Declawed cats. The very idea is offensive and revolting to many pet owners, veterinarians, and animal rights activists, and rightly so. Declawing is an unnecessary amputation of the last bone of each toe, which causes ongoing problems for these cats. Those problems include arthritis, club-foot, chronic pain, and more. Those of us with declawed cats (whether we adopted them that way or had it done), who wish we could do something to help them, may be interested in this new research.
Personally, I know I’m interested. All four of our cats are declawed because we didn’t know what it actually was when we had it done. Once we learned the truth, it was too late. If there may soon be a standardized way to help them with pain and the problems the unnatural gaits that the missing bone causes, then I’m all ears.
Despite studies showing the opposite, people still report a higher rate of litter box problems with declawed cats
Many people whose cats are declawed report problems with litter box behavior. One (very strong) possible reason for the litter box problems declawed cats experience is the pain in their paws. Eventually, it’s just too painful to step and dig into cat litter – even the finest of fine-grained litters.
Dr. Ron Gaskin, a vet in Shakopee, Minnesota, may have a way to help that. He gave 18 declawed cats who were having litter box problems a two-week course of buprenorphine, which is a painkiller. Of those cats, more than 80 percent started using their boxes normally again.
There may also be a surgery that can help declawed cats
But that’s not all. What Dr. Gaskin has noticed is that declawed cats develop hyperflexion in their declawed paws, causing club-footedness and additional pain and problems. The chronic pain that declawed cats suffer gets worse over time, and raises cortisol levels, which in turn raises the risk of diabetes. So, besides the chronic pain, there are other health issues that may be linked to declawing, even if it’s not obvious at first.
There’s a surgery that Dr. Gaskin performed on 14 cats that he calls a “declaw salvage surgery.” It’s essentially a flexor tendonectomy that helps to correct the club-footedness declawing causes.
Obviously, neither of these options creates a free pass to have your cats declawed. There’s nothing out there right now that can replace the missing bones in their toes so they can walk completely normally again. In my personal opinion, though, anything that can help declawed cats live more normal, less pain-filled lives, it’s worth noticing.
Many of us might not think about trimming our cats’ claws. This is especially true for those whose cats are well trained not to scratch up the furniture or the drapes. However, trimming cats’ claws is an important part of keeping them well groomed and healthy. Here’s why.
Trimming cats’ claws: Protection for them and you
Admittedly, we don’t trim our cats’ claws nearly as much as we should. I’ve watched Chase play on the carpet, and sometimes, his back claws get stuck. Gizmo’s claws sometimes get stuck in blankets, and they click on the hard floors when she walks. All four of our cats have claws that get pretty sharp. With Chase and Gizmo, there’s the possibility that they could injure themselves when their claws haven’t been trimmed. This is one reason why trimming cats’ claws is so important.
Another reason why trimming cats’ claws is necessary has to do with protecting yourself. As Vetstreet points out, if you’ve got a cat that loves kneading on you, those claws are going to hurt. Kneading is one of the ways our cats show they love us and are comfortable with us, so dulling their claws by trimming them can help to make that experience much more of an enjoyable bonding experience for both of you.
Trimming cats’ claws is also a fantastic alternative to declawing. This is especially true if you’re training your cat to only scratch approved surfaces. Scratching is natural to cats, and they will do it, so it’s important that they know what they can and can’t scratch around your house. While you’re training them, though, they may still scratch your furniture, and nicely trimmed claws will help reduce the damage.
Some ways to help you trim your cats’ claws
Despite knowing why trimming cats’ claws is a good idea, it can still be a frightening prospect. A lot of cats don’t like us to play with their paws, let alone each one of their toes. Start slow, and with treats at hand. Gently touch each of your cat’s paws, and give her treats, to give her a positive association with your touch.
Don’t rush it. Make sure she’s comfortable with you handling her paws before you start clipping her claws. Because you only want to take the tip off, if you’ve got a struggling cat, you could cut too much off of her claws and hurt her, or you could end up doing worse. There has to be a certain level of trust and comfort before you try trimming cats’ claws.
If you can’t get all of her claws at once, don’t worry. Trim as many as she’ll allow, and then give her treats. Repeat the process later, until you’ve trimmed all of her claws. If this is just too much for you, and you don’t feel you can safely do this, then you can call your vet or a groomer and have them do it for you.
The bottom line is that trimming cats’ claws doesn’t just protect you and your house, it protects your cats, too. This is an important part of caring for your cat that you shouldn’t neglect.
Is declawing cats ever necessary? For people who have been badly scratched multiple times, seen their child injured, or who just can’t seem to keep their cats from destroying their furniture, it might seem like the only option. Indeed, it is the easy option, but it’s also cruel and inhumane. In this case, the easy option is also the worst option.
Why do cats scratch? Isn’t declawing cats the best way to stop it?
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. It’s not just how they sharpen their claws, it’s also one way they mark territory, and even how they stretch their backs and shoulders. When a cat scratches something, she’s doing all kinds of things that are necessary for both her physical health and her mental wellbeing. Declawing cats doesn’t stop any of this behavior, it just makes it easy to overlook, or even indulge
There’s that word again: Easy. The easy way to deal with something often isn’t the best way. Declawing is amputation, which, because it’s unnecessary, is mutilation. Look at your index finger. You see the last joint and section, where your fingernail is? Imagine having that amputated from every finger, and both your thumbs. That’s what declawing cats does. It takes that last joint off completely.
What are the possible side effects of declawing cats?
It’s easy to think that the last bone on each of a cat’s toes isn’t really necessary, so declawing cats doesn’t have any lasting effects. That’s not true. Cats walk on their toes and need those joints and claws to help them walk properly. According to the Humane Society, it changes the way cats’ feet hit the floor, rather like wearing an uncomfortable or poorly fitting pair of shoes. If you keep walking in those shoes, your feet, legs and back eventually begin to bother you. Cats can suffer from back pain and problems due to declawing.
Declawing cats can also cause them to suffer bone spurs, which are very painful. Furthermore, if the bone wasn’t fully removed, the claws can grow back and be deformed and ingrown. That, too, will cause unneeded pain, and even infection.
If declawing cats isn’t the answer, then what is?
Clipping her claws
You can handle your cat with all of her claws; you don’t need to have her declawed to get her to stop damaging your furniture and shredding your arms and legs. The first thing to do is learn how to clip her claws (or you can take her to a groomer for this). Keeping her claws trimmed keeps them duller, and will go a long way towards curbing her ability to scratch you up. Click here for advice on how to clip your cat’s claws.
Make sure she has lots of surfaces she can scratch, and teach her to use them
You also need to make certain your cat has acceptable scratching surfaces, like posts, trees, flat scratchers, and even shelves, so she can engage in her natural inclinations to scratch without damaging your furniture (or your feet, legs, towels, etc.).
The best way to train her to use scratchers and trees is to combine positive reinforcement with environmental deterrents. Every time you see her go to scratch somewhere you don’t want her scratching, gently pick her up and put her on the nearest scratching surface. Make sure you’ve got treats handy, and place a couple of treats on the scratcher for her to eat.
Then, gently press her front paws against the scratcher, to help get her scent on it, and then let her sniff around. Praise her, and give her a few more treats. If she doesn’t like having her paws handled, or she runs off as you’re trying to do this, don’t force it. The absolute last thing you want to do is create negative associations for her, because you want her to scratch these surfaces.
Keeping her from scratching up your furniture
You can also use things like sticky tape on the surfaces you don’t want her to scratch. Most cats don’t like sticky tape, and will avoid after experiencing it a few times. This is having the environment train her, so she associates the deterrent with that particular part of her environment, rather than you. This is the best way to get her to stop scratching your furniture altogether, instead of just waiting until you’re not around to do it.
If sticky tape doesn’t work, you can try other things your cat might find annoying. Avoid using squirt bottles, or snapping, clapping, or otherwise startling your cat. When she’s engaging in natural behaviors, frightening her can ultimately stress her out, because she’s scared to act on her instincts. One of the biggest keys to keeping cats happy is allowing them to engage in as many natural behaviors as possible.
Is there ever a time when declawing cats is acceptable?
The only time you ever want a claw removed that way is when it’s for the good of your cat, such as a claw that’s become infected and necrotic, has a tumor or painful cyst that can’t be effectively treated any other way, or is deformed and causing problems. However, that’s generally removing a single claw, and not all the claws on each toe, and is done for a far different reason than our convenience.
Training cats this way isn’t an easy, or short, process. It requires a lot of love, and a ton of patience. However, the alternative—declawing cats—is far worse. It’s so bad that some states are working on banning the practice of declawing cats altogether, and many cities and towns have already done so. There are so many other ways to handle cats’ claws than declawing them.
A final note: If you know people who have declawed cats, the best way to ensure that they don’t keep doing it is to gently educate them on the issue, and provide them with alternatives. Some people may have gotten their cats declawed before they knew what it was, some may still not know despite the growing wealth of information on it, and some may know but still believe it’s the only answer. Gentle education works better than scolding or judging – these will only make them dig their heels in on the issue.