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To Declaw or Not to Declaw, That is a Question: But Should It Be?


What’s up with cat owners? At least according to an AP/ poll, most pet owners (55 percent) suggest that declawing is fine, it’s humane.

We don’t want the cat scratching here…Or on the kids. Some answer with declaw surgery

When all pet owners were asked about declaw, nearly 60 percent were on board with the procedure to remove a cat’s claws. 

Having said that, a solid third plus (36 percent) suggest declawing is not acceptable.

What’s shown in red here is cut off in a declaw surgery. It’s an amputation.

Still, it’s one thing to say you’re against declaw – it’s another thing not to declaw, at least according to the survey. At full 32 percent say they have declawed (that’s a minority, but still pretty much a third of all cat owners have done it), while twice that number say they never have. But would they ever consider? The survey didn’t ask – and not sure about getting an honest answer if they did.

Furthermore, cat owners are more apt than others to favor a
law that would ban the procedure, with 24 percent favoring such a law,
16 percent strongly.

Although the issue of declawing a cat may be divisive, there is clearly broad opposition to the procedure of debarking in dogs, a surgery in which the dog’s vocal chords are removed to address  excessive barking.

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Out of all pet owners polled, 90 percent stated they
don’t like the idea of removing a dog’s vocal chords.

Of course, you could understand why the dog is barking, and then address it. Maybe separation anxiety at home, or boredom in the backyard.

nearly half (47
percent) of pet owners said they would be in favor of a law that would
ban this surgery. Only one percent of
all polled dog owners admit they had the procedure performed on their pet. However, because this procedure is particularly politically incorrect, I can’t help but wonder if the percent – while very low – is higher than one percent?

Back to declaw, many shelters report declawed cats – no matter what
people say in surveys – are easier to adopt. Others say, they declaw
their cats to behave better. Then I ask, why are so many declawed cats
in shelters in the first place? Of course, this issue – in my view – has nothing to do with a cat’s claws – but everything to do with unrealistic expectations from owners about cats.

Declaw is an amputation…These days veterinarians can treat the pain (though there is pain which requires treatment which otherwise wouldn’t be there). In my opinion, there’s an ethical question here. The answer is up to you – but at least be aware of the facts. No matter on the surgery method used, an amputation is an amputation. Don’t be fooled.

Here’s some 101 on declaw. All cats are authors; they write. But instead of communicating with a pen, they communicate with cat scratch, literally. They scratch to express excitement and pleasure. Even declawed cats go through the motions.

They leave messages, both visual and aromatic (cats’ paws have scent glands).

Kitten scratching in all the right places – it can be taught to a cat at any age…In kittens, teaching might take less than 60-seconds.

Cats also scratch to remove worn out sheaths from their claws and scratching presumably feels good, as they stretch their muscles and spine. Scratching in the “wrong” places can be even more fun because some cats learn this gets an excellent reaction from their people, which they actually find rewarding.

I believe the declaw choice should be between you and your veterinarian – not a legislative issue. And this IS fact: A cat’s toe has three bones. The claw grows from the end of the last bone. In declaw surgery, the veterinarian amputates the last bone, which contains the growth plate for the claws. Put simply, no matter who declaw surgery is performed – it is an amputation.

Modern veterinary medicine can provide adequate pain relief and accomplish a successful surgery (though any surgery coincides with some minimal risk).

So – my must you declaw?

Kittens, in particular, can easily be taught to scatch in all the “right” places since you’re working with a clean slate. Even cats accustomed to borrowing furniture as a scatcher can be retrained. All you need to do is simultaneity discourage your cat from scratching inappropriate objects while you encourage scratching on posts.

Most cat trees include a place to scratch – this one is a condo

Discourage the cat by using double-sided tape or a manufactured product that presents a sticky-surface on areas that you don’t want scratched.(Cats don’t like the feel of sticky stuff on their paws). For large areas or objects like sofas, you can drape carpet runners or cat mats (nubby side up) over them.

Ecourage the cat to scratch in an appropriate place by purchasing a sturdy vertical post scratcher, tall enough so the cat can stand on her back legs and reach up for a good stretch – we’re talking three feet or more. Cats generally like materials to really stick their claws into. While every cat is different, sisal seems to be the most popular for scratching posts. 

It’s idea to have a post in each of the rooms the family spends the most time in, and not hidden in a corner. After all the cat is trying to leave a message for others to see and smell. There’s no hard and fast rule about how many posts you need but the more the better. If the cat is currently scratching an object you don’t’ want scratched, place a post nearby. Entice the cat to paw at it using an interactive toy, and rubbing catnip on the post. When the cat deposits scent from her paws on the new scratching post, you’re on your way.

Cats are marvelous observational learners. Some people report success by simply showing the cat what to do. Make believe you’re a cat and scratch at the post. Of course, you can also use a clicker to train your cat to scratch at the post. Regardless of the method you use, reward your cat for scratching where you want her to with praise, and a tasty morsel.

Also, many cats enjoy a horizontal scratch now and then. Horizontal corrugated-cardboard scratchers should be a must for all homes. They are inexpensive, and include catnip to drop into the slits in the scratcher.          

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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