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Why You Should Never Declaw Cats

Liz loves animals. Seeing them ill, hurt, or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs for feral cats.

Cats are wonderful companions, but you must learn about their habits and needs and be willing to live with them on their terms. This is "Jigsaw Puzzle," one of our kitties who sadly crossed the Rainbow Bridge in late 2018.

Cats are wonderful companions, but you must learn about their habits and needs and be willing to live with them on their terms. This is "Jigsaw Puzzle," one of our kitties who sadly crossed the Rainbow Bridge in late 2018.

Why Do People Want to De-Claw Cats?

There are many reasons people will put forth as an excuse for this barbaric practice. These reasons are stated in some of the following ways (although this is an incomplete list):

  • The cat might scratch me.
  • The cat might scratch my child.
  • Cats claw things; they might ruin my furniture.
  • The cat might ruin my clothes with his claws.

Not a single one of these reasons is valid. De-clawing cats is cruel and unnecessary, period. It is inhumane.

Let's Discuss This in Human Terms

How would you like it if someone shoved you in a cage, took you to a hospital, and spoke to the doctor in a language you could not understand? Suppose the next thing you knew, you were being rendered unconscious.

When you awaken, your hands are in bandages, and they hurt terribly. When the bandages come off, you discover to your horror, that not only are all of your fingernails gone, but so is the entire first knuckle joint of all your fingers! That is what it really means to declaw a cat. It is no minor procedure, and it is a cruel, inhumane, and barbaric practice. Yes, I used three synonyms for emphasis!

This Is What Declawing Actually Looks Like

Poor Kitty!!  Imagine having this done to you!

Poor Kitty!! Imagine having this done to you!

Why Do Cats Claw and Scratch Things?

They need to, quite simply. It is exercise for their feet and legs, and it also deposits their scent onto the clawed surface, (from glands between their paw pads), marking it as their territory. Like it or not, cats are territorial. A group of cats can quite easily learn to live together in the same household, but they will still need to do what cats need to do.

It is essential for their mental health, as discussed above. Even cats who previously have undergone this horrendous surgical alteration will still go through the motions of clawing on things. It is hard-wired in, and you can no more change it than you can turn a tiger into a horse and ride it.

Furthermore, if the cat should get outdoors by accident, it has no defense against other animals or predators, for its claws are its primary weapon.

Pulling No Punches

People who are so worried about their furniture that they would even consider doing this to an innocent, gentle animal are quite simply not suitable candidates to own a pet.

Mistaking Accidental Play Scratches as Being Malicious

Unless the animal is mistreated, it is the rare cat that lashes out and swipes at a person maliciously. If the cat is not being mistreated and this happens, then there is another cause; perhaps kitty is not feeling well, and a visit to the vet is in order to find out if she is in pain somewhere.

Kittens naturally tumble, wrestle and bite each other during play, and yes, they use their claws at times during this play. When you take in a kitten, it is going to need to be trained to play with and claw at appropriate substitutes. Just remember: fingers are not toys, and if you dangle your fingers or wiggle them on the floor to play with kitty and get scratched, you asked for it, so don't blame the cat!

Remember: Cats Grasp and Hold With Their Claws

That said, however, normally, the cat will not swipe at or scratch you; they will simply stick out their claws and hold on. So, if this happens, simply take your other hand and gently remove the 'claws-out' paw from your hand, while saying firmly, "No!" They don't have opposable thumbs, so they use both their paws and claws to hold onto anything.

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If you snatch your hand away instead, of course, you are going to end up with a nasty scratch, but you did it, not the cat! The cat was just holding, and you did the pulling action that caused the scratch. So again, don't blame the cat.

One of our cats was a stray whom we rescued, and I've taught her to understand the words, "soft paws; no claws," and she immediately retracts her claws.

Children must be taught this as early as possible, and for that reason, a young kitten is not the very best choice where young children are in the household. A calmer, more mature kitty might be a better companion for small children. This is explained more fully in my two other articles discussing when an adult cat is a better choice and how to care for a kitten.

Cats grasp and hold with their paws and claws

Cats grasp and hold with their paws and claws

Living With a Cat And Your Furnishings

There are many ways to keep cats from ruining your furniture. First and foremost, play with your kitty every day! Wearing off energy by play sessions keeps a bored cat from scratching at things just for something to do. You'll want a variety of types of cat toys: some that kitty can enjoy on her own, if you're busy or not home, and other toys that include interaction with you.

There are various deterrents to keep cats from the furniture clawing business. First and foremost are to have plenty of acceptable scratching surfaces. These may include:

  • Cat furniture, consisting of climbing "trees,"
  • Scratching posts covered in sisal rope or similar coverings
  • Cardboard scratching mats
  • Special double-sided sticky tape, for discouraging clawing couches and other fabric-covered furniture
  • Repellant sprays

The tape goes on the corners of the furniture; the most likely area for cats to scratch. The majority of cats don't like sticky stuff on their paws. And, you want exceptions to the rule of cats? I'll give you one of my own. One of our cats (out of a household of six plus foster kittens), does not let the sticky tape stop her; she simply licks the tape until the sticky is gone, and claws away anyhow! She's weird! But in our case, it doesn't really matter—the furniture was already old and in bad shape. If company is coming, we just toss on a throw cover, and it looks fine.

I understand that there is a new type of adhesive for just such mischievous cats as mine. Instead of being sticky on both sides, it is sticky only on the side to adhere to the furniture; the exposed side is a slick plastic, giving them no purchase for their claws. I plan to look into those!

Get a Cat Tree and Scratching Post Combination

Cat trees come in sizes and shapes from simple to Holy Smokes!

Cat trees come in sizes and shapes from simple to Holy Smokes!

Remember: fingers are not toys!

Pay Attention to the Cat!

Being vigilant is important when you first bring a cat home, (especially a kitten—like little children, their memories tend to be short). Watch the cat, and be ready with a sharp "NO!" accompanied by either clapping your hands or a squirt of plain water from a spray bottle set to shoot a stream. That way, the water travels farther, and you can intercept the activity without leaving your comfy chair.

Position the preferred scratching surface within reach of the forbidden one, and re-direct the cat to the post or mat. Gradually, move the scratching post further and further away from the people furniture. Cats are not stupid. They can learn and be taught.

Spray Them Away From Furniture

There are also repellant sprays available. Just be sure you can test it in the store, to make sure it doesn't have any odor, or at least, not an unpleasant one. There are several brands available; we have used the "Scratch Not" spray with pretty good success.

You want to train the cats away from the furniture, but you don't want to repel the people at the same time. The one we use has no noticeable odor.

Give Kitty a "Pawdicure"

Learn to trim your cat's claws at home. It is not difficult, but not all cats are pleased with the procedure, so it might take two people; one to hold the cat, and one to do the trimming.

Just please, be very careful not to cut too much claw and get into the 'quick.' That would hurt the cat, just as if you cut or tore your own fingernail back too far. It bleeds, and it hurts. It will also make it harder to trim their claws the next time—they will be mistrustful.

One other thing that can make the trimming procedure uncomfortable for kitty affects only long-haired cats. We had a big Maine Coon, and his feet were so furry, that sometimes bits of fur would get caught in the clippers, and pull a bit. He didn't like that, just as we would not want our hair pulled. However, it was an annoyance, and not damaging, so it did not put him off too much.