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To Declaw or not to declaw… that is the question.
Imagine this scenario: You have just purchased a beautiful sofa. You love it! Meanwhile, your cat sees it as the perfect new scratching post. Not a week goes by before you discover your cat’s handiwork all over your sofa. What do you do?
Many cat owners have wrestled with this question after their cat has scratched up the furniture and drapes. To declaw or not to declaw?
Declawing is a major surgical procedure that involves amputating the bone that is attached to a cat’s claws. It is a controversial procedure that has many detractors, including the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association, and many supporters; both sides passionately debate their viewpoints. Just recently, a bill has been introduced in California to ban declawing in cats, except when medically necessary.
Cat Claws and the Need to Scratch
Cat claws are like human fingernails and toenails. They are used for balance, climbing, self-defense, and catching prey. Cats will scratch to naturally wear down and maintain their claws. Other reasons for scratching include marking territory, getting a whole body stretch, and experiencing a pleasant sensation.
Indoor cats don’t lose their scratching instinct because they’re not catching prey or fighting for survival. For pet parents whose cats are scratching just about everything, declawing seems like a reasonable solution to a frustrating (and possibly expensive) problem. So, what’s the controversy?
The Declaw Procedure
Declawing, called an onychectomy, surgically removes the claw and the bone to which it is attached. Typically, only the front claws are removed. Postoperatively, cats can experience significant pain, lameness, and possible nerve damage. Other declawing complications include infection, refusal to use the litterbox, and behavioral changes. Recovery can take days to weeks.
With so many drawbacks, declawing is strongly not recommended, particularly not as a solution to inappropriate scratching behavior. However, it may be appropriate in certain situations:
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that declawing improves problem behaviors; declawed cats can still end up in animal shelters due to their inappropriate behaviors. That being said, many pet parents who have had their cats declawed believe their cats do just fine without their claws.
These organizations recommend trying all behavioral modifications first. If these modifications are ineffective and the cat is at risk for euthanasia (barring the other reasons listed above), then declawing can be considered.
Bringing it Together
The declaw procedure is rife with controversy among pet parents and even veterinarians. There are those who are as passionately for it as against it. If your cat’s claws have become a target for your ire, talk with your veterinarian. Being educated about cat scratching behavior and the declaw procedure is essential before deciding whether to have your cat declawed.