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Pet Talk with Turner Vet

By Rhonda Baillargeon, LVT

Destructive Scratching

To Declaw or Not to Declaw

Declawing is the procedure by which a cat’s nails are permanently removed. It is different from a simple trimming because the last part of the toe is amputated to prevent the nail from growing back. This
procedure is very controversial and can lead to heated debate among groups of veterinary professionals. Many people consider the procedure an elective cosmetic procedure and advocate that it be banned. Others consider it a necessary surgery to help protect the bond between pet parents and their active cats.

Cats scratch for several reasons which include conditioning their claws, marking territory, and exercising the muscles in their backs. Cat claws are made up of layers of nail material (keratin) which are similar to the layers of an onion and these layers need to be shed to maintain healthy nails. The best way to remove the old layers is to scratch at certain materials. Sometimes a favorite scratching post is a beloved piece of furniture. The cat’s nails also have scent glands which leave behind that cat’s particular scent to signal that this territory belongs to that cat. Finally, the stretching action needed to get a good scratch helps to exercise and strengthen the back muscles.

In some cases, cats can be so destructive with their scratching that their owners are forced to have this surgery done or they would have to find another home for the cat or, even worse, have it euthanized. Frequent nail trimming, redirecting scratching behavior, and the application of nail caps (Soft Paws) are alternatives to the drastic step of declawing. But when all other avenues have been eliminated, this surgery may be necessary to save the relationship between the cat and its family.

Ideally, declawing is done when the cat is under a year of age and has not become too heavy. The surgery is easier to perform on young animals and recovery is a little easier if the cat is an ideal body weight. After the nail shave been
permanently removed, it is best that the cat be an indoor cat. Declawed cats can still hunt and climb but are not able to defend themselves against other cats. If you are considering this surgery, please consult your veterinarian in
order to evaluate the best course of action for your particular situation.

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