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Do I Need To Declaw My Cat?

A frequent question from owners of kittens is, “When does he get declawed?”  New cat owners often assume that a cat that will be strictly indoors should automatically be declawed.

The official position of the AVMA is that declawing is not a necessary procedure for most cats.  As the procedure is an amputation surgery, it should be considered a major surgery and should only be done when all other methods to curtail or control scratching have been tried first.  At BSAH, we follow this position and do not recommend prophylactic declawing.

To make the decision that is right for you, consider the following.

A declaw, or onychectomy, is surgical removal of the claw and the bone it grows from.  Possible complications include bleeding, pain, infection and abscesses.  Declaws that are not performed properly usually need additional surgery.  Stories abound on the Internet about declawed cats turning to biting or developing inappropriate elimination behaviors, but studies show this anecdotal evidence is false.  A biting cat would probably be a biter even with intact claws and litter box issues are among the top complaints presented to vets with all cats, declawed and not declawed.

It’s also important to note that scratching is a normal and appropriate behavior for cats, just like chewing is normal and appropriate for dogs, and it is entirely possible to redirect your cat to scratch in a manner that spares your furniture.

If you have a kitten, start training him to use a scratching post from the very beginning.  Expect a lot of trial and error until you figure out what sort of scratching surface your cat likes.  Some cats like a vertical post, some like sisal rope, some like horizontal surfaces, cat furniture covered in carpet or a material that is more like cardboard.  To entice your cat to use a scratching post or surface, experiment with different surfaces and heights and place them around the house where your cat spends a lot of his time.  If your cat is drawn to catnip, use it to make the surfaces more attractive.  Many products come with dried catnip.  One of the most important things to remember is that a scratching post needs to be sturdy.  A cat needs a solid base that won’t wobble and it needs to be big enough to allow the cat the stretch his full length.

If your cat has already tried his claws on your furniture or carpet, follow the above advice while also making his chosen areas off limits or unattractive.  Some cat owners have luck with pheromone sprays.  Put double sided tape on the areas your cat is scratching to deter him, or cover the area with aluminum foil.  Some people use a spray bottle of water to discipline a scratching cat.

Trim your cat’s nails regularly too.  This won’t stop your cat from scratching, but will help lessen the damage.

A final option is nail caps.  They come in a variety of colors, as well as clear, and are applied to trimmed nails with glue.  Properly applied, they last about a month.  Some cats tolerate them well.  If you choose to go this route, BSAH can show you how to apply them, or even do it for you monthly.

If you do end up declawing your cat, it is vital that he not go outdoors.  Cats without claws are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to protecting themselves or getting away from an attacker.

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