Declawing: Why to Avoid It

The MSPCA encourages pet owners to seek alternatives to the declawing of cats—and the MSPCA’s hospitals do not perform declawing operations for non-medical reasons. If you are thinking of having your pet declawed, please take a moment to carefully review the following information.

Why are claws important to a cat?

A cat’s remarkable grace, agility, and sense of balance are in part due to its retractable claws, which allow it to establish footing for walking, running, springing, climbing, or stretching. A cat’s claws are also its best defense mechanism.

Why do cats scratch?

The outer part of a cat’s claws regularly become frayed. When the cat scratches, it pulls off this outer part and exposes sharp, smooth claws. Scratching is also a way of fulfilling a cat’s strong instinctive need to mark its territory. Not only do cats mark objects by visibly scratching them, but the scratching deposits secretions from glands in the feet that can be smelled by other cats. Scratching can also provide valuable stretching and foot-muscle exercise.

What is declawing?

The standard declawing procedure calls for the removal of the claw and the first bone of the toe. The operation is usually performed on the front feet, and is actually an amputation comparable to the removal of all of the human fingertips at the first knuckle. The cat experiences pain in the recovery and healing process.

What risks are associated with declawing?

Medical risks

An incorrectly positioned cut during declawing surgery can remove too much of the toe, taking with it part or all of the toe’s pad. But if the whole claw is not removed, misshapen claws can grow back. In addition, if a bone fragment is left at the surgery site, it may become a source of infection. Both claw re-growth and infection necessitate additional surgery. Post-surgical blood loss is another concern, but great care must be taken that bandages wrapped tightly to control bleeding do not cut off circulation.

Safety risks

A declawed cat must never be allowed outdoors; its ability to defend itself or escape from danger has been seriously impaired.

What are alternatives to declawing?

Introduce a scratching post

  • Buy or make a scratching post that’s tall enough so that the cat can stretch completely when scratching, and stable enough so that it won’t wobble when being used. It should be covered with a heavy, rough fiber like the back side of carpeting. Make the post a fun place to be by placing toys on or around it, or by rubbing it with catnip, and put it in an accessible area. If you’re trying to discourage the cat from scratching a particular piece of furniture, try placing the post in front of it, gradually moving the post aside as the cat begins to use it regularly.
  • Train with a dual approach: encourage a cat to claw the right things, discourage them from clawing the wrong things. Each time you bring a cat to a scratching post or they goes on their own, praise them, pet them, and spend a minute playing at the post. If the cat begins to scratch where they aren’t supposed to, call them by name, firmly telling them“no,” and move them to the scratching post. Put his or her front legs up on the post and make scratching motions with them. Or keep a spray bottle filled with plain water handy and squirt them on the back when they claw on the furnishings.
  • The favorite household scratching area can be made less attractive by attaching tape that is sticky on both sides or a piece of cotton scented with bath oil to the area.

Keep the cat’s nails trimmed

  • Cutting the nails regularly may help keep a cat from scratching furnishings, or at least reduce the damage done by his or her scratching. Get your kitten used to having their feet handled and their nails trimmed while young. With an older cat, it may help to begin by handling the cat’s feet under pleasurable circumstances. Then introduce the clipping procedure by approaching the cat while they are relaxed—or even napping—and clip only one nail per session. Praise your cat while you clip the nail, and reward them with a treat.
  • If you’re in doubt about what the proper nail length looks like, watch your veterinarian trim the nails. The only equipment necessary is a good pair of nail clippers. Never use scissors, since they can tear the nail.
  • Slide the blade onto the nail you will be trimming. Before cutting, look for the pink “quick” that runs down the center of the nail. The clipper blade should be placed about an eight of an inch forward of the quick, and the nail clipped with one smooth squeezing action of the clippers.
  • Be extremely careful not to cut into the quick. If this happens, the cat will experience pain, and bleeding is likely. The bleeding may stop without assistance, or you may need to hold a soft cloth on the nail or apply a little styptic powder. If you trim a small amount of nail every couple of weeks, the quick will tend to recede.

The MSPCA hopes that you will carefully consider whether or not to declaw your cat. It is a painful procedure that can have serious consequences for your pet. If you have questions about declawing or training your cat, don’t hesitate to call us. We’ll do our best to help you establish and maintain a happy relationship with your feline friend, while keeping both your furnishings and your pet intact.

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