Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Cats Have Claws...and How to Live With Them

Guest Blogger: Linda Snyder, Animal Friends' Communications Team

Have you ever thought of declawing your cat as an easy way to protect your furniture from kitty’s sharp claws? Before taking this irreversible step, be sure you understand the declawing procedure and the consequences for both you and your cat.

Scratching is a natural, healthful cat activity that doesn’t have to be destructive, and there are better ways to modify your cat’s scratching behavior than declawing.

What is declawing? It’s more than a surgical procedure to remove a cat’s nails. Rather, the veterinarian amputates the tips of the cat’s toes, cutting bones and nerves in order to remove the entire claw. In humans, this would be equivalent to cutting off the tips of your fingers at the outermost joint. Ouch!

Declawing is painful, primarily for the cat but also for the owner who sees the cat suffering after surgery. It takes seven to 10 days for a cat’s toes to heal, and during that time, the cat cannot step in grainy litter, as it might cause infection in the wounds. Thus, only shredded newspaper or similar substances can be used as litter during the healing time. Some declawed cats then develop a negative association with the litter box, which frequently leads to inappropriate soiling outside the box. Not all declawed cats stop using their litter boxes, but some do. So, think about it. If your declawed cat develops an aversion to the litter box and uses your sofa instead, you’ve traded one behavior for another that is equally as damaging and just as difficult to change.

Cats need their claws for many reasons. Claws are a cat’s main defense if attacked or if the cat needs to climb to seek refuge. When frightened, a cat may feel defenseless without claws and may resort to biting as an alternative defense. Some cat owners claim that declawing caused dramatic personality changes in their cats.

Cats also use their claws to grip when enjoying a long stretch that tones the muscles in their back and shoulders. And, as a cat jumps or walks, those gripping claws give the cat amazing agility and balance. Cats need to scratch to remove the outer sheaths of their claws.

Cats also scratch to mark territory, both visually and through scent glands among the pads of their feet.

Scratching can be a means for cats to express happiness or frustration, too. If you’ve ever come home and your cat ran to the scratching post and began scratching feverishly, be glad! Your cat is happy to see you and is scratching as an emotional release.

If scratching is a natural activity for cats, how can we prevent it from being destructive? In spite of their reputation for independence, cats can be trained to scratch appropriately, and that never involves punishment. Rather, your goal should be to redirect undesirable behavior and then reward good behavior.

First, give your cat a pleasurable surface, such as a scratching post, that the cat likes better than your sofa. A good scratching post is at least three feet tall on a sturdy base, placed in an easily visible location, to allow a complete vertical stretch. Inexpensive cardboard scratchers sprinkled with catnip and placed on the floor are popular with cats who scratch horizontally. Some cats prefer carpet or rough fabrics; others prefer sisal rope or a dried log (which looks rustic when made into a scratching post).

The retail associates at Animal Friends’ on-site supply shop can help you choose the right one for your home.

Determining your cat’s preferences will help in redirecting that behavior. Then, when your cat scratches an appropriate surface, offer a reward of treats, affection or play time.

Trimming a cat’s claws every few weeks is another simple way to curb damage from clawing. Trimming is easy if you start when the cat is young, trim only one claw or two each day or make it an activity that rewards the cat with treats. Animal Friends staff or your veterinarian can show you how to trim your cat’s claws safely. If you’re not a “do-it-yourselfer,” groomers and pet stores that offer grooming services will trim you cat’s claws, often on a walk-in basis and at reasonable prices.

Many U.S. organizations that are knowledgeable about cat behavior, such as Animal Friends and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, discourage declawing. In fact, the procedure is illegal in European countries such as England, Germany and Switzerland, where it is considered inhumane and referred to as “toe amputation.”

When you adopt a cat from Animal Friends, please remember that you agree in your adoption contract that you will never declaw your cat. Cats have claws for many purposes.

Unfortunately, kind-hearted people who love their cats but don’t fully understand the effects of declawing often regret declawing them. When you consider a cat’s pain after the surgery and the potential behavioral complications, do you really think it’s worth the risk, particularly when other solutions are available? It’s simply a matter of being patient and informed, and then retraining your cat to scratch appropriately so you can live together happily ever after, with you keeping your lovely furniture and kitty keeping those important claws.

Contact Animal Friends at 412.847.7000 if you need help in training your cat to scratch appropriately. Your kitty will thank you and love you even more!

1 comment:

  1. growing up, we always had multiple cats in the home. they would often scratch each other in play, so our vet recommended declawing (this was a long time ago.) I grew up thinking this was normal. this article shows me that this isn't the case. thank you for educating me! my maizie will never be declawed!