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Declawing a Cat

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Joan Alston came home from work one day to find that her cat, Pooches, had shredded one of the arms on her brand new sofa. She wasn't really angry, because she knew that was what cats did, but she also didn't want it to happen again. So she decided to ask her vet about the procedure of declawing a cat.

She was told by the vet that it was a rather routine surgery, something akin to having the cat spayed or neutered. She was told there were rarely serious complications and that Pooches would be back to normal within a couple of weeks after the surgery.

The night before the surgery was scheduled, Joan was talking to a friend – also a cat owner – about having Pooches declawed. Her friend's reaction caught Joan by surprise.

"She basically said that no cat owner that really loved their cat would ever consider having the cat declawed," remembered Joan. "She even said she'd buy me a new sofa if I didn't go through with it."

Joan said that her friend was not normally so outspoken, and that caused her to do some research on the internet about the procedure. She entered "declawing a cat" into a search engine and was shocked at what she learned.

"I felt like my vet had lied to me," she said. "This is not a routine surgery. I learned that declawing a cat is basically like amputating all of my fingers at the first knuckle!"

Joan was angry, because she felt that her vet had failed to provide her with all of the information she needed in order for her to make an educated decision about whether or not to have Pooches declawed.

After learning what declawing really meant to a cat, she canceled her appointment and found another vet.

The truth is that many cat owners, like Joan, do not fully understand the procedure of having a cat declawed. Many think it is the same thing as just trimming a person's fingernails.That is far from the truth.

Cats do not walk on the bottom of their feet. Instead, they walk on their toes. Their claws help them achieve balance. When a cat walks on her toes, as her anatomy is designed, is causes the muscles in her legs and back to be in proper alignment.

When a cat is declawed, the surgeon does not remove only the claw. In fact, the entire "toe", or phalanx, is removed. This includes removing bones and ligaments.

When a cat is declawed, she can no longer walk the way that she was designed to walk. When she essentially suffers through the amputation of each of her front "toes", she often will have trouble achieving balance and the absence of those digits causes the muscles in her legs and back to be out of alignment. This can cause the cat to be in constant pain.

Physical Complications

Contrary to what Joan was told by her vet, there are serious possible complications that can arise due to the surgery of having a cat declawed. In addition to the back pain mentioned above, other possible complications include hemorrhaging, bone chips and weakened muscles in the legs and back. There is also the chance that the claw will attempt to regrow. This will occur inside the paw and will not be visible until x-rays reveal the complication.

Emotional and Behavior Changes

In addition to the physical complications, there are emotional complications as well.

A small sample of the possible emotional problems are listed below.

  • Defenselessness - Remember, a cat's main way of defending itself is by using its claws. When the cat realizes that is not longer has its claws, it will feel defenseless. This can cause the cat to feel afraid all of the time. Many declawed cats spend the rest of their lives hiding, because they fear an encounter with a predator against which they no longer have any defense.
  • Aggressiveness - Once the claws are gone, the only defense that a cat has left is her teeth. Some cats have been known to start biting because they are afraid and feel the need to stave off any possible attack before it even begins.
  • Aversion to the Litter Box - After surgery, it can be very painful for a cat to step into the litter box. This means that the cat is going to associate the litter box with extreme pain. This causes an aversion to the litter box and the cat is then going to begin relieving herself in other areas of the house.

Many cat owners made the decision to declaw their cat in order to save their carpet or furniture from being scratched. Many of those same cat owners later surrendered the cat to a shelter because they could not deal with the behavior changes, such as the examples above, that occurred after the surgery.

A cat is going to scratch. It is as natural to them as breathing. While you cannot train a cat not to scratch, you can teach the cat to scratch in an appropriate place, such as a scratching post.

Training a cat to direct his scratching away from inappropriate areas and onto the scratching post is not something that will happen overnight. With a little patience and some trial and error about which type of scratching post your cat prefers, you can teach your cat to scratch in the right places.

While going through the process of teaching your cat to use the scratching posts, there are items that can be placed on your sofa and carpet to discourage your cat from scratching there. Pet stores sell products designed for this purpose, but there are household items, such as tin foil, that can work just as well.

There is absolutely no medical benefit for declawing a cat. It is purely an act that is meant to make owning a cat more pleasant and convenient for the people who should be caring for the cat. No reasonable person would consider removing a dog's voice box to stop him from barking, or his teeth to ensure he will not bite. Why then should anyone be allowed to subject a cat to a surgery that provides zero medical benefits to the cat and, in fact, can do a lot of harm?

This ethical question is discussed often by those in authority. So cruel has this surgery been declared that many countries have outlawed the practice altogether.

Below is a partial list of the countries that have made the practice of declawing a cat illegal.

  • England
  • New Zealand
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland
  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • Switzerland
  • Scotland
  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • Brazil

Hopefully, as more government officials in more countries learn about how cruel this practice is, the list of countries that ban the surgery will continue to grow.

People shouldn't take an animal and, through the use of potentially harmful surgery, try to change that animal to make it better fit into the lifestyle of the person. If a cat scratching your couch is something that you just cannot live with, then consider a companion animal other than a cat.

So what about Joan's sofa? "I cover the scratches with a blanket," she said. "And me and my healthy, happy cat snuggle on it every night."

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