In Quebec, declawing is a delicate topic. Since the launch of Cat Educator’s Facebook page, the topics that generated the most comments are issues related to breeders and declawing. This article does not aim to demonize declawing, but rather to show that declawing is useless, for cats do not damage the furniture of people who are informed, aware and educated on this issue.
Declawing around the world
Although outlawed in more than 39 countries around the world, this surgical procedure is somewhat trivialized here. It is first and foremost a matter of culture and education. In the 60s, to drive with a beer in the cup-holder, without the seatbelt on and a bit “warmed up” was not such a big deal. However, the same is unthinkable nowadays. Mentalities changed as soon as people were informed on potential consequences. The last thing to do is to shame people or to demonize declawing. I myself have already had a cat declawed because, like everyone else, I did not know at the time the other options that make possible for me today to sit on my mint-condition leather couch while petting my cats, which all still have their claws.
People must understand that the two most mentioned reasons to justify declawing do not hold up. Whether to protect the furniture or to avoid injuries, particularly in children or other pets, declawing is useless for there are other options. This surgical procedure is not even considered by European veterinarians and citizens of those countries do not even think about having their cats declawed. “It is unthinkable, and even thought of as barbaric. Yet, we too have leather couches and we have just as many children as you do”, says, smiling, my colleague Anne-Lise, who is an animal behavior professional from AZCA and animal health technician, and who has long resided in Europe.
Declawing is an amputation
You must know that this surgery, often called onychectomy, is in fact a phalangectomy. As its name indicates, it consists in the amputation of the third phalanx of each of the cat’s toes. Even if we cannot compare two distinct species in their physiology, we might say that it is the equivalent of having our fingertips removed, at the articulation located above the nails. And no matter the surgical tool used (guillotine trimmer, scalpel or laser), the result and consequences are the same.
Disclaimer: we cannot talk about pain here. Yes, we know that there is pain, but we cannot assess the level of pain felt by the cat. They do not speak and we cannot get a look inside their heads. But, remember: the goal is not to get people to react by showing the shocking image of a cat’s amputated paw. The goal is first and foremost to show that there are solutions other than this surgery to the issues mentioned above.
THE TWO MAIN REASONS
Our cats and the destruction of our possessions
Some will say that although they purchased a scratching post, the cat does not use it and prefers the couch. “It is often because the scratching post does not meet the cat’s requirements or is not located in the right place” (see box below), says my good friend and mentor, Dr. Enid Stiles, one of the rare Quebec veterinarians who holds a master’s degree in animal behavior in Quebec.
Cats and children
As for the argument of wanting to protect children or pets from cat’s clawing, well, here again it is a question of education, but furthermore of common sense. Do you forbid your children to ride a bike? You don’t? Yet, they have a high risk of getting hurt biking. In fact, it is almost certain that they will get injured at least once in their lifetime while riding a bike. Health clinics or hospital child admissions following a cat’s clawing are extremely rare. Why then amputate an animal for such a low risk if we compare it to the risks of riding a bike? And believe me, the bike will never bring your child the benefits a cat will.
While there are no studies that show that declawed cats increasingly use biting as a defense mechanism, the great majority of behavior specialists agree to say that an animal that loses one of his usual defense mechanisms will inevitably turn to those he has left when in need. And, in my opinion, a cat bite is much worse that a scratch. By teaching your children to know and respect the cat’s body language, for instance to let go of the cat when he swings his tail, you will significantly lower the risks of injury. Even the CDC (Center for Disease Control) does not sanction cat declawing for immunocompromised pet owners.
Declawing and abandonment
Some people firmly believe that outlawing declawing would cause an increase in the number of abandoned cats. If we inform people on the adequate use of scratching posts and offer alternatives such as Soft Paws-style claw caps, there is no reason for a cat to destroy furniture or harm children and be abandoned for those reasons because… it will not happen, just as it does not in Europe. There are many more declawed cats than cats with claws in shelters. Even though the incredibly high number of declawed cats may induce bias in the statistics, they show that being declawed does not protect a cat from being abandoned.
Why then is it not simply outlawed? Before outlawing it, much remains to be done in terms of educating and raising awareness in owners on the matter, or else we will be met with incomprehension. Politically, that would not be a sound idea.
Do not hesitate to ask your veterinarian or a recommended feline behavior specialist to get more opinions that would save your feline companion such a procedure.
Please note that Cat Educator will actively promote awareness about alternatives to declawing during the fall. I thank the initiative of the TV show Animo on Radio-Canada for agreeing to feature the issue in one of my interventions, and the Animal magazine for offering a platform to talk about it in 2015.
What is a good scratching post?
LOCATION: The cat claws, amongst other reasons, to mark his territory. It is as if he puts up a “Private Property” sign on his territory. He wants to put it up in a visible place, for instance the entrance of the territory. The corner of the sofa being often located in this place, it becomes the target of the cat’s clawing. But whether the doorframe or any other place, we simply have to put the scratching post where the cat claws and not where we would like him to claw.
STABILITY: The post has to be as steady as a tree. Unfortunately, most widely available posts are not sturdy and topple as soon as a cat puts his paws on it. If you already bought an inadequate post, lift the corner of the couch and stabilize the post by sliding its base under the leg of the couch. Thus, your post will be stable, and additionally, it will be located in the right place, that is at the corner of the couch.
HEIGHT: The post needs to be tall enough for the cat to stretch at full length to stretch his spine. Please note that many cats also like to have a horizontal support such as a carpet or a wooden log. Stability is always the key.
MATERIAL: The post has to be covered by a material that has a texture the cat likes. Each feline has his preferences: carpet, sisal rope, cardboard and wood are all excellent materials. Help your cat discover the joys of digging his claws in it by playing around the scratching post with a toy or by putting some catnip on it.
IF YOUR CAT HAS ALREADY MADE SOME DAMAGE WITH HIS CLAWS
Make the damaged place unappealing by covering it with a plastic sheet, aluminum foil or double-sided tape: these textures are rarely appreciated by felines. It is also very important to give an alternative to your cat. Put a scratching post at the corner of the sofa. Once he gets used to scratching it, you can remove the plastic sheet or aluminum foil. Please note that if a cat has damaged a wooden structure or a fabric with claw marks, the mere sight of vertical markings will entice him to keep clawing it. It is better to repair the damaged surface.