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Declawing Cats

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 mark.

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.

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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.

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