Let’s Talk Declawing
Let’s Talk Declawing
Q&A with Baypath cat behavior partner, Dr. Rachel Geller
The topic of declawing is one fraught with controversy. Full disclosure – it is not a procedure Baypath endorses. And it is one we find not everyone fully understands, especially first-time cat owners. So we turned to our trusted cat behavior partner, Dr. Rachel Geller to shed some more light on the topic.
Declawing… what is it?
Declawing… the word sounds innocuous. But it does not describe the surgery. It gives the impression that it is only the claw being removed, but that’s not the case. It’s an amputation. The cat’s bone is chopped off at the knuckle. It is a process that can result in lingering pain and sensitivity for the remainder of the cat’s life.
So why do people do it?
People pursue declawing because they want to stop their cat from scratching – scratching them, their furniture or other inappropriate objects.
But here’s the thing – we actually want them to scratch – it fulfills so many of their emotional, physical and mental needs. We just want them to scratch appropriate materials. And we can provide those!
Can there be fallout from the procedure?
I work with many pet owners who are experiencing behavior issues with their declawed cats. In fact, if someone tells me their cat is biting/’bitey’ the first thing I ask is if their cat has been declawed by any chance. I know this cat must be stressed so much of the time and that’s the first thing that comes to mind. In my experience, declawing is the number 1 reason a cat becomes ‘bitey.’
Let me explain:
A cat’s claws are a natural defense – take that away and they are incredibly vulnerable. They have to live everyday knowing they don’t have that defense – and may feel greater stress and fear.
They want – rather, need – to know they have that option even if they don’t use it. They want to feel prepared for an opponent or invader – real or imagined.
Think of it like a seatbelt or helmet. Hopefully, they are never needed, but knowing you have that extra layer of protection makes you feel more secure, right? When you don’t have that extra layer of protection, you may feel more stressed and more on edge. That’s what a declawed cat can experience.
Again, without that natural defense the cat may be more likely to lash out – and, unfortunately, more likely to bite.
Do you see litter box issues too?
I mentioned the lingering sensitivity resulting from the surgery – the cat now has so many exposed nerves. A cat’s paws are sensitive to begin with, so It’s that increased sensitivity and exposure that can often make the texture of litter intolerable and thus, they will not use the litter box.
In these cases, I advise a box with no litter or just blankets.
Seeing that it is a controversial topic, will all vets still do it?
Veterinarians are in business to care for animals, but they also want to please their clients. As such, some veterinarians will still do the surgery. However, an increasing number of veterinarians will not. And many veterinary chains are declining to do the surgery as well, including the largest one of all – VCA Animal Hospitals. In addition, cities are passing declawing ordinances too. We are moving in the right direction.
Does the declawing alternative soft paws (nail caps glued on) work?
Soft paws can work, but they can also fall off. But again, your cat will be much happier if they can scratch – so just set them up for success.
Ok, so cats want to scratch… and really need to… what can people do?
Cats are very tactile so choose your products wisely! And remember – they also scratch to mark their scent/their territory – it feels emotionally good and emits chemicals in the brain.
The ‘right’ scratching post –
- Ideally, go for a post at least 3 feet tall – let them stretch those muscles.
- Steer clear of posts that are too short – cats don’t want to crouch as it’s uncomfortable.
- Make sure the post is sturdy too – if it’s wobbly or falls over the cat may not go near it again.
- Look for posts wrapped with rope or sisal so they can really sink their claws in – it feels goods and allows them to shred those nail sheaths.
- Steer clear of carpet – their claws can get tangled in the carpet loops.
- Make sure the post has good scratch pads too – nice and long, not flimsy.
Location… location, location!
- Location of post is important!
- Some people don’t like to place in their living room and rather hide away – don’t hide it away.
- Have it where you hang out – they want to be where you are.
What if my cat is already scratching something inappropriate, like a piece of furniture?
- Deter, but provide alternatives.
- Place a post near the object they are scratching.
- Use a deterrent for the piece of furniture – think deterrent tape or sticky stripes.
- Never take paws and put on the post. Would you want someone to do that to you?
- Rather put the post on its side – use fishing pole play, catnip, treats, to make a positive fun association with the post.
- Once they jump on it they are generally ok with the new post and you can stand back up.
- Once they use post for first time they are much more likely to use again.
If someone has declawed their cat – or has adopted a previously-declawed cat – and are experiencing issues, what can be done?
In this case, it’s so important to help the cat feel confident, brave and successful. Interactive play therapy can do just that. Let them have those predator/prey experiences with a wand toy, for instance, and let them catch their ‘prey.’ Interactive puzzle feeders are another great way to help the cats focus and feel a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, instead of one big bowl of food, try smaller bowls in different places – let them go on a treasure hunt!
As you can see, there are alternatives to declawing and fun ways to help your cat satisfy this natural and enjoyable behavior – while fortifying the bond too!