As a way to protect their furniture and stop their cats scratching some owners choose to declaw their cats. In many countries declawing is illegal and is seen as inhumane but in north america it is still quite a common practice.
What Is Declawing?
A lot of people who decide to declaw their cat are under the impression that it is a miner procedure like clipping nails and have no idea how serious it is.
The anatomy of the feline claw must be understood before one can appreciate the severity of declawing. The cat’s claw is not a nail as is a human fingernail, it is part of the last bone (distal phalanx) in the cat’s toe. The cat’s claw arises from the unguicular crest and unguicular process in the distal phalanx of the paw (see above diagram). Most of the germinal cells that produce the claw are situated in the dorsal aspect of the ungual crest. This region must be removed completely, or regrowth of a vestigial claw and abcessation results. The only way to be sure all of the germinal cells are removed is to amputate the entire distal phalanx at the joint.
Contrary to most people’s understanding, declawing consists of amputating not just the claws, but the whole phalanx (up to the joint), including bones, ligaments, and tendons! To remove the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. Thus declawing is not a “simple”, single surgery but 10 separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe. A graphic comparison in human terms would be the cutting off of a person’s finger at the last joint of each finger.
Declawing is not without complication. The rate of complication is relatively high compared with other so-called routine procedures. Complications of this amputation can be excruciating pain, damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, painful regrowth of deformed claw inside of the paw which is not visible to the eye, and chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken.
Other complications include postoperative hemorrhage, either immediate or following bandage removal is a fairly frequent occurrence, paw ischemia, lameness due to wound infection or footpad laceration, exposure necrosis of the second phalanx, and abscess associated with retention of portions of the third phalanx. Abscess due to regrowth must be treated by surgical removal of the remnant of the third phalanx and wound debridement. During amputation of the distal phalanx, the bone may shatter and cause what is called a sequestrum, which serves as a focus for infection, causing continuous drainage from the toe. This necessitates a second anesthesia and surgery. Abnormal growth of severed nerve ends can also occur, causing long-term, painful sensations in the toes. Infection will occasionally occur when all precautions have been taken.
What Are The Alternatives?
In order to solve the problem of your cat ruining your furniture it is important to understand why a cat scratches in the first place.
Scratching is a normal behavior for your cat. It conditions and sharpens his claws, allows him to get in a good stretch, and it’s also how he marks his territory — which is why cats return to the same place again and again to do their scratching.
Since scratching is a natural instinct, if you haven’t provided your cat with his own scratching surface and convinced him to use it, telling him “no” will not put a stop to the damage he’s doing to your couch.
Invest in or build a good quality scratching post or climbing tree, one that is heavy and very stable. Depending on its size, your cat should be able to run up and down it, jump on and off it, sit or lie on it, and pull on it without causing it to tip, move, or even wobble. Any amount of movement of the tree, especially when your cat is first getting used to it, could scare her away for good.
If your floors are carpeted, choose a post covered with a different texture carpet than what’s on your floor, so your cat can easily distinguish between the two surfaces.
Clipping the tips of your cat’s front claws once or twice a month will make them less destructive when she scratches.
It’s best to get your cat used to having her paws handled while she’s still a kitten, but no matter your cat’s age, start the process by simply stroking your kitty’s paws regularly to desensitize her. I strongly recommend incorporating paw massages into your daily routine to keep your cat feeling comfortable about nail trims.
By encouraging your cat to scratch on its own scratching surface and trimming the tips of its claws regularly you should be able to live in harmony with your pet without needing to resort to any drastic declawing!