June 2nd
Cat Declawing and Scratching

What is declawing?

Declawing (also known as onychectomy) is a surgical procedure that involves the amputation of the last digital bone on each toe, which is the equivalent of cutting off each of our own finger tips at the first knuckle! Many people declaw cats to stop them from scratching the furniture, which is "essentially an act of mutilation done to modify the cat for our benefit.” There are some medical conditions that will require a cat to have an onychectomy procedure to prolong its quality of life, however, this rarely includes all nails needing to be removed from each toe.

What are the long term effects of declawing?

There are a number of possible negative long term consequences for the cat and while they may not show in every situation, they are significant and should be considered very carefully.

Long term physical effects of declawing may include chronic pain in the paw, lameness, and pain in other areas due to altered gait. Removing claws changes the way a cat’s foot meets the ground and can cause pain similar to wearing an uncomfortable pair of shoes. There can also be regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage, and bone spurs. Some cats may exhibit behavioural problems due to impairment of normal behaviors, including, but not limited to aggression and/or biting, and even litterbox avoidance due to pain. Should a declawed cat accidentally get outside, it does not have the means to defend itself against predators.

As with any surgery, there are also many possible risks associated with the procedure itself. These complications may include: adverse reactions to anesthetics, excessive bleeding, perioperative pain, and post-operative complications such as infection, tissue necrosis (death) or longer term pain if proper pain control is not provided.

How can I get my cat to stop scratching?

Scratching is a normal feline behaviour. Although scratching does serve to shorten and condition the claws, cats may also scratch to mark their territory and to stretch. Some cats may increase their territorial marking, like scratching, in situations of anxiety or conflict. 

It is impractical and unfair to expect cats to stop scratching entirely. Cats that go outside may be content to do all their scratching outdoors, but the urge may still arise when the cat comes back indoors. Cats that spend most of their time indoors will need outlets for their scratching and marking behaviours. If you do not provide appropriate outlets, don’t be surprised if you come home to find objects scattered all over the floor, scratches on your furniture, and your cat playfully climbing or hanging from your curtains.

When purchasing a scratch post, try to avoid carpet covered posts. Cats are very sensitive to texture and will often use any carpet, on the post or on the floor. When introducing a new scratching post, it is important to make the post more appealing to the cat than any other objects. Sprinkling or spraying catnip, or placing tasty treats on or around the post, will encourage your cat to use it. You may also use a toy that dangles, hold it above the post and play with your cat, encouraging them to climb the post to get the toy. Your post should be in the room where your cat spends most of its time.

Nail trimming may also help with saving your furniture. Trimming your cat’s nails every couple of weeks will dull the nail and make it harder to puncture furniture material. Since cats and kittens have very sharp nails, the tips can be trimmed with nail trimmers made for dogs, cats and small animals. If you take too much off the nail, you may cut into the ‘quick,’ and bleeding and pain will occur. If this happens, neither you nor your cat will want to do this again. When using trimmers, please make sure that the clippers are sharp. Using dull clippers tends to crush the nail and cause pain even if you are not in the quick. Cats have clear white nails, and you can often see the pink of the quick through the nail. If you avoid the pink area, you should be safely away from the quick. You should always have styptic powder (a clotting substance) available. This is sold in pet stores under several trade names, and will be labeled for use in trimming nails. If you are unsure or uncomfortable about trimming your cat’s nails, talk with your veterinarian.

Before trimming nails, ensure that your cat will have a positive experience. You can start by desensitizing your cat to the nail trimming procedure. Learn more here: www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/cat-grooming-tips

You may also want to check into Soft Paws which are rubber caps that fit over the cat’s nails and prevent destructive scratching. Soft Paws can be purchased from your veterinarian.