Onychectomy, or declaw, procedures have been banned in several countries around the world. Although the procedure remains legal in the United States, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are all strongly opposed to declawing cats in all but rare extenuating circumstances. Whether you have just welcomed a new kitten into your home or are feeling exasperated by your adult cat's persistent attempts to shred your rugs and furnishings, educate yourself on what a declaw procedure entails, why cats scratch and alternative methods to eliminate unwanted scratching behavior. Taking the time to do so can improve harmonious coexistence between you, your feline friend and your sofa.
Onychectomy Is Misleading
The term onychectomy means the surgical removal of claws, a procedure that is known declawing. That would imply that only a cat's claws are extracted. In reality, phalangectomy would be a more accurate term for this procedure since the third, or distal, phalange--meaning toe bone--is severed along with each claw. This equates to the amputation of the end bones of each of your fingers and toes. Some physical complications that can arise as a result of declawing include the following:
- Painful claw regrowth
- Formation of bone spurs in the toes
- Nerve damage
Some behavioral problems that can develop following a declaw procedure include the following:
- Some cats are reluctant to use the litter box because doing so during the postoperative healing period is painful to the cat's raw toes.
- Some cats become biters whenever they feel cornered or threatened because they feel defenseless without their claws.
Declawing serves no medical benefit for the cat. It is an elective procedure that uninformed owners view as an easy way to curb their cats' destructive scratching. Spare your cat the physical and emotional trauma of declawing by training your cat to modify her scratching behavior. This can be accomplished once you understand why and how your cat scratches.
Cats Need to Scratch
Scratching objects is natural feline behavior. Cats scratch to fulfill these instinctual needs:
- Scratching removes the old sheaths that are shed from their claws as new sheaths grow. This is your kitty's notion of a manicure and is part of her grooming ritual.
- Scratching releases pheromones from the scent glands in her paws to mark her turf. This instinct has been passed down from her wild ancestry as a means of warning potential invaders.
- Scratching leaves behind the shredded evidence that also serves to mark claim to her territory.
- Scratching enables your cat to fully stretch the muscles in her body.
- Scratching provides your cat with a way to alleviate stress and anxiety.
You must accept that all cats need to scratch, but you can train your cat to accept that she does not need to scratch your sofa or area rug.
One way to modify your cat's scratching behavior is to provide multiple scratching mediums that are acceptable alternatives to your furnishings. Is your cat's favorite scratching zone the rug, a step or some other horizontal surface? If so, choose horizontal scratching pads, which are usually covered with corrugated cardboard. If your cat prefers the end of your sofa, a doorframe or some other vertical surface, invest in vertical scratching posts.
Make sure that the posts are tall enough for your cat to get in a full stretch and sturdy enough so that they do not topple when your cat uses them. Posts should be covered in sisal instead of carpet. Sprinkle catnip on the acceptable scratching surfaces and place them close to the unacceptable ones. You can also place posts or pads near her preferred napping zones so that when she awakens, she has immediate access to stretch and scratch.
Reward your cat with treats each and every time you see her scratch at the proper spot. Conversely, convey your displeasure each and every time you see her scratch at the inappropriate spot. You can accomplish this by loudly shaking an empty metal can that contains a handful of coins or by shooting water at her from a spray bottle or basic water pistol. Carry out these admonishments from a hidden location where she cannot easily peg you as the source of the bombastic noise or watery spritz. This training process will take time, but as long as every member of your household consistently provides the same rewards and dissuasion tactics, your cat will learn where she can fulfill her scratching needs in peace.
Other Alternatives to Declawing
Consider these other ideas as an alternate to dialing your veterinarian for a declaw appointment:
- Acclimate your kitten to having her paws frequently handled, and get into the habit of trimming her claws every two to three weeks.
- Consider placing nail caps on your cat's claws. These claw-shaped, plastic covers are held in place with special glue, and they must be changed periodically as your cat's claws grow.
- Cover your sofa and other inappropriate scratching surfaces with aluminum foil, double-sided sticky tape or plastic office floor mats with the spiky sides facing up. Cats dislike the feel of all of these surfaces under their paws.
- If there is a stressful situation in your home that has prompted inappropriate scratching behavior from your cat, consider using feline pheromone products to calm her anxiety.
Patience and diligent efforts instead of declawing will go a long way to ensuring a happier and healthier outcome for your cat. Contact a veterinarian, like one from Oakton Animal Hospital, for more info.