Declawing your cat was once considered as routine as spaying or neutering, but in the past couple of decades, a growing number of veterinary professionals and animal welfare advocates are speaking out against the practice of declawing. Some veterinary practices have made the individual decision to stop declawing, and it is actually banned in some parts of the world.
If you’re like me and always had declawed cats growing up, you might wonder why the sudden change. Is declawing cats bad? Does declawing a cat hurt them? While many pet parents are under the impression that declawing is the equivalent of a manicure, it’s actually much more invasive and can have long lasting negative outcomes.
What is declawing?
While under anesthesia, the last bone of the cat’s toe is amputated, which would be the human equivalent of removing the finger bone above the last joint. Declawing can lead to a number of medical or behavioral issues that many people don’t realize until it’s too late. Some cats develop pain in their paws and suffer nerve damage, leading to litter box aversion, lameness, and other issues. Some anti-declawing advocates also argue that the lack of claws can cause cats to become more likely to bite, resulting in more serious injuries. While the decision to declaw or not can be controversial, the belief that declawing should be reserved for cases when it’s medically necessary is becoming more widespread.
3 Humane Alternatives to Declawing
With an increased understanding of the downsides to declawing cats, there are more alternatives than ever to declawing. There are many solutions and choices for pet parents looking for ways to cut down on cat scratching or destruction. Here are a few of the most popular alternatives to declawing:
1. Nail Trimming
Clipping a cat’s claws is the actual equivalent of a manicure and can be done in a similar fashion to clipping a dog’s nails. Most animal welfare advocates encourage pet parents to start clipping their kitten’s nails as early as eight weeks of age. It can even be done with human nail clippers and normally lasts several weeks.
Animals welfare advocates also suggest that a new pet parent handle their kitten’s paws regularly, even before they’re ready to get clipped nails, to acclimate them to this sensation. It shouldn’t take long before they’re able to get used to getting their nails being clipped, and if you’re lucky you might be able to do it while they nap. In some cases, it requires two people and some bribes, or the use of a towel or a cat grooming bag to prevent the cat from scratching during the clipping process.
More groomers are also offering cat nail trims for a small fee, and Wellness Rewards, the optional routine care plan from Embrace Pet Insurance covers it, but you can save yourself a trip to the groomer, by learning to do it yourself.
2. Provide Scratching Surfaces or Deterrents
Some pet parents avoid bothering their cat’s claws at all by providing a cat friendly home. The main objective is to provide appropriate scratching options. If a cat prefers vertical scratching, you may want to invest in a quality cat tree. You can also offer special carpets or cat toys that allow a cat to scratch horizontally. Scratching surfaces allow a cat to shed the dead nail caps and provides a safe and destruction-free outlet for their instinctive scratching. Adding a little catnip to the area can make it even more enjoyable (for the cat and anyone watching).
You may also find that a cat is likely to scratch upholstery with a vertical drag, so choosing your furniture wisely may reduce scratching. It may also help to limit what furniture your cat has access too.
If a cat is still scratching furniture or other things inappropriately, two-sided tape or aluminum foil placed over that area are generally good deterrents. There are also sprays and repellents that serve as training aids in this department.
3. Nail Caps
Perhaps the most stylish alternative to declawing is nail or claw caps. These covers are made of PVC or plastic and cover the sharp part of the claw, still allowing the cat to scratch, walk, and play normally. You can buy packages in a rainbow of colors and glue them on at home, have a groomer apply them. Claw caps are effective, and pretty cute, for providing protection for about a month at a time. However, some cats don’t leave them on for very long and the glue can be messy or stick in their fur.
What about laser declawing?
Laser declawing is a modern improvement to the traditional declaw where amputation is done with a laser instead of a scalpel or clipper. However, there are some pros and cons so make sure to do your research.
Before you opt for any method of clawing or scratching prevention, consider your home and your individual cat:
In some cases, a cat may be so docile and friendly that it doesn’t need their claws trimmed at all, or they may allow you to clip the claws with no struggle, making it a win-win.
If a cat shares a home with larger or more aggressive animals, it may need the claws for protection, making them a good candidate for the scratching post option.
If your cat is prone to scratching people, pets, or furniture, getting your cat’s nails clipped or covered regularly may be necessary.
Cats do the most damage with their front claws, and in some cases won’t bother other living things or furniture with their back claws at all, which means the back claws can be ignored altogether.
Most vets seem to agree that any cat that spends time outdoors should not have their claws capped or clipped to retain this important defensive mechanism.
The controversy surrounding declawing can make this personal decision very difficult, but there are enough alternatives that don’t require a ton of skill or cost to try. It’s generally best to do research or try a few different methods (or a combination of methods), and talk with your vet or a pet behaviorist if you find your cat’s scratching has gotten out of hand. One thing is for sure, our cats are lucky to live in an era where so many alternatives to declawing are available.