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Posted on 01-03-2018

Declawing Alternatives

Are you considering whether you should have your kitten or cat declawed? There are several alternatives to this elective procedure that you can also consider instead! Before we get into the alternatives, let’s talk about what it really means to declaw a cat, and how the declawing will impact your cat.

When owners look into declawing their cat, it is usually to prevent the potential damage that can be created by cat claws. It is important to realize, though, that scratching is a normal feline behavior. Scratching helps maintain the claw motion needed for climbing and hunting, claw sharpness, and it aids in visual and olfactory communication.

Onychectomy is the medical term for declawing. Since the cat’s claw is actually part of the last bone (phalanx) in the toe, declawing is a surgical procedure that involves amputation of the third phalanx (P3). So in order to remove the claw, the bone and associated nerves and tissues around that P3 bone are also removed.

Older cats tend to have a harder time than kittens after declawing, and owners should be aware of possible complications for all age cats. Post-surgical problems could include pain, bleeding, swelling, infection, and nerve trauma. Importantly, some cats could develop long-term complications such as limping, changes in stance, behavioral problems, chronic pain, chronic draining tracts, or possible claw regrowth if a portion of P3 is left behind.

Alternatives to declawing do exist. Some take a little more patience and work, but many cats can be directed to scratch in acceptable locations. We encourage cat owners to consider any or all of the following options:

Nail Caps: These plastic coverings are glued on the claws, and they will need to be replaced periodically.

Regular Nail Trimming: If you start working with your young kitten’s feet and teaching them to allow nail trimming early, they will likely accept and allow this grooming behavior. Start slowly - you don't have to get all the nails at one time. Remember to use positive reinforcement with special food or treats during and after the process. Even adult cats who resist nail trims can learn that nail trims mean food rewards!

Provide Appropriate Scratching Materials: Try multiple textures, and be sure the scratching post is high enough to allow the cat to stretch tall. Adding catnip to the post can be an additional incentive for those cats who enjoy catnip.

Synthetic Pheromones: Utilizing synthetic feline pheromones, such as FeliScratch by Feliway, can decrease any anxiety that could be contributing to the behavior.

Distraction and Redirection: Whenever you catch your cat scratching on an undesired item, distract and then redirect him or her to an appropriate item for scratching. Once your cat scratched the appropriate item, reward them with praise or a treat.

Prevention: If your cat has a favorite area that he or she has already been scratching, then try covering the item with aluminum foil or sticky tape. These textures could help discourage the behavior in the future.

Do you have questions or concerns about your own cat's scratching behavior? Give us a call today so that our team can help!

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS