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Ask the Doctor April 2019 Issue

Dear Doctor: Ruining the furniture

Q. My cat is driving me crazy with the scratching. She has ruined not just upholstered furniture but also the wooden legs on my piano. Would it really be inhumane to have her declawed? She’s a house cat and doesn’t need her nails to defend herself outside.

Penelope Ebbing

Kansas City, Kansas

Dear Ms. Ebbing,

A. This is a vexing one, with no cut-and-dried answer, although in general the veterinary community strongly advocates considering all other options before making the decision to declaw. It’s not surprising. The American Veterinary Medical Association points out in a position paper that declawing via an operation, known as onychectomy, “is an amputation and should be regarded as major surgery that has rare but very real risks of anesthetic complications, blood hemorrhaging, infection, and pain.” The association also points out that scratching is a normal feline behavior, a means for cats to mark their territory both visually and with scent, and is used for claw conditioning (“husk” removal) and stretching activity.

In other words, scratching is a built-in feline behavior. To that end, before discussing declawing with a veterinarian, owners should provide cats with ample acceptable surfaces for scratching — scratching posts, cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects. Implements should be tall or long enough to allow full stretching, and firmly anchored to provide necessary resistance to scratching. Cats should also be positively reinforced in the use of these implements. They need to get good feedback from their owners for doing the right thing.

Trimming a cat’s claws every couple of weeks will also help prevent damage to household items not meant for scratch marks.

All of these steps, while they need to be tried, should be weighed against the fact that cats with destructive scratching behavior are more likely to be euthanatized, or more readily relinquished, released, or abandoned, thereby contributing to the homeless cat population.

The bottom line: if you have truly tried everything (including wrapping your piano legs) and are at your wit’s end, talk to your veterinarian about surgical declawing.

Note: For cat owners who are elderly, have diabetes, or a disease that compromises their immune system and truly cannot afford to be scratched and risk infection, declawing may be a medical necessity.

Comments (1)

I have had three cats over the last 27 years and all of them were declawed. The first two I had declawed as kittens when I got them and the third one I got from a shelter when she was three (she had already been declawed). I have read comments in the past where people say declawing is cruel and causes life-long problems for the cat. In my experience this is a myth. Sure they experience some pain to begin with (like any operation) but they lived very healthy and happy lives despite the procedure. I have also read comments where people say declawing cats will disrupt their ability to scratch and stretch. This is not true. All of my cats, although they were missing their front claws still "scratched" their non-existent claws on anything available (my furniture, their cat carrier, my purse, etc.). They had no adverse effects from the declawing and since they were all indoor cats and had no contact with other strange cats they were in no danger from their lack of having claws. Since declawing is being phased out in most areas (unfortunately) the next cat I get will probably not undergo the procedure which I am not looking forward to since he or she will probably destroy my furniture.

Posted by: deedee | April 5, 2019 11:39 AM    Report this comment

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