Please Don't Declaw Your Cat!
When I was growing up, we had a beautiful, long-haired cream-and-golden cat named Elsbeth. She was a great companion to our family, but was quite sassy to strangers. She lived to be the ripe-old age of 17, which is roughly 100-something in cat years. I was the first born, and my parents had gotten her as a kitten before I came into the world. Being young parents with a new baby, a creature with claws sharing the same home of course caused some concern. What new parent wouldn’t be a little worried, really? They had her declawed, and afterward she would bat at house-guests without damaging their clothing or skin. However, having no claws may have had unforeseen and unfortunate effects on her mental health.
A couple weeks after Elsbeth passed, we went to the Wisconsin Humane Society to see about adding a new feline family member or two, and were educated by the adoption counselors on how declawing is actually rather harmful to cats. We had no idea, many of my friends had cats and their front paws were at least declawed. It seemed like a normal practice. We all know how much damage that scratching can do. There’s no way to know for certain that this procedure had psychologically affected Elsbeth, but thanks to our recent education, we brought Yogie and Angel home with their claws intact, and every cat I’ve had since then has kept their claws.
What exactly did we learn at the Humane Society? Well, to sum it up...we learned that declawing is an inhumane surgery and should be banned everywhere on Earth--I firmly believe that and stand by it.
Understanding how the surgery works is very enlightening if you are unfamiliar with the issue at hand. I’m not a veterinarian, nor do I work in that field, but it is not a surgery that simply removes a cat’s nails. As the Humane Society of the United States puts it:
“If performed on a human being, declawing would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.”
I could understand why Elsbeth might have gotten weird and mean after that. I look down at my own fingers and cringe at the thought of having them amputated. Not only is this surgery a severe mutilation of the cat’s paws, but many problems can occur:
Back pain: Your cat is walking in an unnatural stride and this affects their entire posture.
Early onset arthritis
Lameness: Declawing changes the way your cat’s foot hits the ground. Your stride would change if you were missing your toes--so they are learning a new, unnatural way to get around and not to mention...it probably hurts a great deal. We’ve all walked around in uncomfortable shoes and know how it hurts.
Biting: This is because you’ve taken a cat’s natural defense away. When they lack claws, they’ll look to their teeth as their first defense.
Psychological trauma: Again, you’ve taken their defense away. Can you blame them?
Failure to use the litter box: The surgery is a tough recovery, and you typically have to use newspaper in the litter box to keep litter from getting into the surgery site. A cat’s instincts teach them to eliminate in sand and then to bury it...not newspaper. This can be very confusing for a kitty. Not to mention that their paws are hurting (see all the above physical problems), and they will begin to associate the litter box with pain. All of this can cause your kitty to do their business in unwanted areas.
If you’re considering declawing as a preventative from scratching...don’t. Cats begin scratching at about 8 weeks old and there are many things that you can do to prevent them from doing so: providing many scratching posts, scratching repellents such as sprays or sticky tape, training them not to through positive reinforcement (yes, you can do this), soft claw caps available from your veterinarian, and most importantly, keeping their claws trimmed at all times.
Contrary to popular belief, cats do not scratch to “sharpen their claws.” They do it while stretching, “marking” territory both visually and with a scent, and removing dead claw tissue (similar to when we file our nails). It’s an instinctive behavior that shouldn’t be discouraged, you simply just want to give your kitty appropriate places to do so and teach them to use them.
Eowyn has her claws, of course. We got her at eight weeks old and she is now a year old and she has never scratched anything she isn’t supposed to (although we correct her from time to time). She uses her scratching posts and we got her accustomed to having her nails trimmed at a very young age. She is also extremely gentle with her paws during play and really only has her claws out for climbing. Scratching has never been an issue in our household.
Now, many people have had their cats declawed for reasons other than preventing damage to their household items. Examples include apartment rental lease agreements and protecting young children from claws. Some people just simply do not know how negatively impactful this surgery actually is, which is why so many veterinarians and humane societies are making sure to educate the greater population on declawing. We shouldn’t shame these individuals for making this decision as it has already happened, and they can learn for next time they might bring a cat home.
Is it possibly that Elsbeth was just cranky? Of course, but we couldn’t help but wonder if her loss of her primary natural defense made her the way that she was...
For more information on declawing, please talk to your veterinarian or local animal shelter or rescue organization...and just do the right thing and give your kitty manicures instead of removing their claws...and toes.
~The Girl in the Unicorn Pajamas