There is perhaps no cat-related issue that generates so much debate as the topic of declawing. Many people feel that declawing is a painful and unnecessary alteration of the cat. Others feel that if it prevents a cat from being euthanized or re-homed, it is worth it. The bottom line is that it is a very important decision that should not be made without much consideration.
Cats scratch for a number of reasons. Scratching helps to stretch the muscles in their legs and back. It helps to condition the cat's claws by pulling off the husks of the old claws. Scent glands in the cat's paws leave a scent mark for other cats. Cats use their claws for balance, climbing, play, defense, communication, and exercise.
Declawing is a permanent procedure, done under general anesthesia, and consists of the amputation of the cat's toes from the last knuckle down. After a cat is declawed, it can take several weeks for her to recover. During this time, some cats may develop an aversion to using their litter box that may last beyond the healing time. This is because the cat associates the pain of her paws with the litter box (litter box = painful, behind the couch = not painful). Also, cats tend to be very particular about how clean their litter box is and so will oftentimes try to minimize their contact with the litter by raising themselves up on their tiptoes. Since a cat that has been declawed no longer has tiptoes, she may decide that the box is too dirty and find another place to eliminate.
In addition, because the cat's first line of defense is now gone, some cats may become extremely timid or overly aggressive. It is especially difficult for cats that are old, easily frightened, overweight, or already somewhat aggressive. A declawed cat that gets outside is at a huge disadvantage since she has little to no defense in a fight with another animal.
So what is the solution? Since scratching is a completely normal behavior, the answer is to direct the scratching onto an appropriate surface. Providing several different scratching options, as well as placing them in easy to reach areas, will give you the best chance of success.
There are three things to look for in a scratching device:
- It must be tall enough for the cat to fully stretch when scratching (2½ - 3 feet is ideal for most cats).
- It must be stable and not wobble when being scratched.
- Most cats prefer sisal rope or natural wood to carpet. The "scratchiness" of the rope or natural wood is more appealing to most cats. Some cats also do well if provided a horizontal cardboard scratch pad.
Training a cat to use a scratching post is quite easy. Rub some catnip into the post and dangle a string along the side of it, and most cats won't be able to resist. If you are having trouble coaxing the cat to use the post, contact Cats International. They talk to thousands of people per year about cat behavior and have never encountered a cat that they couldn't teach to scratch appropriately.