Declawing cats can be a controversial subject. On one side of the argument are the people who point out that it is a painful surgical procedure that has no medical benefit for the cat and therefore is tantamount to mutilation for human convenience sake. On the other side of the argument are landlords who will not rent to people who have cats that are not declawed, people who have cats that are extremely destructive with their claws in spite of their best efforts to divert the cats, and people with very fragile skin that are easily injured even by innocuous contact from their cat.
It may help when making a decision about declawing to understand exactly what the procedure involves. A declaw (or onychectomy as it is technically called) involves amputating the last bone on the end of each toe at the knuckle. This completely removes the claw and the nail bed it grows from. There are several techniques by which this can be accomplished, and the exact procedure used depends on what your veterinarian is used to doing. Recently surgical lasers have become much more prominent in veterinary practices and they are particularly touted as being fantastic for declaws. The advantage to using a laser is that it seals the nerves and the blood vessels as it cuts and theoretically results in less pain post operatively. I have used both lasers and standard surgical approaches for declaws and I honestly can’t say that I can see a big difference in how much pain there is between the two techniques. The standard surgical techniques are faster, but they run some risk of increased bleeding and possible nerve damage to the leg where a tourniquet must be briefly applied to control the bleeding. Laser surgeries take longer, but do not tend to bleed. They heal in about the same amount of time as a standard declaw. A successful laser declaw requires some skill on the part of the surgeon. A clumsily performed laser declaw can result in burns to the remaining tissue on the toes that cause intense pain, swelling, and opening of the incisions at the ends of the toes. Infection is a possible complication shared by both techniques. Appropriate local and systemic perioperative pain management is of paramount importance in all procedures.
Declawed cats should never be allowed outside. Although no housecat is going to fend of a hungry fox with her claws, she absolutely needs those claws to climb a tree or over the fence in order to escape to safety. You may as well stake her to the ground with a sign around her neck saying “Free dinner, come and get it!” if you are going to let her go outside without any means of escape.
A non surgical approach to declawing is the use of “Soft Paws” . These are claw shaped rubber caps that you can glue on over your cat’s nails. They very effectively stop the cat from being able to shred things. The downside is that most cats don’t like them and often sit down determinedly to chew the caps off as soon as they possibly can. Even with cats that tolerate the caps well you will have to periodically remove the caps, trim the nails, and replace the caps again. I find that the level of hassle is often more than most people are willing pursue for more than a few rounds of the program.
Of course behavioral work is the best way to try to keep a cat from being destructive. Scratching is a natural part of a cat’s behavior, so guiding the cat to acceptable surfaces while making other areas like the corners of your couches less desirable is the goal. Have several types of scratching posts available, and put something in each of the locations the cat wants to scratch. Some cats like to stretch up and scratch more on vertical surfaces and some like horizontal surfaces, or both. Texture is very important to a cat, and the upholstery of your furniture is often ideal for satisfying that desire to snag and hang. You can deflect your cat from scratching inappropriate things by making the texture of those objects unappealing to the touch. Some options include applying double sided sticky tape to the area, or wrapping it temporarily with aluminum foil. (Just tell your friends that the foil keeps the alien mind rays from getting into the couches.) When the cat becomes accustomed to using the appropriate scratching posts you can then remove the tape or foil and, because cats are creatures of habit, she will usually continue to use the scratching posts to which she has become accustomed.