Declawing Your Cat

To Declaw or Not To Declaw…That is the Question

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the rips and tears of kitty’s aggression on the furniture or to take arms against a sea of scratching posts, and by opposing, declaw.  The truth of the matter is somewhere in between Shakespeare’s ultimatum, and there’s the rub.  When you have a cat who is sweet as pie, loving and playful, and has laid utter waste to your curtains and furniture, what do you do?  Plymouth Veterinary Hospital is here with the answers!


First, let’s try to understand the nature of the scratching cat.  Scratching is one of the most primal, basic drives that a cat has.  It conditions the claws, serves as a visual and scent territorial marker, allows the cat to defend themselves (and be confident in their defense), and provides healthy muscle engagement through stretching.  Scratching is something every cat needs to do, but fortunately for your loveseat, it’s something that we can condition them to do on appropriate surfaces.

Some tips and tricks:

1. Provide posts, boards, sisal toys, etc. You never know what your cat will find attractive, so provide a variety.  Ideally you will have one or two posts available that are tall enough to allow your cat to stretch out fully while scratching.

2. Scent the posts with catnip, and hide treats and toys on its surfaces. Make sure the post is placed in an easily accessible area that is favored by your kitty (in sunlight, by the heater, in their favorite room).

3. Use a pheromone diffuser (Plymouth Veterinary Hospital has the full line of Feliway products) to help create a comforting atmosphere. Cats naturally mark their home with a chemical scent produced on their chin (humans cannot detect it); the pheromone diffuser provides that soothing scent to an entire room!

4. Trim or have your cat’s nails trimmed once every 2-3 weeks to make sure they are kept short and the quick doesn’t grow too long. Long nails will make your cat want to scratch more frequently, and the sharper the nails are, the more damage they can do.

5. Discourage scratching by attaching double-sided tape or tin foil to any inappropriate scratching areas favored by your pet. When they look for alternatives to these places, show them their scratching posts and give positive reinforcement when they use them (treats, praise, physical affection).

Cats do not respond to punishment or negative reinforcement; this is not a recommended method of behavior modification.

If you have bought out the pet store, soaked your house in Feliway, and Felix is still going at your ottoman like it insulted his mother, it’s time for a trip to the vet.  A consultation with your veterinarian will help to rule out any physical reason for the destructive behavior, as well as allow you to discuss what tactics you have tried (and hear what other recommendations your veterinary professionals may have).  If the bottom line of the visit is that Felix is going to scratch and scratch and scratch until the cows come home, there are two other solutions that can be discussed.

One option is ordering kitty nail caps.  These are small plastic caps that are filled with glue and slid over the claws of a cat.  The caps are supposed to stay on for 4-6 weeks and should fall off with the natural growth of the nails.  We at Plymouth Veterinary Hospital do not strongly recommend these; they do not tend to stay on very well, the caps can be chewed off and swallowed by the cat, and it is not easy to apply the covers to a non-cooperative kitty.  However, if you feel this is the right answer for your situation, we are happy to help in any way we can and can provide a demonstration of how to apply the caps.

Finally, there is declawing.  This, it should be stressed, is not a simple procedure.  Declawing a cat requires general anesthesia, a one to two night stay at the veterinary hospital, and involves the full amputation of the cat’s claws and the third toe bones to which they are attached (in human terms, think of it as removing the last third of your finger after the joint).  Pain will have to be managed for a period following the declawing (anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months), and possible complications include bleeding, infection, wound reopening, and a change in gait or personality.  Sometimes cats feel more vulnerable or exposed after being declawed, the stress of which can lead to behavioral issues down the line.

We at Plymouth Veterinary Hospital believe that declawing is an option that should only be explored once all other avenues of behavior modification have been tested.  We require a consult and physical exam before making the declaw appointment to ensure that both the client and the patient are prepared for the procedure.  Cats that are older than 2 years old and/or heavier than 7 pounds need special consideration, as it may take them extra time to heal from the amputations.  We require the client to commit to making sure their cat will be strictly indoors, as we will be removing their only means of defense should they get outside.  Special litter will have to be sent home to protect the surgical sites against the grit and dust of traditional litters.

Plymouth Veterinary Hospital understands how very frustrating these scratching behaviors can be.  We also know you love your feline family member and want to do what is best by them.  Please consider all your options to help your pet re-focus their natural scratching behavior, and call Plymouth Veterinary Hospital if you have any questions


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