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The Myth of Declawing a Cat

Written by Shireen Abbasey Haynes.

Many people assume declawing a cat is the same as trimming their nails, or for people, like getting a manicure. In fact, declawing is a cruel and inhumane practice. Declawing a cat is akin to cutting a person’s fingers off at the first knuckle. There are many reasons why you should think twice about declawing a cat.

Both the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) oppose declawing cats unless it is medically necessary (when the health of the cat and/or the owner is at great risk and should only be considered as a last resort.) Advances in veterinary medicine and a greater knowledge of animal behavior now tell us that scratching is normal for cats and serves several purposes.

Scratching is a method for cats to visually mark their territory, maintain their nails – it removes the sheath of old nails – and provides a defense mechanism and stress relief for the animal. Scratching also stretches muscles in the paw.

The surgery to declaw a cat is called an onychectomy and is considered amputation. It is regarded as major surgery. “The only way for nails to be removed and never grow back is to remove the growth center that lies within a specific area of the first bone of the finger. If the entire growth center is not removed, the nail will grow back in and often grow back in a deformed and painful way. That is why the entire first bone(actually called the third bone in the diagram) at the end of the finger must be taken off. And along with the bone, of course, comes nerves, tendons, ligaments and the joint capsule,” says Dr. Shelby Neely, veterinarian and author of “The Cat Doctor” blog.

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This surgery can often be complicated and can result in adverse effects such as loss of blood, infection, secondary effects due to anesthesia and even death. Many times the cat will be left in lingering pain. A cat that has been declawed will need to learn how to walk again. Our toes help us balance on our feet and it is no different for cats. Pain or impaired balance can also put a cat at greater risk with predators and declawed cats should never be allowed outside as they have no defenses. A cat with no defenses can feel insecure and in turn, the only defense they have is to bite.

As a pet owner, there are many alternatives to declawing. If your cat is a problem scratcher, make the object of his “scratchation” undesirable. Try putting tin foil on the furniture – cats are said to not like the texture of it. Replace the objects he can’t scratch with objects that he can. Place scratching posts strategically around your home and make them attractive to your cat by rubbing them with catnip.

If you catch your cat in the act of scratching something inappropriately, provide a positive distraction. Catch their attention with a toy or petting. Never hit your cat or use force.

Finally, keep their nails trim. To cut nails, gently press on his toes until the claw is extended. Use a pair of nail clippers and cut only the tip of the nail, taking care not to damage the vein also called the quick. The nail hook is what tears furniture so removing it really eliminates the potential for damage. If you are unsure how to trim nails, talk to the staff at your vet’s office or you can even watch videos on proper technique on Youtube. Nails can be trimmed every 1 -2 weeks.