March 28th marks “Respect Your Cat Day” and the Canadian province of Quebec is doing its part. Last week its government drafted legislation to ban declawing procedures in cats (starting summer 2022) unless deemed medically necessary by a veterinarian. The most common reason for this elective procedure is motivated by cosmetics and convenience, to protect the cat owner’s furniture, carpets, and clothing. But at what cost to the clawless cat? And why are so many animal health organizations and governments taking active measures to ban or restrict the practice? Well, out of respect for the cat, of course!
The terms onychectomy and declaw imply the removal of a cat’s claws, but it requires amputation of the distal phalanges (end bones) of a cat’s toes for complete removal. When performed, typically only the front paws are declawed. Despite improvements in surgical techniques and pain medication, the procedure is extremely painful for the cat. It can also lead to other medical complications later in life, especially back pain, caused by the cat’s altered gait and overcompensation from the pelvic limbs due to chronic pain in the front paws.
Cats use their claws for basic daily functions, such as chemical and visual communication, play, stretching, and for survival (hunting, climbing, and self-defense). Given this, the impact of declawing on a cat’s welfare is immediate and detrimental. Proponents for declawing argue that it reduces the odds of a cat being abandoned or surrendered to a shelter by eliminating undesirable scratching behavior. However, several studies have shown that most cats develop new undesirable behaviors after being declawed including aggressive biting and house-soiling. It has also been reported that declawed cats are more likely to be surrendered for house-soiling than cats that have not been declawed.
Considering all of the negative physiological and psychological effects of declawing, many animal health organizations like the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association have taken positions against declawing cats. Taking it a step further, 22 countries have either legally banned or placed significant restrictions on the procedure, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Turkey, Brazil, Japan, and in most parts of the United States and Canada.
Saluting Quebec’s provincial government is one way you can respect the claws in your cat’s paws. Here are a few ideas you can try at home to show your cat (likely unaware of the news headlines) that you really mean it:
- Provide a variety of intended scratching surfaces. Cats are neophilic (love novelty and variety) by nature so offer different textures such as sisal, carpet, and corrugated cardboard in vertical and horizontal formats.
- Put a scratching surface next to your cat’s favorite places to sleep. Have you ever noticed that the first thing your cat does when she wakes up is a big ol’ stretch? Having something to dig her claws into while she does it will be MUCH more satisfying!
- If you have more than one cat, make sure there are enough scratching surfaces for everyone, and that they are available in different parts of your home.
If your cat is scratching where you don’t want her to, like your sofa, there are ways to direct her toward her own scratching surfaces without punishment (because that never actually works). The trick is to make her stuff exciting to scratch, so your stuff becomes boring! Try these tips:
- Make sure all the tips above are covered – variety, near sleeping spots, quantity.
- Apply catnip to her intended scratching spots (either dry flakes, spray, or oil, depending on your cat’s preferences). If she doesn’t care for catnip, you can also try applying pheromones that encourage scratching, such as Feliscratch by Feliway.
- Reward her for using her scratcher whenever you catch her in the act. If she gets a treat for using her sisal post but she doesn’t get one for scratching the sofa, guess which one she will choose!
To you and your feline friends, have a happy Respect Your Cat (Every) Day!