Why You Should Never Declaw Cats
The Straight Dope
A fair warning: this article is not going to be gentle or pull any punches. I'm going to be very blunt, and put the graphic truth forward, because I believe strongly that the word needs to be spread to eliminate this practice forever.
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.
One of Our Cats in a Pensive Mood
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cat at Play
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
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.
Give Kitty a Pedicure
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.
Claws Needing a Trim
How to Trim Kitty's Claws
You can use any of several types of special trimmers available. We use special-purpose small scissors for the foster kittens, and a regular nail clipper such as people use, for our adult cats. (In fact, this is what our vet uses!)
To trim the claws, hold the cat comfortably, but firmly in your lap. Reach around and gently press on the paw, thumb on top, fingers underneath. This will cause the claws to extend, as shown in the photo above. Simply snip off the sharp point on each claw. In the photo, a fair amount needs to be snipped, but most cats, even black ones, have a fairly light-colored claw, and it is easy to see where the pink part is. Don't cut too close to that, and you'll be fine.
Don't forget the dewclaw—it's up the leg a short bit from the main part of the front paws, but it is just as important in the grooming/trimming process. Neglected dewclaws can become ingrown, requiring veterinary intervention.
If kitty doesn't want to cooperate, have another person hold the cat, while you trim, or vice-versa. Remain firm and confident; don't let the cat intimidate you. Just maintain a firm hold, grabbing the scruff of the neck if need be. This is what mother cats do to move their kittens, so it does not hurt them at all.
If you are not comfortable doing this, you can take the kitty to the vet or the groomer to have this done, but expect to pay anywhere from a dollar a paw to a dollar a claw. At 18 claws per cat, (5 on each front paw, including the dewclaw); 4 on each back paw; (more if you have a polydactyl cat), that can add up. If kitty is at the vet anyway for some other reason, many vets will offer a courtesy trim at no extra charge.
There is a companion option to trimming, but it has to be repeated at intervals, as well. A product called "soft claws" is essentially akin to fake fingernails for people. They are hollow claw-shaped bits of soft vinyl that are glued to each individual claw.
As the natural claw grows, the fake 'tips' will have to be cut off and replaced. A cat wearing these will not be able to scratch, but not all cats will tolerate them, either. You have to get to know your cat and its personality. I know none of ours would sit still for having fake claws applied!
This Cat is Wearing Orange Claw Covers
Remember: Your Cat Depends On You
Adopting a cat is like adopting a child—a child that never grows up and remains dependent upon you for its care for all its life.
Just as you would not cut off the ends of a child's fingers for continually reaching into the cookie jar or for drawing on the wall, please, never, ever even consider declawing a cat. If after reading this, you still feel that is an acceptable practice, then please, never adopt a cat!
The organization with which I volunteer, H.A.L.O. (Homeless Animals' Lifeline Organization) has potential adopters sign a paper promising to never declaw. If they seem inclined to insist, we show them the door and decline to place any of our kitties with that person. It is that important.
Please help spread the word, and join the Cat Support Network in their efforts to have declawing banned by law.
Love your cats; play with your cats; pet your cats, and you will have wonderful companions as long as they live!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Liz Elias