All the members of the feline family except cheetahs have retractable claws.
When a cat is walking around, the
claws are retracted and don’t catch on anything. This is also partly why cats
can be so stealthy. The claws grow somewhat like human fingernails, but also
will shed the outer sheath periodically, leaving a sharper claw beneath. To aid
in removing the sheaths, cats scratch, often by stretching up and pulling
downward. This action also helps to stretch out the spine and leaves a scent
Scratching is a natural and necessary behavior for cats. You cannot
teach them never to scratch. However, you can provide an adequate scratching
surface and then teach them to scratch only on that surface. It is very
important to provide appropriate scratching opportunities for cats right from
kittenhood, so they learn where and where not to scratch.
The cat normally has four pairs of mammary glands. The
upper two pairs have a common lymphatic channel and drain into the axillary
(armpit) lymph nodes. The lower pairs also have a common channel and drain into
the inguinal (groin) lymph nodes. Infections and tumors of the breasts may cause enlargement of the
corresponding lymph nodes.
Scratching posts must be tall enough and sturdy enough that the cat can
stretch his full length and pull down. (This means many scratching posts on the
market are not tall enough.) Posts can be made attractive by offering a variety
of surfaces (carpeting is often the least attractive to cats, while wound sisal
is the most attractive), providing horizontal and vertical areas, and rubbing
catnip on the scratching surface.
Most scratching damage is caused by the front claws. Cats who claw and
scratch indiscriminately may end up being put to death or abandoned due to this
easily controlled behavior.
Trimming your cat’s claws every week or so will greatly limit any unwanted
scratching damage, and most cats tolerate this well. Start with your kitten and
do just one foot or even one toe at a time to accustom the cat to the handling.
Gradually work up to trimming a whole paw, then two, then four. End each
trimming session with a treat and some happy playtime. There are also soft gel
caps that can be applied over the claws to minimize scratching damage.
Declawing surgery, despite its name, is not simply the removal of the cat’s
claws. It is the removal of the last bone in each toe of the foot. This is
generally done just on the front feet. The removal of this joint is necessary
to remove the entire claw and prevent any regrowth.
The surgery, done under general anesthesia, involves the
removal of the claw to include the nail matrix and all of the last bone of the
toe. It is akin to removing the last joint on each human finger. Laser surgery
is sometimes used in place of a scalpel. In most cases, only the front claws
are removed; the back claws are not used to scratch furniture, and they do help
the cat run, leap, and balance.