One of the top reasons a cat loses his home is destructive scratching when the importance of pristine furniture trumps the cat-owner bond. People already bonded with a cat tend to put up with more household damage before resorting to ditching the kitty–but it can still happen.
Declaw surgery sounds like the perfect solution. Think again!
Cat Claws & Declawing Surgery
Feline claws correspond to the last joint of a human’s fingers and toes but extend and retract courtesy of two small “hinged” bones that rest nearly on top of each other. A relaxed paw sheaths the claw inside a soft, smooth furry skin fold. Flexing the tendon straightens the folded bones and pushes claws forward and down.
Cats normally walk on their toes, resting weight on the cushioned pad under each toe. When that last joint is removed, fragments of bone from the amputation pull out of place by the severed tendon. That can create a “pebble in the shoe” feeling with each step, according to experts at The Paw Project, an educational and advocacy group about declawing. Dr. Jennifer Conrad founded the organization to rehabilitate captive big cats (lions, cougars, etc.) that have been seriously injured by declawing.
Cat Declawing Surgery
Declaw surgery cuts off the last joint of each kitty toe. Surgeons commonly use a scalpel blade or a guillotine-type nail trimmer (yes, the same ones you use on your pets!). State of the art declaw surgery uses a laser which arguably is the most humane.
After the cat’s sedation, the paws are scrubbed, and the joint amputated. With the cutting technique, the paws must be bandaged tightly for a period of time to stop the bleeding. Pain medication is also necessary afterward because as you can imagine, walking on the stubs is excruciatingly painful.
Laser surgery prevents bleeding and is less painful for the cat but the toes take longer to heal from burns. In most cases, only the front paws are declawed and no cat without claws should be allowed outside since her defenses have been removed.
Declaw has NO benefit for the cat—and serves only for the owner’s convenience to protect furniture from normal cat scratching behavior. Some declawed cats develop other behavior problems, such as biting to defend themselves, or snubbing the litter box when sore paws make them reluctant to dig in the litter.
Some experts argue that many declawed cats live happy, healthy lives with no discomfort. They say that pet owners with fragile skin or immune challenges elevate health risk when scratched by cats, so these owners give up cats with claws. Others note that declawing alters the feline gait and can lead to painful arthritic issues much later in life.
Banning Declaw Surgery
Whether it’s a tiger in the zoo, or your fluffy lap-sitting house panther, declawing should never be considered routine. The practice is illegal in many industrial countries and several American cities due to concerns over humane issues.
On June 4, lawmakers in New York proposed a ban on the surgical procedure, and on July 22, 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill and made New York the first state to ratify this decision. The law immediately went into effect. It only makes exceptions for medical purposes and imposes a fine of up to $1000 for those who ignore the ban.
Alternatives to Declawing
Instead of trying to stop clawing, cat owners (and the cats they love) are best served by giving the pet a legal opportunity to claw and teaching the cat what’s acceptable. Understanding why a cat scratches–and how easy it is to prevent damage to furniture–helps motivate us to train Kitty to properly use a legal target.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!