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January 24, 2006 > Declaw your cat?

Declaw your cat?

by Nancy Lyon

Why do people choose to declaw their cats? The reasons may be an issue of shredded drapes and furniture or worry that someone may be scratched. Some veterinarians offer declawing as part of their spay/neuter package before any of these problems arise. This is especially unfortunate because declawing is an owner-elected procedure and unnecessary for the vast majority of cats and always painful.

There are a number of considerations that should be looked at carefully before anyone makes the irreversible decision to declaw their feline family member. People erroneously believe that declawing is a simple surgery that removes a cat's nails, the equivalent of a person having your fingernails trimmed. This is far from the truth. It is important to understand that the surgery is the equivalent of having all of your fingers amputated at the last knuckle severing bone and tendon. The healing process from this elective surgery can be long and painful and can involve long-term health issues and behavior problems.

Declawing your cat is pretty much an American thing; it's something people do for their own convenience without realizing what actually happens to their beloved feline.

The reality has fostered a movement in this country's animal welfare community to make the surgical procedure of declawing cats illegal. In West Hollywood, California it has already been banned as an inhumane practice and there have been moves to ban it statewide. Additionally, in 17 countries declawing is termed "inhumane" and "unnecessary mutilation" and is illegal.

What's the controversy about when so many American veterinarians routinely perform the procedure?

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that conventional declawing and newer related procedures such as using lasers instead of surgical blades or tendonectomies - cutting tendons to prevent a cat from extending her claws should be reserved only for those rare cases in which a cat has a medical problem that would warrant such surgery. In these cases, a veterinarian should inform the cat's guardians about complications associated with the surgical procedures (including the possibility of infection, pain, and lameness) so that they have realistic expectations about the outcome. According to HSUS there is just as much evidence to support the case against declawing as there is research to support it, with some studies finding few or only short-term adverse reactions to the surgery and others finding medical complications and significant differences in behavior.

While there have been changes in the way that cats are declawed, it's still true that for the vast majority of cats, these surgical procedures are unnecessary. With patience and knowledge guardians can readily train their cats to use their claws in a manner that allows both to happily coexist.

As very sensitive beings, cats feel pain just as humans although their survival instincts guide them to show no weakness and they may seem "normal." During the long and painful recovery period a cat will still have to use its feet to walk, jump, and scratch in its litter box regardless of the pain it is experiencing. Wheelchairs and bedpans are not an option.

So how does declawing affect many cats?

It has also been noted by guardians that their cat's personality changed after being declawed. Unfortunately, the medical community often does not recognize this as a potential serious side effect.

According to Dr. Christianne Schelling D.V.M., declawed cats can and do suffer resultant behavioral disorders, such as not using the litter box due to discomfort in their feet, and may use other areas in the house instead. They also have trouble jumping and landing, and in some severe cases, both domestic and wild cats have become lame and even paralyzed. Declawed cats can become fear biters. Cats' first defense mechanism is their claws, and when these are gone they bite. The cat is also deprived of its primary means of defense, leaving it prey to predators if it ever escapes to the outdoors.

A cat's body is designed to give it grace and agility; its claws are an important part of this design. Amputating the important part of their anatomy that contains the claws drastically alters the conformation of their feet. In reality a declawed cat is actually a clubfooted animal. He can't walk normally but must forever move with his weight back on the rear of his pads. Posture is irrevocably altered and gone is the easeful gait that is his birthright. Declawed cats are 75 percent defenseless and live in a constant state of stress which can affect their health and make them more prone to disease.

Will not declawing mean more cats turned into the shelter?

According to HSUS, the risk of cats being relinquished to animal shelters if they can't be declawed is overstated and is seriously overestimated by the veterinary profession. In a survey of guardians of cats that had been declawed and their veterinarians, reported by Dr. Gary Landsberg in Veterinary Forum, September 1994, only 4 percent of the guardians said they would have relinquished their cat had it not been declawed. In contrast, the veterinarians in the survey speculated that 50 percent of the owners would have relinquished them. It can be reasonably expected that if cat guardians knew the risks and alternatives to declawing, and if veterinarians took a more active role in offering and assisting with the alternatives, the 4 percent figure would be further reduced.

There is no evidence that declawing results in cats remaining in homes - to the contrary, there is evidence that declawed cats bite and fail to use the litter box - resulting in them being discarded from homes.

Some of the alternatives to declawing that are available include: proper training, distraction and diversion of cats who are scratching; regular nail trimming; adequate exercise and play for cats; and use of SoftPaws, a soft plastic caps for the paw.

Given the seriousness of declawing, is there an acceptable solution that will keep both your cat and household in one piece? Check out the wonderful website "Cat Scratching Solutions" at www.catscratching.com it provides many solutions as well as insight into the psychology of why cats scratch.

 
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