Have you been asking yourself: “Should I declaw my cat?” Stop! Read this article to find out why NOT to declaw your cat and what to do instead.
Why Is My Cat Scratching The Furniture?
The most important thing to realize is that cats need to scratch. They use scratching to clean and sharpen their nails, to mark their territory, to train their muscles, and to relieve stress. It is part of their instinctual behavior.
The key here is instinctual. Your cat doesn’t plan or scheme before scratching your precious sofa. The behavior is not directed at you. Remember: cats are not humans. So getting mad and screaming at your kitty isn’t going to do anything to solve it. It might actually make it worse.
When you get upset at your cat, she becomes frightened of you and experiences stress. That stress needs to be relieved, so she scratches up some more furniture. You get upset again, she gets stressed again, and so on and so forth.
What Is Declawing?
Many cat owners sadly lack the knowledge and/or resources to effectively train their cat not to scratch the furniture. Some of them consider declawing as a reasonable solution, without necessarily understanding what it entails.
When a cat is declawed, they do not just take out the sharp nail you see sticking out of the paw. The nail is embedded into the top digit of their toe. So to remove the nail and stop it from growing back, this entire bone is removed on all toes of the front paws. Just imagine your hands without the top digits. Yikes!
Don’t be fooled by people who claim that laser declawing cats is a more humane procedure. The procedure is only part of the story. Your cat will have to spend the rest of her life with mutilated paws and all the horrible consequences that come with it. Declawing, no matter how you do it, is always inhumane.
Declawing used to be common practice, and still is in (parts of) some countries, like the U.S. Fortunately, more and more veterinarians around the world are realizing that it is inhumane and not in the best interest of their patients. Following their advice, many districts and countries have banned declawing altogether. So even if you are considering it for your cat, it might not be legal where you live.
Negative Side-Effects Of Declawing Cats
You might still be thinking that removing those pesky claws from the equation is going to solve your problems. And any vet you find that is willing to perform the procedure is surely going to tell you just that. They are getting paid for it, after all.
The voice that is missing from this discussion is the one that really matters: your cat’s.
From your cat’s perspective, declawing is not a simple, one-and-done procedure. In fact, the procedure itself is not always performed very well. Bone fragments often get left behind, which cause irritation and need to be removed in a follow-up surgery. Even if the surgery is performed perfectly, there are a host of complications and negative side-effects that can occur after your cat has been declawed.
The most immediate negative side-effect that can occur after declawing is an infection of the wounds. Dirt from the floor and bacteria from the litter box can get into the incision when it’s not fully healed yet. If left untreated, an infection can cause lasting damage on top of the mutilation of declawing.
Cats are digitigrades, which means they normally walk on their toes. And it’s these toes that are removed when performing a declawing procedure. After declawing your cat is forced to walk on, essentially, flat feet (plantigrade). Any pain from infections aside, this seemingly small change in their anatomy can have drastic effects. Staggering, back pain and problems jumping up and down even the smallest of heights are not uncommon for declawed cats.
A cat’s claws are her first defence. Not having those claws and being in constant pain leaves your cat feeling less confident and easily threatened. On top of that, she won’t be able to mark her territory or soothe herself by scratching. As a result, your once sweet kitty can turn into a vicious, territorially insecure biter after being declawed.
Cats need exercise to relieve stress, keep their minds sharp and maintain a fit, healthy body. A cat that’s in pain is more likely to find a quiet corner and sleep away the days instead. If your cat is declawed and not prancing around confidently, she is at a higher risk of developing arthritis and other illnesses that are normally only seen in older cats. Moving in general will become even more painful, which leads to more inactivity and a further deteriorating health.
Litter Box Avoidance
Most vets that perform and promote declawing procedures as “safe solutions” won’t tell you about this side-effect. Perhaps because this is the one that is of most inconvenience to you. And it might actually talk you out of it. Because let’s be real: if you are the type of person that is actually considering physical mutilation to solve a behavioral problem, then you are probably not prepared to get too involved with your cat’s bodily functions. Am I right?
The truth is, a large percentage of declawed cats develop litter box problems. Either the litter is too hard or too coarse. Perhaps the box itself is too high for her to step into without her joints aching. Or the presence of other pets makes her too insecure to comfortably do her business. But a kitty’s got to go when a kitty’s got to go.
What you end up with is cat pee and feces anywhere but in the litter box. Because of their sore paws, declawed cats will usually favor soft spots and materials, like your clothes, your sofa or your bed. If you are still asking yourself “Should I declaw my cat?”, change that to “Do I want to clean cat poop off my bed?”.
Overflowing Animal Shelters
The answer to that last question is a decided “no” for, well, anyone. But litter box avoidance can be difficult to overcome with a stressed out kitty. Especially if you’re already not that in tune with your cat’s needs (just sayin’). Sadly, this causes many pet owners to give up and bring their declawed cat to a shelter.
Animal shelters generally don’t have the resources to take care of that many animals. They try to rehome as many of them as they can, but there are limits to what they can do. A cat that is brought in with behavioral problems needs to be treated and often resocialized before she can go to a new family. If there is no one to work with her or no one that will take her in, she will in all likelihood be euthanized.
Should I Declaw My Cat?
No, you shouldn’t. Ask yourself this. Are you really prepared to put your cat on a painful path towards a premature death over scratched furniture?
If the answer is “yes”, then please consider parting ways with her now, while her paws are still intact. This will give her a far better chance of being rehomed into a loving family where she can live out her days pain-free and happy. You can get a fish instead.
If the answer is “no”, thank you for realizing that your cat has needs too. There are plenty of alternatives to declawing a cat that leave both you(r furniture) and your cat satisfied and unscathed.
5 Humane Alternatives To Declawing A Cat
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to not declaw your cat, let’s look at some alternatives to declawing that solve your scratching problem in a humane, cat-friendly way.
This one is kinda obvious. Buy your cat a scratching post. And make sure it is tall enough. Cats like to stretch out their bodies while scratching, so go for a scratcher that is about twice as high as your cat’s body length.
Place the scratching post close to the piece of furniture that she is currently clawing her nails into. For a bit of extra help, you can temporarily put double-sided sticky tape on places you don’t want her to scratch. Your cat won’t like how it feels on her paws and choose the new scratcher instead. Once you have successfully transferred her from the sofa to the scratching post, you can move it to another spot.
Whatever you do, don’t try to encourage her by dragging her paws across the scratcher. Your cat won’t understand what you are trying to tell her and may feel frightened instead. We want her to associate this new scratching post with good things, so try placing a treat on or near it. Incorporate it in a play session to make her discover it in a more natural way.
Nail caps are a great, and stylish, way of limiting the damage that your cat’s claws can do. These little plastic caps easily slide over and snap onto your cat’s existing nails. She will still be able to use her claws, but the blunt tip of the nail cap won’t dig into your furniture, or your skin.
Nail caps are available in all colors of the rainbow, so you can go as crazy as you want. But try to resist using them as a vanity item. Don’t use glue. If the caps don’t stay on without it, it means they are too big for your cat’s nails.
Generally speaking, I personally prefer any of the other solutions over nail caps. Not being able to claw into things does limit the physical benefits your cat gets from scratching, like training her muscles. That said, if there are small children or immunocompromised people in your household I do definitely recommend nail caps. Protecting them from a potentially nasty cat scratch is more important in this case.
A better solution that basically achieves the same result as nail caps, is to trim your cat’s nails. Special scissors are available that make it easy for you to do at home. Most cats need to have their nails trimmed about once every 6 weeks.
Not all cats will allow you to handle their paws like this, though. You can test whether your cat will let you trim her nails by taking her on your lap, facing forward. Then see if you can gently hold and lift up her paws, one by one, without her getting fussy. If that’s a success, the last step is to softly press down on the cushiony part of her foot. This will make the nails slide out of their sockets so you can cut them.
If you do decide to start trimming your kitty’s nails, ask your vet or someone with experience to show you how. Most importantly, make sure you do not cut the nails too short. Just the very tip will do.
Your cat’s scratching behavior might be fueled by stress or pent-up energy. You can help her release some of that tension by playing with her, or supplying toys that she can play with by herself.
Feeding toys, catnip kickers and electronic cat toys will keep your cat intrigued and active long enough to wear her out to a point where she just doesn’t have the energy to also scratch the sofa. If your indoor cat also enjoys running around the house like a crazy tornado, a cat wheel might be a great way to redirect her energy and simultaneously give her some real exercise!
Some indoor cats have teritorial needs that extend beyond the perimeters of their owner’s house. No matter how you try, they just won’t settle for a life between four walls. And who could blame them?
It can cause quite a bit of frustration if your cat has a natural instinct to go outside and discover the neighbourhood, but is forced to stay inside. Depending on where you live, it might not be possible or safe for her to go on adventures by herself. That’s where harness training comes in.
It takes some dedication from your, and a bit of courage and tolerance from your cat, but you can train her to where a leash and harness and go on walks with you. Or rather, take you on walks with her. Don’t expect this to be like walking a dog. Your cat will lead the way, sometimes even by sitting still. Just let it happen.
The bonus of spending some time outside is all the opportunities for nail grooming! Tree trunks, wood fences and street tiles provide different textures and ways to naturally take care of your cat’s claws. And the neighbor’s cat will know that this spot has been claimed.
Just because something is (or was) common practice, doesn’t mean that it is the right thing to do. Declawing is a prime example of that. Luckily, we are constantly learning better ways to care for our feline companions and have found plenty of humane ways to solve scratching problems. I hope this article has helped you to see your cat’s side of things and given you the tools for a long and happy life together.