Imagine having the first joint of all your fingers or toes removed, and that will give you some idea of the trauma cats experience when they are declawed. Cats subjected to surgery for declawing are at risk for adverse reactions to anesthesia, hemorrhage, recurrent infections, radial nerve damage, chronic pain, abnormal regrowth of the nails and emotional stress and insecurity. I wish New York would follow the example of most European nations where declawing is illegal.
Without claws to mark their territory, even house-trained cats may urinate and defecate outside the litter box to ward off intruders. The lack of claws may actually turn a serene cat into a more aggressive animal.
Humane alternatives to declawing are available to eliminate or reduce clawing damage to furniture.
When the cat is relaxed, gently press on the toes until the claws extend. Use a pair of animal nail trimmers and carefully cut only the tip of the nail. The nail “hook” is what tears up upholstery, so when it is removed, damage is greatly reduced. Or ask your veterinarian to trim your cat’s nails.
Provide two or more scratching posts that are properly placed and are sturdy and tall enough to allow the cat to completely stretch (3 feet or taller). A bark-covered log, a post covered with sisal or a tightly woven burlap-covered post works well. Soft-carpeted scratching posts won’t satisfy a cat’s need to claw.
Place one scratching post where the cat is already clawing, and another close to where the cat normally sleeps. Cats like to scratch when they first wake up. Place the cat on the scratching post and move his or her paws, or pretend to scratch it yourself. This will encourage exploratory clawing. Play games with your cat on and around the post. Attach hanging springs, balls or bouncy wire tops to the post. Sprinkle some catnip on it. A weekly catnip refresher application will maintain your cat’s interest.
If the cat continues to claw furniture, discourage this behavior with a firm voice. Lukewarm water from a squirt gun directed at the cat’s back is often a successful behavior modifier. During the training period, you may need to cover upholstery with plastic or other protection. Cats don’t like the slippery feel and will quickly learn to stay away.
You can also purchase soft vinyl nail caps that are put on the cat’s newly trimmed nails. The nail caps allow cats to scratch naturally without harming furniture. When cats live in nursing homes to provide companionship for frail elderly people, nail caps should prevent cats from scratching the residents.
A lady with a household full of rescued cats told me that by using common-sense precautions and behavior modification methods, most of her cats do no household damage. When I asked her if she arranged for the declawing of her uncooperative cats, she replied, “No, I won’t do that. I love my cats more than I love my furniture.”
Joel Freedman, of Canandaigua, is a frequent Messenger Post contributor. He also chairs the public education committee of Animal Rights Rochester.