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The Downside to Declawing

April 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Despite the fact that many private-practice veterinarians will tell owners that declawing their cats will have no ill effects, shelter workers around the world have a different take. In our experience, cats who have been declawed have some pretty significant behavioral and emotional hurdles to jump over, and some of them just can’t make the jump. Those are the ones that we see in the shelters. And here’s why we see them.

They bit someone.

A cat’s usual line of defensive tactics goes something like this:

      1. Hiss.
      2. Swipe with the claws.
      3. Bite.

Take away their option to use step 2 and they’ll use step 3 instead. They bit someone because they were scared, threatened, or angry, and they didn’t have claws to help express those emotions. So they had to resort to using their teeth to get their point across.

They won’t use the litter box.

After having their claws (and first knuckle) removed, their feet were tender. Walking into a litter box filled with regular clay litter hurt. (Would you feel happy if your toes were just amputated and someone made you walk barefoot on a pebbly beach?) So they started associating the litter box with pain. Their solution: don’t walk in the litter box and they won’t be in pain.

In a shelter environment, cats are stressed to the maximum level, so these bad behaviors are likely to increase. Sometimes they even surface for the first time while at a shelter. I’ve seen cats do fantastic in their own homes after being declawed. In a comfortable and safe environment these guys can act just like any other cat. They’re loving and playful and a huge part of their families. But owners need to be aware of potential problems with this surgery, especially in a stressful situation. Often in shelters, these cats act out so much that it’s not safe to put them up for adoption. Which means that they have to be euthanized. It’s a horrible decision to make, but most shelters don’t have an environment within their facilities that allows cats to destress enough to change their aggressive behavior.

Options to declawing

For those owners who are fiercely protective of their furniture, you have options besides the drastic step of declawing your cat.

  • Give your cat something else to scratch on. Most cats love having a designated scratching post or two around the house. Experiment with different textures, angles, and lengths to find your cat’s favorite scratching surface.
  • Trim your cat’s claws. Yes, this involves a bit of labor on your part, but I’m talking very minimal work here. I trim my cats’ claws every one to two weeks, depending on how fast they grow. Now that they’re used to the procedure, it takes less than a minute per foot. Start slowly with a new cat to get them used to having their feet handled and in no time you can prevent those damaging daggers from getting ahead of you.
  • Deter your cat from being on furniture etc that you’ve deemed off-limits. There are motion-sensing devices that emit loud noise or that vibrate. There are sprays that smell bad to cats. There are a whole host of products specifically designed to help protect your furniture investment from being damaged and that won’t damage your cat.
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