Declawing of Domesticated Cats

Monday, 20 August 2018 15:20

DeclawFew topics in veterinary medicine cause more discussion than the declawing of cats. Before making this decision for your own pet, a thorough understanding of normal scratching behavior, the onychectomy procedure itself, as well as potential risks is warranted.

Scratching is a normal behavior of cats. It conditions the claws, serves as a visual and scent territorial marker, allows the cat to defend itself, and provides healthy muscle engagement through stretching. In many cases, a cat can be trained to scratch only appropriate surfaces. Different approaches will work for different cats, so be sure to try several tactics to find the best fit for your cat.

Alternative Training and Management Options

  • Provide appropriate scratching surfaces, such as dedicated posts and boards that are tall enough to encourage full stretching. What constitutes an attractive surface or location varies by cat, so don’t be afraid to get creative! Scratching posts, cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects can be offered. Try horizontal or vertical objects depending on what kinds of things your cat has scratched in the past. Cats should be positively reinforced when using these implements. Scenting with catnip may help as well.
  • Frequent nail trims: every 1-2 weeks
  • Nail caps (such as Soft Paws), replaced every 4-6 weeks, can be applied in a veterinary office or can also be applied at home. Just trim, glue, and stick.
  • Positive reinforcement training, beginning with kitten kindergarten if available
  • Pheromone sprays and/or plug-ins
  • Discourage use of inappropriate surfaces by attaching double-sided tape (like “Sticky Paws”) or tinfoil
  • Punishment is not an effective deterrent

When the Alternatives Aren't Enough

Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner (such as when a member of the household is immunocompromised with a higher risk of health complications as a result of accidental scratches). The third digit of each toe is amputated along with the claw. Significant pain management is essential during and following onychectomy. Possible complications include short- and long-term pain, bleeding, anesthetic complications, infection, and wound reopening. Declawed cats should be kept indoors at all times unless under direct supervision.

Because elective declawing is performed for the benefit of the owner rather than the cat, the procedure remains controversial. Many countries in Europe have banned declawing and the procedure is becoming less and less common in the United States due to improving client understanding of alternatives to this procedure. At Avery Creek Pet Hospital, we are committed to helping you make the best decision for you and your pet. If you are considering declawing your cat, please have a discussion with your veterinarian at an appointment prior to the procedure so we can ensure any and all of your questions are answered and all alternatives to onychectomy have been attempted. To learn more about the veterinary services offered at ACPH please contact us today.