Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Declawing your cat

Declawing your cat for non-medical reasons is either illegal or considered inhumane (and thus not normally performed) in:

  • the British Isles: England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Ireland
  • most of Western Europe: Portugal, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland
  • part of the Balkans: Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia
  • major Pacific Rim countries: Australia, New Zealand and Japan
  • one South American country: Brazil

One common medical reason to have a cat partly declawed is if he or she keeps catching and injuring his or her dewclaw on bedclothes or other items. The dewclaw can get partly ripped out and infected, and at that point it may be better to have it removed entirely. Similar damage to a cat's claws or toes may necessitate declawing, as will rare disorders such as feline cutaneous asthenia that make the cat likely to hurt him or herself.

Feline onchyectomy (declawing) is considered inhumane because it removes part of the cat's toebone (most of if not the entire third phalanx of each toe) along with ligaments and tendons. Furthermore, as with any surgery, the cat can suffer life-threatening complications from anaesthesia and infection from the surgery.

Some cats experience nerve damage and/or residual pain from their declawing after their wounds have healed. Declawed cats are also much more likely to develop painful arthritis in their paws. Both can manifest as limping, but a more frequent (and initially subtle) side-effect is the cat experiencing pain when he or she tries to scratch in the litterbox. The frequent result is the cat pooping and peeing on softer materials like carpeting or baskets of laundry.

So, people who express a desire to have their cats declawed for the sake of saving expensive furniture should be asked which they'd prefer to do -- buy a cheaper/more durable couch, or have to recarpet their house every so often and put up with a lot of carpet cleaning in the meantime.

Other people who have multiple cats say they want to have their cats declawed to keep the cats from hurting each other. First, the best way to keep your cats from fighting is to get them spayed or neutered -- the main reason cats fight is over territory, and neutered animals are much less territorial. Second, normal cat skin is much tougher than human skin -- swats that would bloody us barely take the fur off cats. If your cats fight, attack people unprovoked, or shred furniture, try pheromonal behavior modification treatments like Feliway.

After declawing, some cats exhibit radical, negative personality changes. A friend of mine had his kitten declawed despite my suggestion he not do it, and a formerly playful, friendly kitten came back hostile, skittish, and reclusive; his behavior persisted after his toes healed. (Well, if people I trusted sent me off to get part of my toes cut off, I'd probably hate them afterward, too.)

And finally, a declawed cat is much less able to escape and defend against predators like dogs if he or she gets outside.

There are much better alternatives to declawing your cats. You can either trim your cat's claws every couple of weeks, or you can periodically apply claw covers like Soft Paws (since cats shed their claws every few months, the covers won't stay on indefinitely).

Unfortunately, there is widespread ignorance in countries like the U.S. as to the harm declawing can do to cats. Some apartment complexes may contractually demand that cats in their rentals be declawed in addition to charging a high pet deposit.

If you're faced with a person or agency that demands you declaw your cat, you can often talk them out of their demand if you present the following to them:

  • The procedure will hurt your pet, and you don't want to do that
  • A cat is much more likely to claw your furniture than their doorframes and walls
  • If they express concern over carpeting, tell them that declawed cats experience pain that make them much more likely to defecate outside their litterboxes. Point out that cat excrement is much more damaging to carpeting in the long run.
  • You don't want your own belongings clawed, either, so you provide scratching posts and regularly trim your cat's claws or use Soft Paws.

If you educate declaw-demanders in a helpful, nonconfrontational fashion, many will amend their lease requirements.

For more reading: http://www.declawing.com/