Feline declawing is an elective and ethically controversial procedure, which is not medically necessary for cats in most instances. Declawing entails the amputation of a cat’s third phalanx, or third ‘toe bone.’
It is important to understand that scratching is a normal behavior for cats that has an inherent function. The primary reason cats scratch is to maintain the necessary claw motion used in hunting, climbing, and stretching. Claws are also used as a primary defense mechanism as well as for balance. Unlike other mammals, cats walk on their toes, not on their feet or pads.
Cat claws grow in layers and scratching serves to groom them by removing the worn outer layer to expose the new growth inside while also leaving markers of the cat’s presence. Cat owners must therefore provide a variety of ways for scratching such as suitable scratchers.
We do recommend trying the following non-surgical alternatives prior to making the final decision to declaw your cat.
- Routine nail trims–trimming the nails at least monthly will keep them very short and well groomed and less likely to cause damage.
- Nail caps–Nail caps are applied to the tip of the nails. With these, cats are still able to extract their claws but are unable to make damage to furniture and skin as they would without them. They are held on to the nail with an adhesive and can last 4-6 weeks until the next application should be applied. Nail caps are a great alternative and are relatively inexpensive.
- Scratch Posts–The ideal scratching post is about 31.5 inches tall. This specific height allows the cat to fully stretch the back and shoulders. Stability is very important as well. If the post tumbles while the cat is on or using the post, he/she will become fearful of it and may never use it again. The fabric must be strong to allow the cat to really dig into the fabric. Carpeting is a good fabric, as long as it does not loop which can get tangled in your cat’s claws. Place the post where your cat loves to scratch. If it is your couch at the moment, place the post there while making it appealing to your cat to investigate it. Show your cat that he/she can scratch there by extending the claws and running it along the post.
- Use a cat repellent or make your own with diluted vinegar and spray the areas in the home where he/she is not allowed to scratch. Please test the repellent on a small piece of fabric of the areas that you are repelling to make sure that no damage may occur. Cats also like height. The higher the stand, the better. Make sure there is a shelf that will support the cat’s weight so he/she can sleep on top and look at its surroundings.
- Catnip is a great way to entice cats to use scratch posts as it makes the area more exciting.
- Feliscratch by feliway along with other feliway products can also be used to teach cats appropriate locations for scratching.
If alternatives are not working:
In cases where the cat is destroying the inside of the home and retraining it to use a scratching post hasn’t worked, or when it lives with the elderly, a diabetic or severely immunocompromised person, the decision becomes one of either declawing the cat or having to relocate or euthanize it…the decision of whether to declaw should be made by a well-informed owner in consultation with a veterinarian
At North Star Veterinary Hospital, we will only perform front feet declaws. We do provide multi-modal pain control before and after surgery to ensure that your pet remains as comfortable as possible during the healing process. Younger pets will typically stay in the hospital overnight with bandaged paws and go home the following afternoon. Older and/or heavier pets may need to stay in the hospital for two days.
When your pet goes home from surgery, please plan to keep him/her confined to a small area such as a kennel or crate. This area should be large enough that your pet can walk around and utilize litterbox and have food and water access, but where he/she will be unable to jump for approximately 10 days. You will also need to purchase paper pellet cat litter to be used during this time to reduce risk of small pellets getting caught up in surgical sites.
Your pet must NOT be allowed outdoors after being declawed. Declawing limits their ability to protect themselves from predators. Therefore, your pet must be strictly indoors after this procedure is completed.