Declawing has become a very controversial topic of conversation in the animal welfare world. It is an elective procedure that has been banned in many countries and, while it isn’t banned in Canada where veterinarians have the choice within their practices, there is growing pressure for us to formally ban the procedure across the board.

As we work towards becoming a Cat Friendly Accredited Practice by the fall of 2016 I thought this was an important topic of discussion for all of our pet owners. We all recognize that cats are not just little strange looking dogs and while declawing is a feline specific issue, I think that all of our clients would benefit from understanding the debate.

Let’s start with some facts. Unlike our own fingernails, which grow from skin, a cats claws grow directly from their toe bones.  This means, to declaw a cat we are not simply removing “fingernails,” we are actually amputating the third toe bone (Phalanx 3, or P3) on each toe. Cats usually have 5 toes on each of their front paws and 4 on the back; a declaw entails the removal of all P3 bones on the front feet.

Cats use their claws for all sorts of things. From climbing to balance to protection to stretching, claws serve many purposes for the average feline. The claws grow in layers and scratching allows them to shed the worn outer layers. Scratching also allows a cat to mark their territory by literally “leaving a mark” and also leaving a scent behind.

As it is a procedure that involves performing 10 amputations, it is a very painful surgery. If not done properly it can lead to many health problems from chronic pain to poor balance. It can also cause other issues such as litterbox avoidance and increased aggression (biting).

We appreciate that, while scratching is a very natural and normal cat behaviour, it can pose challenges within a household. It is too easy to just say that cat owners need to put up with scratched furniture; I firmly believe that we should be able to be not only proud cat owners, but also proud home owners!  Well, maybe proud home owners with a sprinkle of cat fur.

I want to showcase the many declawing alternatives available to cat owners. Just as pet ownership has evolved over the years to the point where we truly treat our pets as family members, the alternatives to declawing have evolved as well. A more traditional approach is utilizing scratching posts and pads. Scratching posts are a great alternative as it allows the cat to continue their natural behaviour in a more appropriate place. Many clients complain that they have spent money on posts over the years to no avail. Placement of scratchers is critical to your success with this tool – put them near items your cat favours for scratching and also put them near your cats sleeping spots as scratching is often done as part of a stretching routine when a cat first wakes up.  You can also encourage the use of scratchers by rubbing a small amount of catnip on them – your cat will definitely want to check it out! If you haven’t shopped for one recently you will be amazed at the selection that now exists, scratchers are designed to fit with your home décor and it allows you to have them around without giving away your “crazy cat person” side!

A newer alternative comes in the form of synthetic caps for your cats nails. These are simply glued on over your cat’s claws to allow for scratching behaviours without the damage that follows. The caps are relatively easy to put on (our Westway Animal Clinic team can help!) and need to be re-applied every 4-6 weeks. While I recognize this may be a bit more arduous, some cat owners quite like the look as their cat can sport different colours and really show off their personalities!

Some cats scratch because they are stressed or anxious. Of course, for the cat who gets punished for the behaviour, the stress only gets worse.  Pheromone sprays and diffusers are a great way to help alleviate stress and hopefully diminish the behaviours that come with it. We love utilizing these products to comfort cats who visit us in clinic and believe that, if scratching is related to anxiety in your home, this is a great place to start. Of course, having lots of other things within your cat’s environment to allow them to Be A Cat will also help to take their mind of perceived stressors.

At the end of the day, every pet owner, both cats and dogs, should be regularly trimming their pet’s nails (both front and back). Keeping nails short not only prevents damage when scratching, but it is also more comfortable and safer for your pets. Nails are worn down at different rates and so the frequency will depend on multiple factors from whether they go outdoors to their age.

While most cats initially oppose the idea of you playing with their feet and trimming their claws, patience and positive reinforcement usually allow for nail trimming to become a bit of a bonding experience for cat owners and their feline companions. At Westway Animal Clinic it is something we encourage with every pet owner and we are always happy to spend time with our clients in order to help them learn how to trim nails and practice in a safe environment until they get comfortable to do it at home.

Here’s a useful info sheet – Your Cat’s Environmental Needs

If you are struggling with a cat who loves to scratch at home we urge you to reach out to us at Westway Animal Clinic and allow us to work with you in identifying ways to avoid declawing as a way of maintaining a happy home!