywood, CA all have prohibited or significantly restricted the practice.
For further consultation, please visit stevedalepetworld.com and read “Think Twice Before You Declaw” or call the Tree House Behavior Hotline at 773-784-5488 ext. 300.