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To Declaw or Not

A decision that impacts your cat’s entire life

By Katy McClellan, Pet Help Line Coordinator

Question

I have a cat who scratches my couch. Some of my friends have suggested declawing her, but I’m not so sure. Help!

Answer

Declawing. Say that word to a group of cat owners, and you will get multiple reactions. Everything from “Absolutely do it!” to “Never. It’s inhumane!” So what is declawing, and why is it controversial? Understanding cats and the purpose of their claws helps answer these questions.

What is declawing?

Declawing is the removal of the claw in the cat’s paw. However, is not simply removing the claw but removing the bone the claw is attached to. The equivalent of declawing in humans would be removing the first digit of your fingers so you never have to clip your fingernails again. Declawing is done surgically at a veterinarian’s office. Declawing causes the cat to walk differently, and declawed cats can have pain long after they are healed from surgery (think phantom limb pain in amputees), which can lead to litter box issues, biting and early arthritis.

At the Kentucky Humane Society, we counsel all cat owners against declawing. The pain, potential long-term health issues and potential biting behavior are all reasons to attempt other solutions.

Why do cats have claws?

Understanding why cats have claws and what they use them for may help shed light on why your cat wants to scratch at your new leather sofa. Cat’s claws are for more then just scratching. Claws are defense mechanisms against predators, help cats catch prey and are used for scent marking. Cats need to scratch, and removing the claws will not stop the scratching behavior, just the effect of scratching in the wrong place with unclipped nails. Cats who lose the ability to scratch for protection will often resort to biting, and a cat bite can be much more dangerous than a cat scratch.

Living in harmony with a clawed cat

If your cat is causing damage to you, your furniture or your other pets because of inappropriate scratching, there are many things you can do to help your cat keep his claws and you keep your cat.

  1. Trim his nails. Use treats to make your cat associate nail trimming with treats so it is a positive experience.
  2. Provide lots of alternate scratching places in appropriate places. A good scratching post allows the cat to fully extend his arms and scratch above his head. Scratching posts can be vertical or horizontal and come in all sorts of designs. Put the post next to the inappropriate scratching place and reward your cat for choosing the right spot.
  3. Invest in kitty nail caps. Nail caps are available at Feeders Supply and other pet supply stores. These caps are glued to the cat’s nail and help prevent damage when scratching. They need to be replaced as your cat’s nails grow, but just like nail trimmings, your cat can learn to tolerate and even enjoy her monthly “pedicures.”

These tips are just the start of solving a basic clawing issue or preventing one from starting. For additional tips and advice, please call the Kentucky Humane Society’s Pet Help Line at (502) 509-4PET or visit kyhumane.org/help.

Ask the Experts

Got a pet-related question? Call our Pet Help Line to receive free advice and to connect to local pet resources, (502) 509-4PET or visit kyhumane.org/help. The Kentucky Humane Society’s Pet Help Line is made possible by grants from the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and the Banfield Foundation. The Pet Help Line is designed to help keep pets in their homes and out of shelters by giving pet owners the tools they need to have healthy relationships with their pets.

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