This Tuesday I had the chance to go see a viewing of a movie titled The Paw Project. It followed a veterinarian from California who started the movement to ban the declawing of cats. Declawing of cats is the process of either removing the last portion of the bone on their toes or snipping the tendon that makes the claws bend. The viewing was followed by a panel discussion with a couple of veterinarians from the AVC, one of whom is a behaviorist and another a welfare activist. A man from The Paw Project of Nova Scotia also joined us.
The movie was a real tear jerker for me. I’m always a sensitive movie watcher, crying over gushy romantic scenes or character deaths, but I’m always extra sensitive when it comes to animal movies. The film definitely was very one-sided, as most animal welfare movies of this type are, but it brought up many great points against the declawing of cats. One of the most common reasons cats get declawed is that they scratch things, as it is one of their natural behaviors. My favorite quote from the movie was, “When you declaw your cat, you’re valuing your furniture’s life over your cat’s.”
I went into the viewing already against the declawing of cats, and the gory and heart-breaking stories didn’t shift my opinions at all. I did, however, learn just how many alternatives there are to declawing. Animal welfare is always a hot topic, and it’s amazing how much can be changed with behavioral modification rather than medical intervention.
First off, if your cat doesn’t have a scratching post, it can’t satisfy its behavioral needs on something that isn’t furniture or carpets. Both vertical and horizontal scratch posts provide a place to scratch that cats like. If a cat has already destroyed a piece of furniture, this can be “sacrificed” to the cat as its scratching area, or a piece of the scratched furniture can be placed on a new scratching post to entice the cats to use their new toy. Putting cat nip or rubbing the cat’s paws on the new scratching post can also help. To get them to leave furniture alone that they’ve been scratching on, putting double-sided sticky tape on it may work, along with using an enzymatic cleaner to get the cat’s scent out of the furniture. Another option is using little plastic caps that can be placed on the cat’s nails, which prevents the sharp claws from going into the furniture. Simple things like keeping nails trimmed short help prevent worse damage. One thing my behavior professor stressed is that cats don’t scratch to be sadistic and ruin our lives. It truly is something they do naturally. It’s used to put their scent on things, to stretch, and to be happy. Cats shouldn’t be punished for doing what’s in their DNA.
Declawing can also lead to separate behavioral issues besides scratching. Some cats develop an adversity to little boxes after surgery due to the litter hurting their healing paws. Some cats escalate to biting if they can’t use their paws. Medical complications can involve altered gaits, leading to arthritis and bone regrowth due to improperly removed digits. And declawed cats should never be let outside because they’ve lost one of their major defense mechanisms.
I think you know how I feel about declawing by now, but my favorite part of the evening was listening to the school veterinarians speak with local veterinarians who came about declawing. It was really neat to see how all of the different veterinarians have their own views and practices. No profession can be painted with one brush as to how they feel about a subject, and this is certainly true in the veterinary world. I look forward to being a part of this community one day and instilling my own beliefs into how I practice as a vet.