ASK THE VETS
By Dr. Kim Anderka and Dr. Christina Douthwaite
I am struggling with the decision to declaw my kitten. He is scratching the furniture and I don’t want him damaging it. I have heard that declawing is controversial and I am wondering your thoughts on this. Are there any alternatives?
Scratching is a normal behaviour for cats to mark territory and keep their nails in proper condition. Claws also serve as a defense mechanism. Scratching can escalate with attention seeking behaviour, stress or anxiety. There are many alternatives to declawing. Regular nail trims can help to minimize the damage your cat can do. Feliway® is a pheromone product that can help to reduce scratching behaviour by helping the cat to feel their environment is safe and familiar. Ensure your cat has environmental enrichment with a regular rotation of toys, climbing areas and scheduled play sessions. Find the areas that your cat prefers to scratch; horizontal or vertical, type of material they prefer, location they are using and try to give them a scratching outlet in that area. Use catnip to attract them to the area and praise and rewards for using the scratching post or mat. Over time, you will likely be able to move it to a more hidden area once your cat has become a regular. Soft Paws®, are an inexpensive, soft, glue-on cap that fits over the nail and helps to prevent damage from scratching. These are easy to use, come in all sorts of fun colours and can last up to 2 months before needing replaced.
Declawing has indeed become a much talked about and controversial topic because it is a surgical alteration of the cat usually for medically unnecessary reasons.
Declawing, or onychectomy, is an elective surgical procedure involving the removal or amputation of the last digit or end bones (distal phalanges) of the toes. Many people assume declawing is a simple procedure of just removing the claw but because the claw grows from the bone, the entire end bone must be removed at the joint.
Dozens of countries have banned this procedure and made it illegal for a veterinarian to perform. The first ban that occurred in North America was in the city of West Hollywood. Since that time, many cities in North America have followed suit. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) strongly discourages declawing and recommends that it is a “last resort” to be considered only when there is a serious risk to client health or the cat will be otherwise relinquished for euthanasia.
Surgical complications of declawing include bleeding, pain, retained bone fragments, possible nail regrowth and infection. There are concerns regarding the longterm effects of declawing on cats. These include litterbox avoidance leading to housesoiling, chronic pain and increased aggression and biting frequency. More studies are needed to determine the full extent of these possible longterm effects. In addition, declawed cats should be kept inside as their primary defense has been removed.
Most importantly, take the time to see your veterinarian and discuss this decision in person. Thorough discussion about the alternatives and the risk/benefit for your specific situation is something we recommend you take the time to do. There are currently many petitions and movements to ban declawing in Canada and it is likely to come under review in our province in the future. We wish you all the best with your kitten and hope you have many years of wonderful companionship ahead.