Deciding whether to declaw your cat may be one of the most important choices you make as a cat owner. And for many feline lovers, it's a thorny issue.
Why Cats Scratch
Cats scratch to smooth out the rims of their claws, which gradually get frayed. Scratching is also an instinctive method of marking territory. Each scratch leaves secretions from glands in a cat's feet, a scent that gets other cats' attention.
The cat's retractable claws are also used for defense and add to the animal's grace and acrobatic ability. But those claws can also rake a new sofa to shreds and lash a small child's cheek during a playful encounter. According to Dr. Debra Primovic, a veterinarian at the Animal Emergency Clinic in St. Louis and a consultant for PetPlace.com, the dividing line between declawing and not declawing usually involves where cats are kept: indoors such as the city, vs. areas where cats are more apt to move freely between inside and outside, like the suburbs or country. City dwellers usually declaw their cats because the animals will be staying indoors, but people who live in the country want their cats armed to defend themselves if they roam around outside or escape, Primovic says. Keep in mind that cats can get out accidentally in the city and if they are declawed they will be nearly defenseless against other cats who might try to pick a fight.
The cat's age is another consideration. Primovic says she declawed her own kitten at 11 or 12 weeks, and the animal bounced back quickly, but older cats need more time to heal.
Sometimes declawing is all that will keep peace in the family. "I've had people actually hit their cat for scratching the furniture. Even though declawing is not the ideal alternative, maybe it's better to declaw a cat so that he can't claw up the sofa,'' she says. "This way, he's less likely to get scolded."
How Declawing is Done
Declawing– also called onychectomy – is a surgical procedure in which the nail and last bone are removed from all the toes of the cat's front feet. The cat is usually under general anesthesia for the procedure. Some veterinarians now use laser surgery, which some think can lessen pain and post-operative bleeding. Either way, your cat's toes will be bandaged, and it may take a couple weeks for your cat to walk normally. Some cats bounce back very quickly, especially kittens. Shredded paper should be used in the litter box for this period because litter pieces are uncomfortable and can get stuck in the cats surgery site causing an infection.
What Are the Risks?
Problems are uncommon when correctly done on a young cat. Potential problems include an incorrectly positioned cut, which can remove too much of the toe, taking with it part of the toe's pad. This can cause pain. 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. Post-surgical blood loss is another concern, but great care is taken so that the bandages are placed to control bleeding.
What Else Can You Do?
While declawing may be necessary to live harmoniously with an indoor-only cat, there are other excellent alternatives:
Praise your cat when she uses the post. Make the post a fun place to be by placing toys on or around it, or rubbing it with catnip. Make sure to 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. In addition, make the piece of furniture not much fun to scratch. Try covering it with a sheet, making it wobbly or covering it with double-sided tape (make sure it won't hurt the surface first). You can also place a cottonball of scented bath oil on or near it. Again, make sure it won't hurt the furniture's surface.
Some owners use a spray bottle filled with plain water handy and squirt the cat on the back when she claws the furnishings. The only problem here is that you run the risk of the cat simply being afraid of you and the bottle and will still scratch when you are not around. Try tempting her with a more suitable scratching surface first. If you do use the bottle, make sure to never spray her in the face.
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 eighth 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.