If you got a new kitten over the holidays, chances are you’re dealing with those needle-sharp claws. One of the top reasons a cat loses his home is destructive scratching when the importance of pristine furniture trumps the cat-owner bond. People already bonded with a cat tend to put up with more household damage before resorting to ditching the kitty–but it can still happen.
Declaw surgery sounds like the perfect solution. Think again!
WHAT IS DECLAW SURGERY?
Feline claws correspond to the last joint of a human’s fingers and toes, but extend and retract courtesy of two small “hinged” bones that rest nearly on top of each other. A relaxed paw sheaths the claw inside a soft, smooth furry skin fold. Flexing the tendon straightens the folded bones and pushes claws forward and down.
Declaw surgery cuts off the last joint of each kitty toe. The cat is sedated, the paws scrubbed, and the joint amputated. This is commonly done using a scalpel blade or a guillotine-type nail trimmer (yes, the same ones you use on your pets!). State of the art declaw surgery uses a laser which arguably is the most humane.
Declaw surgery most commonly is performed on kittens. That’s right, the cute little guy snuggling in your lap gets taken to the vet, snuggled on and played with, goes to sleep and wakes up without part of her paws. Often the declaw gets scheduled at the same time as spay/neuter to save cost since only one anesthesia is needed.
With the cutting technique, the paws must be bandaged tightly for a period of time to stop the bleeding. Pain medication is also necessary afterwards because as you can imagine, walking on the stubs is excruciatingly painful.
Laser surgery prevents bleeding and is less painful for the cat but the toes take longer to heal from burns. In most cases, only the front paws are declawed and no cat without claws should be allowed outside since her defenses have been removed.
PROS & CONS
Cats without claws won’t claw–damage furniture, but they WILL still try to scratch. Some cats do FINE and go on to be wonderful pets. But unlike neutering, this surgery has no real health benefits for the kitten or cat (only for the owner’s house) and in fact can cause physical and emotional fall-out.
Now, the AVMA questions anecdotal reports of adverse consequences to declaw surgery, its position statement says, “Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively…(read the whole statement here).”
Declawing should never be considered routine. It has been made illegal in some countries, as well as a few American cities due to concerns of humane issues. Some declawed cats develop other behavior problems, such as biting to defend themselves, or snubbing the litter box when sore paws make them reluctant to dig in the litter. So even though the kitten stops claw-damage, the litter-ary mishaps or biting often causes them to lose their homes anyway. Some detractors also argue that walking without that last digit throws off kitty balance and predisposes to arthritis later in life.
WHY CATS CLAW
Instead of trying to stop clawing, cat owners (and the cats they love) are best served by giving the pet a legal opportunity to claw and teaching the cat what’s acceptable. Understanding why a cat scratches–and how easy it is to prevent damage to furniture–helps motivate us to train Kitty to properly use a legal target.
Clawing feels good, and provides great aerobic exercise to stretch the shoulder and foreleg muscles, and keeps nails healthy. Scent pads in kitty paws leave invisible smell-cues of ownership. The marks also serve as feline Post-It Notes to warn away other cats from prime feline real estate. That’s why singleton cat households may have less claw-trauma than the multi-pet homes, where each cat vies for territory and attention. Cats also claw to comfort themselves during times of stress.
HOW TO TRAIN PROPER CLAW ETIQUETTE
For successful scratch training, give the cat an irresistible target, while making forbidden objects undesirable. Kitty wants the world to see his scratch-graffiti, so don’t hide posts in back rooms. Place them in high traffic areas or near important cat territory— windows, lookouts, nap places, and food stations.
The scratch surface—wood, sisal, carpet—and its shape—vertical or horizontal—are very important. Observe your cat to figure out what he likes. Spiking the new object with catnip helps promote feline allegiance.
Make illegal targets unattractive to the cat, until he learns to use the right object. Sticky Paws double-sided tape, endorsed by the ASPCA, works great on upholstery—cats dislike touching surfaces that stick to paw fur. Strong scents such as citrus deodorants or Vicks Vapo-Rub repel many cats. Cinnamon peppered on dark upholstery, or baby powder on light fabric, prompts a poof of dust into the cat’s face when he assaults with feline claws. You can even temporarily wrap chair arms with bubble wrap. These pet-safe “booby-traps” are effective when you’re not around.
Meanwhile, position the legal object next to the illegal target so you can redirect your cat’s claws when necessary. Interrupt forbidden scratching with a loud sudden noise. Slap a newspaper against your thigh, clap hands, or shake an empty soda can full of pennies. A long-distance squirt gun aimed at a furry tail can startle some cats out of the behavior, but this won’t work for all cats. Once kitty stops, direct claws to the legal target perhaps with a laser pointer or dragging a feather lure over the surface, and praise when he does the right thing.
For hard-case cats, Soft Paws reduce the potential for scratch damage. The vinyl claw covers glue over the top of each nail, and come in a variety of fashion colors. They are available from pet supply stores and some veterinary offices.
After the cat switches to scratching the correct object, move it to a better location, a few inches at a time. The bubble wrap comes off as well. A little bit of human inconvenience translates into a well-trained kitty and a lifetime of love. And that’s the purr-fect outcome for everyone.
Do your cats and kittens claw? How do you manage claw-maniacs? Have you adopted a declawed cat or had the surgery done on your kitty? What has been your experience? Please share! And I hope you’ll share this blog with other cat lovers debating about claw issues.
Last November I posted an Ask Amy on dealing with screen-scratching kitties. And one of the tips came from Gretie’sMom who said they bought a roll of the Pet Resistant Screen from Orchard Supply Hardware that is not invincible, but it works pretty well.
You can find many more training how-to’s in the book Complete Kitten Care.
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