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Should I get my cat declawed?

Scratching is normal and provides many benefits to cats—it stretches their muscles, leaves a scent and a visual mark, and grooms their nail beds.  Cats are going to scratch.  The key to successful management is to target the scratching at acceptable items in prominent locations.  These scratching structures should be sturdy, either horizontal or vertical (depending on what your kitten likes), and made from materials that your kitten favors.  To find out what your kitten prefers, you can offer a variety of choices or mimic the shape and materials of unacceptable targets.  You also must make unacceptable targets unavailable or aversive (e.g. place double-stick tape or Sticky Paws (www.stickypaws.com) on them, or aluminum foil or sandpaper).  Trim your kitten’s front nails weekly to keep its nails blunt (another good thing, starting this early will make them easier to trim as an adult cat, just be sure to offer treats and make it a positive experience).  For difficult cases, consider soft rubber nail caps that are applied monthly (Soft Paws –www.softpaws.com) or declawing. 

Declawing is amputation of the third phalanx of each toe.  This means the entire bone is taken by cutting at the joint.  We do not simply slice off the claw as this will leave active cells and often claws will regrow - usually malformed.  We don't mean for this to be a graphic description, but we want you to understand exactly what's involved.  After all, that's the premise of "informed consent". 

Declawing can be a very controversial and personal decision.  We recommend declawing if you are concerned about small children handling your cat, if someone in your household has clotting problems, an immune system disease (chemotherapy, AIDS, etc.), or other illness where scratches may be a serious health risk.  Once a cat has been declawed, they MUST be 100% indoors.  Even cats that are let outside only "while supervised" can get away quickly, or other outdoor cats may approach them and start a fight.  If you are going to declaw a cat, it goes hand in hand with 100% indoors.

We do not recommend declawing the back feet because of the additional pain this causes the cat.  The front feet are usually enough to control scratching of people and furniture.  The rear claws are only used in defense and even though they're 100% indoors (as stated above), if they manage to sneak out, removing them leaves your cat extremely vulnerable.  Even if they don't sneak out, they need to defend themselves from household lover's spats with other cats and dogs.  If they don't have their rear claws, cats know when they're defenseless and many will start to bite instead.  A biting cat can be extremely hard to re-train, and can be even more dangerous than just keeping the rear claws in the first place.

We do not recommend declawing adult cats (over 6 months of age) unless absolutely necessary because of the increased pain and healing time.  They simply don't bounce back as easily and quickly from this major surgery as younger kittens do.  If we make an exception and do declaw adult cats, additional pain medications (thus additional costs) are incurred to ensure the cat is as comfortable and happy as possible.

If you can take the time and effort to teach your kitten the appropriate places to scratch, many kittens do not need to be declawed.  Please think about this decision carefully before deciding on this course of action.

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