If You Love Your Cat, Don't Declaw!

by Jackie Bell  

Many years ago when I had my beloved Siamese, I used to get annoyed when she would scratch me in play on my legs. I was ignorant about young kitten behavior and instead of making an effort to amuse her and train her to use a scratching post, I took the lazy way out and simply had her declawed. I always wondered if perhaps her life could have been more satisfying if she had been allowed to express her natural self.

CATS NEED THEIR CLAWS......

Physically,
A cat's body is very well designed. The skeleton is more elastic and better jointed than that of a dog. In the shoulder there is so much play that the shoulder blade may touch the jaw or slide back as far as the eighth or tenth rib. All muscles governing this lithe, little body are highly developed. This naturally gives the cat great climbing power (if he is not deliberately handicapped by a human.) A part of this wonderous mechanism are his ingeniously designed retractable claws. His claws allow him to establish footing for walking, running, springing, climbing and stretching. Scratching is a normal characteristic of a healthy cat. Not only does it exercises the foot muscles but it removes dead tissue from the nails.

Emotionally,
A clawless life is one without self-defense, psychologically. I haven't the foggiest about what a cat thinks but I know that deprived of what nature has given him, he is without something he needs to express himself. Cats operate with their senses and when deprived of claws lose part of what they need to be happy. Besides the physical mutilation a declawing can change a cat's emotions. Because a cat is now defenseless (emotion is part of the physical whole), personality and disposition may completely change. A cat could become aggressive and mentally have a difficult time adjusting to a clawless life. Think about how you would feel if someone cut off your fingertips? Deprived of its claws, a cat may turn to its only other form of defense- its teeth. It is fairly common for a declawed cat to become a biter. They do this out of fear and frustration. The last thing we want to do is mess up our cats mentally because all aspects of behavior are affected (including litter box habits)! Scratching has a soothing, comforting effect that creates a tranquil disposition.

What Happens When a Cat is Declawed
Note the strong ligaments and tendons which give power to extend and retract the claws in the drawing:

cat claws

cat claws

When the end digit including the claw is removed, the sensory and motor nerves are cut, damaged and destroyed. They do not repair themselves or grow back for many months. There follows a wooden lack of feeling, then a tingling sensation during the long convalescence. The cat must walk on the stub end of the second digit. Sometimes a claw grows back, but not in the normal way. Rather, they grow up through the top of the paw creating a bloody sore. The physical effect of declawing is gradual weakening of the muscles of the legs, shoulders and back. Balance is now impaired. Declawed cats must feel defenseless and certainly live with more stress in their lives. Despite its grace, a cat is not sure- footed. Without the ability to grasp with its claws, it can easily be injured in a fall.

Why Do People Declaw Anyway?
If you are the kind of person that has more value in inanimate objects such as furniture and priceless heirlooms, do yourself a favor and go buy a piece of art. Think about why you want a cat in the first place. Was it something that would class up your environment? Was it something you imagined would sit at your feet adoringly looking up at you? If none of the above and you want a cat for companionship and to be a part of this wonderful creature's activities, then you are going to have to understand that all young animals go through a series of behaviours (much like children). Kittens have their crazies and with patience and training, can and will learn to express themselves in ways that make them compatible living in homes with humans.

But My Vet Declaws Cats All the Time and Says It's OK?
True, vets do declaw all the time. Ok however, is questionable. Think about how vets make their living. Exams, maintenance shots, neutering, spaying and an occasional injury. Many vets make additional income in feline practice by suggesting declawing with the same reverence as one asked "shampoo and set?" at the beauty parlor! Don't let your vet (in the guise of the welfare of the cat) intimidate you into getting unnecessary surgical procedures done that will alter the natural psyche of your cat.

So How Do You Protect Yourself and the Brand New Sofa?
Provide your cat with his own place to scratch. Cats have scent glands in the paws and they are creatures of ritual. If you see your cat going towards that beautiful tapestry chair, take him to the scratching post, carpet square or cardboard corrugate you can get at the pet shop for a few dollars. Gently take his paws and move back and forth on the substitute, for his scent will now be on the desired object. Cats are very intelligent and will get the idea fast. What I do is take my own finger and scratch on the post. For some reason all my cats then use the scratching post in imitation!

When getting a new kitten, keep him in a room when you are at work so you are around to monitor the incidences of forbidden scratching. Never smack a cat if he is tearing up your furniture. To discipline, take a rolled up newspaper and gently swat the cat away. Usually they are very insulted and will associate the humiliation with the behaviour at that moment. Then take the cat back to it's own place to scratch and encourage him to scratch there instead.

It's Not Difficult To Give Your Cat A Manicure...
I usually clip my cat's nails after they have have their dinner and are mellow. They aren't crazy about it, but it has to be. The kittens' claws grow fast but an interesting reaction to man's action is with time, the vein in a cat's claw will actually retreat back as the kitten matures so ultimately you can take off more nail with a clipper less frequently as the cat gets older!

Please see illustration on clipping your cat's claws:

Clipping Claws

Clipping Claws

Although the illustration shows it, do not use a humans' nail clippers for they will shatter and splinter a claw. The investment in a cat claw clipper is negligible compared to potential damage that can be done by sharp claws. An untrimmed claw can actually grow circular right back into the paw!

Good Luck and Thank You for reading this article. Declawing is not necessary for today's house-bound cats. Be patient with the kitten's crazies and keep those claws cut. If your kitten feels a need to use you as a temporary scratching toy, don't worry for trimmed nails can't hurt you.

Note:   Adapted from the Suffolk, NY S.P.C.A. literature against declawing and Paws Come With Claws by Friends of Animals Association, Norwalk, CT.



Visit Amby's Declawing Resource Section for more information.

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