Thinking about Declawing?  Think Again!

So, you've just added a new feline to your family. Congratulations! You're home will be filled with catnip, toy mice and various other playthings. Eventually, you'll start thinking that, in order to save your furniture, you'll have your precious cat declawed. We'd like you to reconsider.  

The first thing you need to do is understand your cat's scratching habits. Cats scratch for various reasons, the first being grooming. When your cat scratches things, it's not really sharpening its nails; it’s actually trimming the outer sheaths of the claw. Secondly, scratching is a means of communication between cats. The feline paw has scent glands, and when they scratch, they are leaving a visual mark as well as their scent. Cats will also scratch things in front of other cats to communicate their dominance. Stretching is another reason a cat will scratch things. Cats will arch their back and stretch while scratching, providing exercise and a pleasurable experience while they do this instinctive behavior. Lastly, cats scratch during play.   All of these factors contribute to your cat's physical and emotional well being.

The next thing you need to know about is exactly what happens when a cat is declawed. A major misconception the general public has about declawing is that it's just like having the cat's nails cut. Nothing could be further from the truth. Visualize this for a moment: a doctor tells you that he can amputate your fingers and toes up to the first joint. "Oh, you'll be just fine afterward!" he says. "You'll be able to use your hands and feet the same way you always have!" Would you consider having this procedure done?

When a cat is to be declawed, the procedure is generally performed as follows:

The cat is given a general anesthetic. The fur around its feet is clipped. A tourniquet is placed around the leg. The nails are rinsed with alcohol. The amputation of the nail is accomplished with a guillotine nail cutter, which cuts across the first joint and may also involve the foot pad. The toes are then bandaged tightly to prevent hemorrhage. The bandage is removed two to three days after the operation.

Any time an animal has an invasive procedure such as this done, there is always a risk of complications. Immediately after the procedure, your cat runs the risk of physical problems, such as an adverse reaction to the anesthetic, infected, possibly gangrenous feet (that would result in the amputation of the leg), and possible hemorrhaging after the bandages are removed. Your cat will also suffer emotional complications as general confusion as to why it's feet are bandaged, and why it feels pain when it tries to walk after the bandages are removed.

Your cat's suffering will not end there. Long term physical effects your cat will suffer could include claws that will re-grow due to the nail bed not being entirely removed. If those nails re-grow, they are usually brittle, which could cause the bone to shatter and cause a "sequestrum." This can cause infections and drainage from the toe, resulting in yet another operation for your cat. Also, a declawed cat is basically a deformed, "club footed" cat. It will never be able to walk normally as it was meant to; instead, all of it's weight will be shifted to the backs of the foot pads, causing bad posture, and a weakening of it's back, leg and shoulder muscles.

The long term emotional effects are just as bad. Your feline family member can become very distrustful of you and your veterinarian. This will make your cat hard to handle or examine.   A declawed cat has a 75% decrease in its defenses, making the animal very nervous. A nervous cat will do two things: bite and develop bladder problems (it will cease to use the litter box regularly). Both of these problems are attributed to the cat's insecurity.  Declawed cats also have a tendency to develop many physical illnesses such as skin disorders.  

Many people think that these are just temporary problems, and that their cat will be "back to their old self" eventually, but they usually don't recover from this trauma. The owner will start seeing the animal's incontinence or behavioral problems as an inconvenience, and, many times, the cat will end up homeless and, eventually, euthanized, even though this is no fault of the animal. There is hope for this wonderful creature. The best line of defense it will have is an educated owner. You already know why the cat scratches; now it is time for some training and patience.