Not a Kitty Manicure

The following blog is actually a recycle of an article I wrote for our local paper a few years ago.  When a discussion about declawing ensued on our Facebook page recently, I thought this might be worth reposting.

So here’s the dilemma.  Some people want to declaw the cat they’re adopting from our Shelter.  When we refuse to allow it, they leave annoyed, empty-handed , and find a cat elsewhere.   Thus, a cat loses out on a potential home.  We, in fact know that If we’d let people declaw at will, more cats would be adopted but we also know that we’re supporting an inhumane practice that can lead cats right back to the shelter.   I’ll elaborate.

As a staunch opponent of a procedure that is unnatural and probably hurts like heck, let me point out that cats have claws for a reason.   Beyond the obvious use of their claws for protection, climbing, and hunting, they’re also used for balance, exercising and stretching their legs, back and paws.  However when they do so in the wrong places or ways it’s called “destructive behavior”.  

For some, the easy answer seems to be declawing.  Easy for the owner and not for the cat as most assuredly it’s not the equivalent of a kitty manicure.  Rather it’s like amputating the first digit of your finger or toe.  And while many veterinarians perform declaw procedures, others refuse and in some countries it’s actually illegal.  I imagine veterinarians are conflicted knowing that this medical procedure is less than humane and also knowing that their desperate clients need an effective solution or the cat may soon be homeless.  Or worse! 

Beyond the risks associated with any medical procedure, it also leaves cats virtually defenseless.  Yes, some cats still manage to climb trees, catch mice and ward off some attackers with only their back claws, but those front claws are too essential for protection and their emotional well-being to deem unnecessary.  And while declawing may be a quick fix to scratched furniture, it can lead to an entirely different set of problems far worse than a shredded couch.  Most notably, inappropriate elimination (not using the litter box) and unprovoked aggression (biting).

In 2011, over 2200 cats arrived at our door at no fault of their own.  Strays, moving, allergies and financial problems were the reported cause of their relinquishment.  And while bad behavior is not a huge problem, missing the litter box and biting will land a cat on the street in a flash.  And when this occurs most often the cat has been declawed.  Various surveys report from 50 to 92% of cats with behavioral problems are declawed.  Yikes! 

It’s no surprise that declawed cats bite more often as they must feel a need to protect more proactively. The litter box problems are a little more speculative.  It may be that post-declaw discomfort leaves a lasting impression of pain associated with the litter box that results in its avoidance.  Also it may be that since cats normally mark their territory by scratching, without claws, they use urine marking instead.  Whatever the cause, it’s problematic.

Face it, cats are going to scratch.  It’s only natural.  But declawing is not the only answer.  Cats and even kittens can be trained to use appropriate things for scratching AND to allow nail trimming.  There are also soft plastic caps glued to the nails that protect furniture and permit harmless scratching.   Clear packing tape works well applied to the corners of your furniture or favorite scratching spots to protect and deter the cat from scratching too. 

Recently a Shelter volunteer questioned our declaw policy as they witnessed lost adoption opportunities because we don’t allow adult cats to be declawed.  Only kittens under a certain age are exempt.  This inconsistency is based on the belief that if declawed early enough, they’re less likely to develop those undesirable behaviors described earlier.  Based more in hope and less in fact, this isn’t always the case.  Actually I have two friends who both insisted upon declawing kittens on adoption, despite my protests, and years later tearfully returned their now unadoptable adult cats for peeing all over the house. 

The more I write the more I know we shouldn’t allow declawing.  But it’s difficult knowing that if we allow it, more cats will be adopted and avoid needless death.  Conversely, by doing so, are we not setting cats up for failure and a return trip to the shelter where they are now unadoptable and suffer the same end? 

Predictably, I recommend careful consideration before getting any pet.  Consider what you’re willing to do to ensure their lifetime happiness and well-being.  Last but not least, start early in your relationship with your pet to reward those behaviors you want and discourage those you don’t.  It can make the difference between a tearful trip to your vet or shelter and a lifetime of happiness.


Categories: Animal Care

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