Declawing is one of the most controversial surgical procedures done on cats. This once-popular operation has been labeled as “inhumane”, “cruel”, and “debilitating” by animal welfare activists and veterinary medicine professionals in recent years due to the many harmful effects it has on our feline friends.
Why Is Declawing Done?
Our feline friends have retained some instincts that may have worked well for them in the wild, but do not work all that well for us humans indoors. And key among those is the tendency to scratch.
In the outdoors, cats need to scratch surfaces in order to keep their claws sharp. They use these to protect themselves against threats, to catch prey, to give them traction to move faster, and to deposit their scent and mark on their territory. They usually sharpen their claws by dragging them through wood and other rough material.
Cats keep this habit even when they are indoors. In the absence of trees, they turn to wooden furniture and drapes. Their prey instinct is activated when playing, and those sharp claws may draw blood even if they do not mean to.
By removing the cat’s claws, owners are able to protect their furniture and themselves from scratching. It’s the simplest way to solve the problem of the owner. But this spells a lot of trouble for the cat itself.
How Is Declawing Done?
Claws are unique structures that have played a big role in the evolution and survival of cats big and small. In some ways, they are similar to human nails, but it would be wrong to think that declawing is just like removing a nail bed…as uncomfortable as that may already sound.
That’s because a major difference between claws and nails is where they grow form. Human nail beds grow on the surface of the skin. Cat claws, on the other hand, grow out of a bone called the distal phalanx. So in order to stop the claw from growing back, the bone it grows out from must to be removed too. If you have a hard time imagining it, this is what declawing would mean on a human hand:
What makes it worse it that cats are digitigrade mammals, which means that they walk on their toes (unlike us humans who walk on the soles of our feet). Removing the last toe bone means removing the structure that evolved specifically to carry the entire weight of their body.
This is why declawing is considered inhumane. The surgery itself is a risk, with the possibility of hemorrhage, infection, and necrosis of the remaining parts of the paw. Removing the claws of a cat not only causes extreme pain in the short term, but it also removes its ability to move naturally in the long term. Cats who are declawed can no longer protect themselves or catch prey, rendering them vulnerable when left outdoors.
What Is The Position Of Veterinarians On Declawing?
Even in the veterinary medicine community, the subject of declawing is hotly debated. There are some countries where veterinarians cannot perform the procedure because it has been made illegal. In others, they consider it a last resort option when all other interventions in preventing scratching have been exhausted.
Generally, veterinarians would only concede declawing under special circumstances where the alternative is the animal’s death or abandonment. Severe, irreparable damage to the claw or tumor growth in that area would necessitate the procedure. If the risk of bacterial infection through scratching is a matter of life-and-death for its owner, as in the case of those who are immunocompromised, on blood thinners, or elderly, some veterinarians may agree to declaw the cat.
There are many ways to perform an onychectomy. Some veterinarians use surgical equipment, some use lasers. Some prefer to remove the entire distal phalanx to ensure that the nail no longer grows and avoid repeat procedures, while others try to remove as little as possible in an attempt to preserve as much of the cat’s original paw as they can. Regardless of technique, all vets have the responsibility to manage post-operative pain in their patients.
Veterinarians understand animal welfare concerns and attempt to minimize the trauma associated with declawing.
What Are The Alternatives To Declawing?
It is still possible to protect your home and your skin from cat scratches without resorting to this inhumane and cruel practice.
There are behavioral interventions and products that encourage your cat to use appropriate scratching materials instead of digging their claws into your furniture. You can do this by protecting parts of your furniture that is readily swipeable and rendering them unattractive to scratching. At the same time, give them a better option for their claw-sharpening needs.
Regularly trimming your cat’s claws will also help minimize the damage they cause. And since you’re giving your feline buddy a mani-pedi, you might even want to try these nail caps that you can fit over their claws (and make them look cute).
Learning how to train your cat will do wonders not just in protecting your home, but also in deepening your bond as pet and fur parent. It will take a lot of time and a whole lot of patience, but it will be worth it to live in a scratch-free home with a happy and healthy cat.