Think Before Declawing Cat

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This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.

Some owners choose to have their cat declawed to protect their furniture, other cats in the house or even the hands of any humans sharing the space.

Declawing may sound like a simple and straightforward procedure, but in reality it’s not. It’s actually an amputation of part of the cat’s toe bones and can be very painful. For this reason, many veterinarians do not recommend declawing unless there is a compelling reason why it is necessary. There are many nonsurgical methods of discouraging a cat from scratching or fighting and several nonsurgical ways to improve their behavior.

 Why do cats need their claws?

Claws are not a superfluous part of a cat’s body that can be removed without consequences. Cats are born with claws for a reason. Apart from the most obvious reason — self-defense — claws are an important part of a feline’s anatomy. Unlike us, cats don’t walk on the soles of their feet. They are “digitigrade,” meaning that they walk on their toes. As a result, their entire bodies are designed so that their joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments distribute weight across the toes. Removing the claws and tips of the cat’s toes can upset this delicate balance.

Additionally cats use their claws for exercise and stretching. When their muscles are stiff, cats will often use their claws as an anchor to stretch their back, legs and neck. Without its claws, this becomes much more difficult and less effective.

What happens during a declawing surgery?

A cat’s toe has three bones. During the declawing process, the veterinarian traditionally amputates a section of the last bone, in which the growth plate and the nail are embedded. The surgery can be done with a scalpel or a surgical laser. A surgical laser, or CO2 laser, is the preferred method because it offers cleaner incisions, less inflammation, and less recovery time. After the removal of the bone, the incision sites are closed with the help of surgical skin adhesives or absorbable sutures. Your vet will also typically prescribe oral antibiotics and pain medication for at least 5-7 days after the surgery.

 When is declawing advised?

Your vet will normally only recommend declawing in cases in which it is medically necessary like severe nail infections or tumors.

What are possible alternatives to declawing?

One of the most effective options is consulting with an animal behaviorist, which your vet can recommend. Behaviorists can offer a great point of view and simple home modifications that can help curb your cat’s scratching behavior. By conducting an overall view of your cat’s home life, they are able to see problem areas that may be causing the negative behavior like lack of environmental stimulation. While the answers are certainly not always this simple, having a consultation with a behaviorist can be a great start to understanding your cat’s needs.

Environmental stimulation can deter negative behaviors like scratching. Adding extra scratching posts of different textures like wood, cardboard, and carpet can keep your cat interested. Having shelving or a cat tree for your cat to climb also helps keep your cat entertained and stimulated.

Prescription medication can be a possible alternative. Medications like fluoxetine can be used to help calm anxious or aggressive cats.

Holistic products like Feliway, a synthetic pheromone that mimics the feline facial pheromone used by cats to mark their territory as secure, can help your cat feel safer and deter scratching or other negative behavior. Additionally products like Sticky Paws can help save your furniture. Resembling double sided tape, Sticky Paws can be placed on the arms or legs of furniture without leaving any damage or residue on the fabric. When the cat goes to scratch, their paws stick and immediately deter the scratching behavior.

If declawing is not required for medical reasons, please make sure to discuss all possible options with your vet. There are a variety of behavioral modifications that can be made without declawing including prescription medications, more holistic methods like Feliway, and products like Sticky Paws that can help save your furniture.

For more information please visit our health library or Pets on WebMD.


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