A Message from the Vet - January 2011
Alternatives to Declawing

Do you have a feline friend that loves to shred the same couch you love? Tear your curtains? Whether you're worried about your furniture or your legs, declawing is not the only solution. There are many alternatives to declawing that you may try before sending your cat to surgery.

Routine nail trimming is the easiest preventative tool to avoid scratches on furniture. We would be happy to show you how to clip the sharp tip off your cat's nails while avoiding the sensitive "quick" in each nail. Doing this regularly about 2-4 weeks apart can protect your furniture and skin from sharp nail damage.

If regular nail trims are not enough to do the trick, SoftPaws are soft plastic covers designed to fit snugly over each nail. These covers are glued on individually and provide a completely blunt surface to each nail. Depending on the activity level of your cat, SoftPaws applications may need to be redone every 1-2 months. You may find SoftPaws at Kailua Animal Clinic in convenient do-it-yourself packaging, or we can help apply them for you.

Scratching is a normal, instinctual behavior for most felines. In their wild counterparts, scratching marks a cat's territory both visually and with scent glands located near their foot pads. It also allows for claw conditioning and stretching. It IS possible to re-direct this normal behavior away from your furniture to more acceptable surfaces.

Because scratching is a way of claiming territory, cats prefer to perform this behavior in central areas of the room and on material that is visually affected. For example, a solid wood board wrapped with burlap, sisal, or the rough underside of carpet may all be inviting surfaces (even more than your couch!). Make sure the board is tall enough that your cat can stretch to its fullest reach to scratch. This board should initially be propped up vertically against an object your cat has shown to prefer (the side of the couch, table leg, or door jamb). Once your cat has become accustomed to using the scratching surface you've provided, you can slowly move the board to a more desirable (to you) location. You may also deter cats from using other surfaces with double-stick tape, thick plastic furniture covers, foil, or physically blocking their access to that area.

If you have attempted these solutions but your cat is incorrigibly destructive or for health reasons you are unable to keep a clawed cat, we recommend speaking with your veterinarian about the declawing procedure. Because declawing is an elective procedure not medically indicated, you may be unnecessarily exposing your cat to the inherent risks and complications of any surgical procedure. In a declaw surgery, or onychectomy, it is not only the nail that is removed, but the entire last joint of each digit. Cats experience varying amounts of pain associated with the surgery, some years later. Some people believe it affects the cat's ability to grasp, hold, or properly walk, climb, jump, or stretch. Some veterinarians will only perform this surgery on young cats because of the pain associated with the procedure. While this is a private decision that you should discuss with your veterinarian, we encourage you to first try the non-surgical alternatives described above to create a healthy, happy environment for both you and your pet.

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.