Original Article by Chris Roth for PetsBest
Although cat declawing has been banned in the UK, Brazil, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries, the elective procedure is still requested by a percentage of feline parents in the United States. The operation carries a host of risks and the potential to cause long term pain and discomfort for the cat. We’ll discuss the reality and risks of cat declawing and offer safer alternatives to this controversial surgical procedure.
What is Cat Declawing?
For those who don’t know, declawing a cat is a surgical amputation of the final digit or “knuckle” in the feet of the cat. In most cases, only the front feet of a cat are declawed. The term “declaw” is misleading in that the entire nail bed, which includes the last digit of a cat’s toes, is removed. Declawing is often sought out as a solution for stoping cats from scratching furniture, people (those with immunodeficiencies or bleeding disorders are especially affected), or scratching other animals. Organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) discourage cat declawing and several cities across our country have made the surgery illegal. To date, the only state in the U.S. to ban cat declawing is New York3.
Why Do Cats Scratch?
Cats have a natural need to scratch. They do so for three main reasons:
- To remove the dead outer layer of their claws
- Mark their territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent (cats have scent glands on their paws)
- To stretch and flex their feet and claws2
For some cats, scratching can occur as a result of being excited to see their owner or as a reaction to something that’s going on around them.
What Are The Risks of Declawing Your Cat?
The decision to declaw a cat might be seen as a harmless, quick fix to an annoying and destructive problem. However, it doesn’t take into consideration the effect a declawing surgery has on the cat or the health risks it may introduce. Any surgical procedure carries with it a risk of infection and poor technique in removing a cat’s claws can cause paw pain, nerve damage, or an abnormal gait5. In addition, a declawed cat might stop using their litter box to minimize soreness in its feet and bite more often as a means of defense after losing its claws4.
What Is The Cost Of Declawing Your Cat?
The surgery to declaw a cat includes a physical exam to determine your cat's health, the procedure itself, anesthesia, antibiotics to guard against infection, and possibly an overnight stay at the veterinarian clinic. The cost can vary depending on the technique used (scalpel blade/nail trimmer or laser surgery) as well as the location of your veterinary clinic, but the range is $600 to $1,8001. This amount, of course, does not include treating any complications that arise from declawing your cat, which can quickly add up depending on the complication.
Safer Alternatives to Declawing Cats
There are several common solutions cat owners can implement as opposed to resorting to declawing their pet. For instance, every two to three weeks, set a reminder to trim your cat’s nails. If you’re laughing at the likelihood of this happening, take your cat to the vet or groomer on a regular basis to have this done professionally. In addition to keeping your cat’s nails in check, vinyl nail caps can be purchased and placed on your cat’s claws. These won’t stunt the natural growth of your cat’s nails and need to be replaced every 4-6 weeks as your cat’s nails grow out. Like with anything new you introduce to your cat, positive reinforcement with treats and love will make it easier for your cat to adapt.
The best way to avoid a problem is to stop it before it begins.Proper training early in your cat's life can teach them to use a scratching post versus your furniture, curtains, or carpet. Some pet parents have success putting aluminum foil on their furniture to deter their cat because many cats don’t like the noise or feel of the foil. There are several products available in pet stores ranging from double-sided tape to sprays that also serve as effective deterrents to scratching.