For a long time, declawing cats seemed to be the solution to stop undesirable behavior. But this surgical procedure, which is not covered by cat insurance providers, is starting to become a controversial topic. Ultimately, the decision to declaw a cat should be made after consulting with your veterinarian on the needs of your individual pet and family. Let’s take a closer look at why cats scratch, the declawing procedure itself and safer alternatives you can try for your cat.

What is declawing?

Declawing, also known as onychectomy, is a major cosmetic surgery in which the last bone of each toe is amputated, removing the claw along with it. As with most surgeries, declawing has risks including bleeding, infection, claw regrowth, lameness or limping as well as short- and long-term pain.

Why are cats declawed?

Declawing became the answer to address destructive scratching, a common behavioral problem that strains the human-animal bond. Often what we view as acceptable behavior may conflict with the needs of the pet though. Scratching is a normal behavior for cats, but we may only see the destruction of furniture and our home.

Why choose declawing alternatives?

Many animal lovers including veterinary professionals and animal welfare advocates began questioning whether declawing was the best answer for a normal cat behavior. Several countries have banned this procedure. State and local governments in the US and Canada have even stepped in to outlaw the procedure for any reason other than medical needs. To date, these regions include 8 municipalities in California, the cities of Denver and St. Louis and seven provinces in Canada.

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Why do cats scratch?

Today, there is a strong belief that education plays a vital role in solving this particular behavioral problem. It’s important to understand that there are many reasons why cats scratch, including:

  • removing the outer layer of their claws
  • stretching
  • maintenance of their muscles
  • exploratory behavior
  • territorial scent marking
  • fear or anxiety sparked by competition or conflict
  • inadequate stimulation or boredom

Scratching becomes a problem when it is directed towards people, furniture, walls and other valuable possessions. By using alternative methods and training our cats and kittens, we can help redirect this scratching and forego declawing.

Alternatives to declawing:

Alternative physical methods include:

  • Frequent nail trims. Ask the veterinary professionals for guidance before attempting this on your own.
  • Nail caps. Easy-to-apply nail covers are available, but make sure to carefully read the application instructions or ask your veterinary team for help.

Training tips to stop cat scratching:

  • Provide your cat with scratching surface options throughout your home. Cats have preferences when it comes to surfaces, locations and even the direction of scratching. For example, one cat may prefer scratching carpet vertically, while another cat may prefer scratching corrugated cardboard horizontally or at an incline.
  • Scent the scratching surface with catnip. Most cats are drawn to catnip and will then be drawn to the desirable scratching options.
  • Positive reinforcement training with treats. Each time you see your pet using the appropriate scratching option, reward them with their favorite treat immediately.
  • Discourage the use of inappropriate surfaces by attaching double-sided tape or tinfoil. Place double-sided tape on vertical surfaces and tinfoil on horizontal surfaces. These home staples will make surfaces less desirable.
  • Pheromone sprays and/or plug-ins. This may be recommended by your veterinarian if they suspect underlying anxiety is the cause of your cat's inappropriate scratching behavior.

Remember, the goal here is to convince your cat that valuable possessions are not a good option for scratching. Most cats are trainable, but if you're not sure where to begin, ask your veterinarian for help.

Apr 9, 2020

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