Gail (gailmarie) wrote,

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This post is really just for my own use (and my sister's).

I only declaw adult (over six month of age) cats for specific reasons that justify it. Some of these reasons are:

1) In a multi-cat household, a clawed cat is injuring a second cat in the household
2) The cat has developed an incurable disease such as Lupus-like conditions where claws contribute to
self-trauma and infection.
3) The cat has developed personality changes that make it a threat to owners and children.
4) An owner is immuno-supressed due to chemotherapy, debilitating disease, heart valve infection or AIDS
- situations where a cat scratch could be life-threatening to an owner.
5) Blended households and new family members present ultimatums to other family members that “either the
cat be declawed or it be kept outside.

Declawing an adult cat lengthens the post-surgical period of recovery. Cats are creatures of habit and a period of depression often follows the removal of claws from an adult cat. These are complex situations. No two are alike just as no two cat’s personalities are alike. Like the scales of justice, one must weigh all factors on the side of declawing the cat or leaving it intact before making a decision. Often, I will clip the cat’s toenails at no charge and teach the owners to do this at home with a human finger or toenail clipper. This is a perfectly acceptable alternative to declawing your kitty.

Some adult cats can have a very difficult time after they are declawed. Since declawing is the removal of one knuckle on each toe, it is a painful procedure. There is always a risk of infection after this kind of surgery. Some cats will experience difficulties in balance (older cats usually) because they are missing part of the foot now. You may see a change in personality. There is also a possibility of muscle wasting in later years.

Most cats will outgrow that goofy kitten stage and give up their indiscriminate attacks on furniture. They can be trained/encouraged to use a scratching post. Double stick tape (purchased at the hardware store) can be put on furniture corners since the cats do not like to touch it - they will then leave that spot alone.

Good news for people who are opposed to declawing.
There is now a compromise surgery!

Tenectomy or Tendonectomy This is a surgical procedure that entails shaving of the fur between the large pad of the foot and each toe; this is done on the bottom of the foot. A small incision is made and a small portion of the tendon that goes to each toe is removed. This will prevent the cat from putting their claws into anything. No sutures are required. The risk of infection is lessened because of the tiny incision site. Recovery is rapid and pain is much less since there has been no removal of bone.

It will be necessary for you to continue to clip your cats claws -- perhaps 4 times a year. They will now be unable to "dig" their claws into furniture, screens, oriental carpets, etc. thus preventing any damage to your furniture. It is recommended that you have this done when your kitten is spayed/neutered since they will only have to be anesthetized once. The cost is about $15 higher than declawing since it is a more time consuming surgery - but you have only spent perhaps $1.00 more per year of your cat's life and have chosen a much more humane procedure!

Please talk to your veterinarian about this alternative!!

The procedure is much harder--and the emotional impact more severe--for adult cats. Cats declawed due to aggressive scratching may wind up biting their owners instead. It's important to try to address the aggression with the help of an animal trainer or behaviorist first, rather then going for declawing right away. If your furniture is being destroyed, try the various cat repellents on the market; apply double-sided tape along the sides of the furniture (the paws get stuck and annoy the cat); or, my personal favorite, a line of balloons that will scare away the cat when his nail causes a pop.

Another choice is acrylic covers that slip over the claws, leaving dull, soft tips. These definitely reduce any damage, but require that the nails be trimmed and that glue be applied to them each month. Usually if an owner can do all this, he can also keep the cat's nails short.

Most cat owners struggle with this decision, so involve your veterinarian in helping you try to avoid it by learning how to clip nails and limit destructive behavior. Information on the claw caps.

Scratching is a normal behavior that conditions the claws, serves as a visual and scent mark, and is a means of stretching. However, when scratching is directed at owners or their possessions, it is unacceptable. There are numerous effective ways of preventing inappropriate scratching. Owners can be taught to trim their cat’s nails and to train the cat to scratch in areas that are acceptable (i.e., scratching post). Kittens should be encouraged to explore, investigate, and scratch on appropriate objects by designing a feline play center with climbing, hiding, scratching, and perching areas. Play toys should be the type that can be batted or pounced upon. The cat can then be rewarded for using the area with favored treats or catnip. Placement of the play center should be appropriate for the owner’s purposes, as well as easily accessible and enticing to the cat. Some cats prefer a site that is near a window so that the outdoors can be viewed, while placing the play center near to the cat’s sleeping area might further encourage the cat to use it area for resting, sleeping, stretching, and scratching.

If the cat uses a site and surface that is undesirable to the owners, the first step might be to assess what the cat is using and to redesign a scratching post with a similar substrate and place it in the location that the cat has selected. The inappropriate location can be made less appealing by changing the substrate (e.g., a loose furniture cover, plastic sheeting, double sided tape) or the location can be booby trapped using motion detectors, alarm mats, stacked cups, or balloons set to pop. The cat might also need to be confined when the owner cannot supervise. However, aversives such as electronic mats (which are illegal in some countries) may be more preferable and practical than confinement. Some owners may want to consider plastic nail coverings such as Soft Paws® which can be glued over the claws monthly. Another option is the use of the pheromone spray, Feliway®. Although success is variable, it has been reported that Feliway placed once a day on each scratch mark will reduce scratching that has been induced by stress. For cats that scratch as a form of territorial marking, Feliway may be useful at inhibiting the cat at specific sites, but untreated sites will likely still be used or selected. (Pageat, personal communication)

When household scratching cannot be managed or resolved, it can be a major source of owner anxiety and one of the primary reasons for relinquishment.(1) In a German study (where declawing is illegal) of 1177 cats, the second most common owner behavioral complaint, second only to states of anxiety, was scratching (15.2% of cats). For 125 cats, the owners had attempted to correct the problem; 60% had partial success with environmental management or aversion conditioning, but only 10% were able to completely resolve the problem.(2) Similarly, in a study of U.S. veterinarians, it has been estimated that in about one of every 20 office visits, owners of both kittens and adult cats indicate problems with destructive behavior.(3)

As a last resort for these cats, either tendonectomy or declawing are surgical options to permanently correct the problem. Property damage and the risk of injury to people or other pets are the primary reasons for these surgeries.(4,5) In one study, veterinarians estimated that over 50% of owners of declawed cats would not have owned or kept their cats, had they not been declawed. Major concerns with respect to declawing are the postoperative pain associated with the procedure and the potential for postoperative problems. Most cats are reported to recover within 3 days, although cats declawed at a year of age took longer to recover. 96% of owners report the cats fully recovered within two weeks. By comparison, tendonectomy lead to less short-term pain than declawing (for the first 24 hours) (6) while cats that were declawed had a greater decrease in activity for the first two weeks than those undergoing tendonectomy.(7) However, owner satisfaction with declawing ranged from 89% to 96% (6) in a previous study, while satisfaction with tendonectomy ranged from 70% (6) to 87% (7) and 30% of owners had difficulty trimming nails and 55% of owners reported that cats could still scratch. The increased pain associated with declawing for the first 24 hours can be addressed with pain management. Butorphanol injections for the day of surgery and the first full day after (8), or a transdermal fentanyl patch applied eight hours prior to surgery (and left on for two days after), led to significant improvement in appetite and pain scores over controls. (9)

In numerous studies to date, declawing has been shown to cause no increase in behavior problems. Declawed cats were no more likely to bite than clawed cats (12) and no more likely to soil (10,11,14). In a study of 276 cat owners, declawing successfully met or surpassed the owner’s expectations in all cases.(4) There was 96% owner satisfaction and over 70% of cat owners indicated that there was an improvement in the cat-owner relationship.(4) This is consistent with studies that showed that behavior problems (including scratching) were a major reason for surrender (10), while being declawed decreased the risk of relinquishment.

Gail's Note: despite the title's goal to find "alternatives" to declawing, it seems there is more success and satisfaction with declawing...

Claws are involved in almost everything a cat does during her waking hours. In the morning, she digs her claws into her scratching post and pulls against the claws' resistance to energize and tone her upper body. During playtime, her claws snag flying toys out of the air and hold them in place. When she runs across the house and up the stairs, her claws act like cleats to provide extra traction. When she scales her kitty condo, she uses her claws like miniature mountaineering crampons that let her reach the top with ease.

A cat uses claws to scratch an itch, manipulate catnip mice, grip a narrow catwalk, hoist her body up to a high-up perch, and grab onto a chair for stability during grooming. Claws are even used in self-expression; for example, a slight extension of the claws is a subtle way to say "I'm tired of being held and am ready to get down."

In some circumstances, claws are lifesavers, enabling a cat to climb to safety or thwart an attacker.

All this and much more is lost when a cat is declawed.

Most of the world does not declaw. In practically every country where cats are companion animals, declawing is illegal or effectively banned. It is still common in the U.S. and Canada.

"Declawing" is a benign-sounding term. When people first hear the word, they usually think it means some sort of claw-clipping, not a series of ten amputations that leave the cat without the end of her front paws. Pro-claw veterinarians report that over half their clients considering declawing change their minds once they find out what the procedure really is.


"Better to declaw than to send a cat back to the shelter to be euthanized."

Usually my first response to this assertion is to shift the focus from the world at large to the individual who's considering declawing. I ask, "are you going to return your cat to the shelter if he rips the couch apart?" So far the person has always replied "no," which is the correct answer. Once I know that the cat owner is committed to giving his cat a permanent home, the "declaw or euthanize" argument doesn't apply and we can move on to exploring friendlier, less invasive options than declawing.

Declawing is no guarantee that the cat won't go back to the shelter, however. Walk into any shelter. There are always declawed cats there. In some cases the declawing itself may be the reason that the cat ends up back at the shelter. The cat may develop behavior or litter box problems as a result of being clawless, which greatly reduces his chances of being adopted. Thus, sometimes it actually is more humane to return the cat before he gets declawed.

In fact, relatively few declaws are last-ditch efforts to save a cat from going back to the shelter. Most declaws are done preemptively and routinely, often as part of a spay/neuter package--assembly-line declawing. In veterinary clinics across the country, kittens have their claws permanently removed even in the absence of any claw-related problems, and before any humane alternatives are given a chance. Furthermore, the average cat owner consents to declawing having only a vague notion of what the procedure is, what possible side effects can occur, or even why it's necessary.

Bottom line: Don't force the "declaw or reject" choice on your cat. (Gail's note: Can we tell Mom, Dad, and Katie this???)

"I tried everything."

In my experience, every cat owner who claims that they "tried everything" hasn't--and often hasn't really tried that much. Most have not tried trimming claws, using slipcovers, or making more than a token effort with scratching posts. Most have never even heard of SoftPaws, much less attempted to use them.

A "scratching problem" may turn out to be a natural reaction to a deficiency in the cat's home environment. Or it may signal an underlying behavior problem. If one of the members of the household inadvertently always sneaks up on kitty, kitty may respond by becoming more short-tempered and aggressive. If a neighborhood tomcat starts hanging around outside the house and spraying, kitty may react by scratching more and taking out her frustration on humans or other animals in the household. In these and other cases where the scratching is a symptom of a physical or emotional condition it's necessary to determine and remedy the underlying cause. Declawing will likely only make things worse.

Compassionate Alternatives
With a little effort and patience, you can protect your furnishings and preserve your cat’s claws at the same time. The following hints will help:
• Trim your cat’s nails regularly. When the cat is relaxed and unafraid, gently press on the toes until the claws extend. Use a pair of nail clippers and cut only the tip of the nail, taking care not to damage the vein or “quick.” The nail hook is what tears upholstery, so removing it virtually eliminates damage.
• Buy or build two or more scratching posts. They must be sturdy, tall enough to allow the cat to stretch (3 feet or taller), and properly placed. Bark-covered logs, posts covered with sisal, or posts covered with tightly woven burlap work well. Soft, fluffy, carpeted scratching posts don’t work—they are one of the greatest causes of declawing because cats don’t like the posts, and frustrated human companions resort to surgery. If you use carpet, secure it to the posts with the rough backing on the outside; soft carpeting will not satisfy a cat’s need to claw. Place one scratching post where your cat is already clawing and another near the area where he or she normally sleeps (cats like to stretch and scratch when they first wake up). An excellent scratching post is available from Felix Katnip Tree Company (, 3623 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103; 206-547-0042.
• Consider cardboard or sisal “scratching boxes” that lie flat on the floor. These are inexpensive and small enough to scatter around the house, allowing your cat easy access to an “approved” scratching spot at all times. They do wear out fairly quickly, however, and will need to be replaced every few months—otherwise, cats may get frustrated and revert to using furniture.
• Teach your cat where to claw and where not to claw. Place your cat on the new scratching post and move his or her paws, or pretend to scratch it yourself. This will scent the posts and encourage exploratory clawing. Make the post a “fun” place to be. Play games with your cat on and around the post, and attach hanging strings, balls, and/or bouncy wire toys to it. Try sprinkling catnip on the post, too. (A once-a-week or so refresher application will keep your cat interested.) When kitty uses the post, reinforce this behavior with praise, but be careful not to startle or frighten him or her. When your cat claws furniture, discourage this behavior with a firm voice or other loud noise, but never with physical force. Directing lukewarm water from a squirt gun at the animal’s back is often successful. During the training period, you may need to cover upholstery with plastic or other protection (cats don’t like the slippery feel and will quickly learn to stay away).
• Strategically placed double-sided tape, such as Paws Off (available at, also discourages the clawing of furniture and upholstery.


Gail's Final Notes:


I don't know. Declawing is certainly less maintenance, but I agree that it is rather cruel, especially to older cats. I'm not against declawing in general...we've always had declawed cats and there had never been an issue with temper or attitude. And it is far more enjoyable to have a declawed cat walking across your lap than one that can maul this hell out of your thighs. (I currently have kitty scratch marks from a Miss Rose incident two weeks ago. They are healing, but it was painful.)

Scratching post, slip covers for furniture, and keeping nails trimmed seem like good suggestions, and if they will be like a miracle. I guess we (read: my sister, because I leave in a week) should start with that and see if in three month's time (when the move will most likely happen) they are ready to go to Florida. Otherwise, I think declawing is preferable to giving them to a shelter, even if it is no-kill. Fuck that...I love these cats.

Perhaps I'll go chill around the Petsmart and see what I can scrounge up.

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