Dear Petlvr Mailbag …
Is declawing a cat a good idea? I have people giving both sides, and although I think it is sad, what are the alternatives to torn up furniture?
I’m not in favor of declawing except as an absolute last resort before rehoming a cat due to scratching, or if the owner has an immune condition that makes owning a cat with claws intact a serious health risk.
Declawing is an invasive surgical procedure that removes the first phalange of the cat’s toe. It would be like removing a human’s fingers up to the first knuckle. In addition to pain and the risks of anesthesia, declawing also creates an additional risk of future behavior problems. For example, the procedure can cause an increased risk of arthritis as the cat ages, due to the missing phalange in the toes. When the paws become arthritic, it can be painful to step into a litterbox filled with a hard litter. That often results in accidents outside the litterbox as declawed cats age. Most will return to using a box when the litter is replaced with something soft, like a paper litter, but some will not.
Some people also feel that declawed cats are prone to biting. It makes sense: Lacking their claws as a natural defense, they instead bite more readily than cats with intact claws. If there are children in the house, this could be a serious consideration, since cat bites very often become infected and can lead to hospitalization if the infection isn’t treated quickly. However, some scientific studies have found that declawing doesn’t increase the chance of a serious bite. In my personal experience, I would say that some cats do become habitual biters after declawing. The only cat I’ve met who bit hard enough to draw blood, without warning, on a regular basis, was declawed on all four paws.
I can certainly sympathize with the need to protect your furniture from cat scratches. Luckily, there are many alternatives. The first reason cats scratch is to mark territory. So, your cat needs an acceptable area to scratch. If you already have a scratching post and the cat doesn’t like it, try buying a large cat tree with at least three different textures. When wood, sisal rope, carpet, and cardboard are offered for scratching, most cats will love at least one.
Scratching posts should also always be at least as tall as your cat is when stretched to his full height, including paws reaching above his head. This is important because scratching also functions as a way to stretch and exercise the tendons and ligaments in a cat’s body, and if a tall post isn’t offered, most cats will do that stretching and exercise by scratching the furniture.
The third reason cats scratch is for entertainment. Offer toys, playtime with you, a window perch to watch the birds, a cat fountain, and possibly even a screened-in porch for entertainment, as alternatives to scratching. A feline companion can also help. If the cat is your only pet, two really is easier than one in terms of entertainment. Cats with companions also live longer on average than single cats.
If all of this doesn’t reduce the scratching, or if your furniture is too expensive to give the cat a chance to voluntarily knock off the property destruction when presented with alternatives, have your vet or groomer apply Soft Paws. They can also show you how to do so properly for re-application in the future. It’s a little difficult the first couple times, but after a few applications you’ll be a pro. Soft Paws come in all sorts of colors and sizes, and work marvelously on the vast majority of cats. Just don’t forget to carefully trim the tip off each claw before applying the nail cap. A sharp point will make the Soft Paws wear down faster from the inside.
Best of luck!
If you have a pet related question that you would like Jelena Woehr to answer here in our “PetLvr Mailbag” series … send your question to jelena (at) PetLvr (dot) com