It’s a beautiful day when you come home from the local animal rescue with your spirited new kitten. After the oohs and aahs and words of encouragement pour forth from the family, you sit Fluffy down and start playing with the new Da Bird wand you purchased at the shelter. She bats and jumps and looks so adorable – until she runs over to the new stuffed chair and starts scratching. Vigorously. And everyone holds their breath as they turn to witness your reaction…what do you do now?
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. It marks a cat’s territory with the release of a scent from glands on their feet; muscles in the toes and legs are also strengthened with this activity. Stretching up and scratching downward on vertical objects (like the sides of upholstered furniture) just plain feels good to a cat. While these behaviors are totally appropriate in the feline world, they may not jive with your world.
The solution to this dilemma has been to declaw the cat with a surgery called an onychectomy. The surgery involves the removal (amputation) of the first digit of each toe. Most veterinary practices that perform this procedure limit the surgery to the front feet where most destructive scratching takes place. This surgery is an elective procedure that typically occurs when the cat is young and is often performed concurrently with spay or neuter surgery.
While this surgery may resolve the indoor cat scratching dilemma, it also comes with its drawbacks. The AVMA published in a February 2016 literature review a list of welfare concerns from medical and behavioral perspectives regarding declaw surgery. Medically, acute post-op and long-term pain, lameness, tendon damage and paralysis have been reported. If the digit is improperly removed, claws could partially regrow causing pain and discomfort. Other possible complications include wound infections and impairment of the immune system leading to other medical issues. Behaviorally, the declawed cat is at risk for impairment of normal behaviors such as stretching and increased problem behaviors such as biting, aggression and inappropriate elimination.
Because we are ethically opposed to this elective procedure, Health & Harmony Animal Hospital is one of two practices in Columbus that have joined a growing minority of clinics that have become pro-claw. To locate other pro-claw facilities, please check out the website www.declaw.com.
Alternatives To Declawing Your Cat
Many alternatives to declawing exist and work to eliminate or redirect scratching. Scratching posts at the appropriate height for a full stretch, lined with sisal and securely stable are one of the easiest alternatives you can purchase. Locate the scratching post near the area of unwanted scratching for the best effect. If your cat enjoys catnip, placing a small amount of dry catnip on the post may encourage the use of the post. Once your cat starts using the scratching post-shower him or her with praise and encouragement, and offer treats as a reward for the appropriate behavior. Cat caretakers are also encouraged to trim your cat’s nails every 2-3 weeks. Make sure you do not trim beyond the dark, center portion of the nail (quick) to prevent bleeding. Our vet techs can show you how to restrain and clip your cat’s nails.
Two products proven effective with inappropriate scratching are Soft Paws and Feliway. Soft Paws are small, gel-like caps placed over the nail and are replaced every 4-6 months as the nail grows. Soft Paws can adhere to the front and back nails, and caps that come off prematurely can be easily re-applied. Health & Harmony offers free application of Soft Paws to clients who purchase the product from our clinic.
Feliway is a synthetic pheromone that mimics the natural, facial “feel good” pheromone your cat produces when they rub against an object. Feliway calms a cat and has proven to reduce inappropriate scratching behaviors in 90% of cats exposed to the product. Feliway comes in a spray form that can be applied to objects to discourage scratching, or in an easy-to-use, plug-in diffuser that disseminates the pheromone across a space of 500 -700 square feet. Only cats can smell this product, and positive results can be detected within a week of use. Diffusers and sprays can be purchased at Health & Harmony.