Declawing Across the World
Declawing is a surgery that, though banned in over 39 countries across the globe, is normalized here in Quebec. It is first and foremost a question of culture and education. Le last thing we should do is blame people or demonize declawing.
It’s important to understand that the two most common reasons used to justify declawing just don’t hold up. When it comes to protecting your furniture or prevent injuries, particularly when it comes to children and other animals, declawing is useless because there are always more ways to cause harm than using claws alone. We’re talking about a surgery that European veterinarians do not even entertain here in Quebec because their own country of origins have made the practice illegal long ago.
‘Declawing’ Is an Amputation
It must be said that the surgery, which referred to as an onychectomy, is in fact a phalangectomy. As the name suggests, it is an amputation of the third phalanx on every one of a cat’s fingers. Even though we can’t exactly compare two different animal species, given their different physiognomy, it could be said that declawing finds its equivalent in humans to an amputation of the tips of the fingers at the articulation found just above the nails. No matter the surgical instrument that is used (scalpel, resco or laser) the result is the same.
Note, this is without even mentioning the pain of the procedure and healing. Suffice it to say that we know there is pain involved, but it is impossible for us to gauge the pain as it is felt by the cat. They do not speak and we cannot read their thoughts. We therefore must exercise caution when making such comparisons.
My Cats and the Destruction of Goods
Some people may say that they have invested in a scratching post, only to find that their cat prefers the couch. “This is often because a scratching post does not correspond to the characteristics that a cat searches for or even that the post itself is not placed in the right location” (see end notes), says a good friend of mine and mentor Dr Enid Stiles, one of the rare veterinarians with a masters in animal behaviour in Quebec.
Even with a scratching post, some people will report that their leather couches still get damaged by cats who play and unintentionally catch the material with their back paws, and those people are correct. As we often say, all you need is a couch cover to protect the cushions and arm rests. This is a compromise that must be made when taking on the responsibility of pet adoption.
Cats and Children
When it comes to the argument of protecting children from cat scratches, here as well the issue is education and, of course, common sense. Would you forbid your child from riding a bike? No? There is, after all, a risk of injury inherent in this leisurely activity too. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that they will injure themselves at least once in their life while riding a bike. Cases in which children have been admitted to medical facilities due to cat scratches are very very rare. So why amputate an animal when such a risk is so minimal compared to the much more common injures incurred through bike riding? And trust me, biking will never bring the kind of joy to your child that adopting a cat would.
Though there are no studies which show conclusively that a declawed cat is more likely to bite, a vast majority of specialists in animal behaviour agree that an animal which has lost its habitual means of defense will inevitably use other means of defense in times of need. And if you ask me, a cat bite is far more problematic than a scratch. By teaching your children how to recognize and respect feline body language, leaving a cat alone when its tail starts to whip back and forth for example, will greatly reduce their risk of injury. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) doesn’t even sanction the use of declawing for immune-deficient owners.
Declawing and Abandonment
Some people have a fervent belief that a ban on declawing will cause an increase in cat abandonment. If we inform people on the appropriate use of scratching posts, and offer solutions like reusable claw covers like Soft Paws, there is no reason why furniture should be damaged of children scratched. These things just don’t happen, as is the case in Europe.
Often, there are more cats who have been declawed in shelters than ones that still have their claws. Even though this statistic is not very representative given the frightening number of declawed cats as a whole, it does tell us that cats that have been declawed are not protected against abandonment.
So why not simply make declawing illegal? Before we can ban it, we must first sensitise pet owners to the issue. Otherwise, it’ll be like butting the heads with misconceptions and, politically speaking, that is never a wise thing.
Do not hesitate to ask your veterinarian, or an animal behaviour expert that he/she recommends, about different options which will protect your feline companion from this procedure.
What is a Good Scratching Post?
PLACEMENT: Cats will, by instinct, want to scratch to mark their territory. It’s their way of putting up a sign that says “private property” and your cat will want to place this sign in a visible spot, like the entrance of their territory. Couches are usually placed in this exact spot, and so they become the targets of this territory scratching. Whether it is the threshold of a door, or any other place your cat might mark, it is important to place the scratching post where your cat wants to do their claws rather than where you want them to do their claws.
STABILITY: The scratching post must be as solid as a tree. Unfortunately, most of the ones you’ll find in pet stores are not solid and will fall as soon as a cat places a paw on it. If you’ve already bought one such scratching post, you can lift the corner of your couch and slip the base of your post underneath the foot. That way it will not only be stable but will also be in the right place, protecting the corner of your couch.
HEIGHT: The scratching post must be tall enough to enable your cat to stretch the entire length of his body. Note that some cats even like horizontal support, something like a carpet or a plank of wood. In either case, stability is always a necessity.
MATERIALS: The post itself must be made of a material with a texture the cat enjoys. Every cat has their preferences: carpet, ropes, cardboard and wood are all excellent materials. Help your cat discover the joys of the scratching post by playing with them and a cat toy around the post or you could even make it more appealing by placing catnip on it.
IF YOUR CAT HAS ALREADY CAUSED DAMMAGE
You can make the area less appealing by installing a plastic cover on it, aluminum paper or double sided tape placed on the corners of the couch; these are all textures that cats tend to dislike. But it is very important to give options to your cat. Place the scratching post at the corner of your couch. Once your cat has become used to doing their nails there, you will be able to remove the plastic covering and/or the aluminum paper. It is important to note that once a cat has already used their claws to mark your furniture, the mere sight of his scratch marks will encourage them to continue at that very spot. It’s a safer bet to repair the damaged surface to erase this visual cue.