Friday, January 13, 2012

If I never declaw another cat ......

If I never declaw another cat, I would be a happy veterinarian.  OK, I am a happy veterinarian, but the older I get, the more I dislike doing declaws.  So now I am on a mission to educate cat owners about alternatives to declawing their cats.  We might was well get used to practicing the alternatives now because this is the way the world is going.  There are a whole slew of countries around the world that already make declawing illegal or severely limit the procedure.  I don't see this happening in the United States anytime soon, but the winds of change are swirling around and that is a good thing for cats.

As I was doing some research for this blog topic, I did a little surfing around the web and the array of opinions on both sides is quite interesting.  Everything from declawing is perfectly acceptable to declawing should be criminal.  I wanted to link to some good solid info on alternatives to declawing (scratching post training, nail trimming, Soft Paws, etc) and it took me a good half hour to find a link that didn't start off with a page or two of "you are evil if you have your cat declawed" or "if you are a veterinarian who declaws cats, you are evil".  It's kind of a turn off when you are trying to change someone's opinion, to tell them they are scum of the earth right off the bat.  Kind of human nature to dislike being called a horrible person and I am not so much against declawing to make it a mortal sin.   Finally though, I was successful in finding some "just the facts m'am" information on cat scratching behavior and minimizing damage to the house that I will link to further down the page.

Like most people who get older, I find myself contemplating all sorts of things in life.  I used to give very little thought to declawing cats.  I grew up in a dog household so the fact that cats like to scratch things meant little to me.  When I went to veterinary school twenty-cough-some years ago, we were taught to declaw cats.  There was no discussion.  It was just another procedure that we would need to learn in order to be proficient small animal veterinarians.  I acquired my first cat during my first year practicing veterinary medicine.  She was a sweet little stray calico that a good samaritan had found and brought to the clinic where I worked.  She had a horribly mangled leg that needed amputated.  Since she was such a sweet little cat and seeing as how I didn't have a cat, I volunteered to amputate her mangled leg and take her home.  She would be an indoor cat and as I was dutifully taught, indoor cats sometimes scratch furniture and woodwork and if that was not acceptable, the cat should be declawed.  I don't remember her having any problems with the declaw surgery at all and she lived happily inside my house as a declawed cat until she got intestinal cancer and had to be put to sleep many years later.  At this point, my opinion of declawing cats had not changed much.

It was sometime during my second job as a veterinarian that I started to contemplate things.  Back then, I worked for a veterinarian who did ear crops for clients who owned show dogs.  Fortunately I never had to perform one of those horrible procedures, but I did often have to take stitches out.  Ear flaps are very tender and delicate body parts and while most times, we could just hold puppies to remove sutures, I was surprised at how often we would have to sedate puppies to remove stitches because the ears after surgery were so tender and painful to touch.  I vowed I would never perform an ear crop on a dog.  And this is when I started changing my feelings toward performing painful procedures on animals.  If it is for the animal's benefit that is one thing.  If it is totally cosmetic (like ear crops), that just doesn't sit well with me.

Declawing falls somewhere just shy of cosmetic surgery for me.  On one hand, there is absolutely zero benefit to the cat to get declawed.  On the other hand, I have done a lot of work in animal shelters over my career and know of all the cats that are out there desparately seeking homes or facing death.  I also know there are people who will open their home to a cat or two or three, but only if they are declawed.  That is just the way it is.  There are anti-declawing advocates that will say that I am copping out by performing a surgery that I don't really agree with and to that I say rubbish!  I am for cats being able to live plain and simple.  If declawing gives a cat a life, I can live with myself.  But my hope for the future is to educate, educate, educate and inform cat owners that declawing is a painful procedure and there are alternatives.  I know that my own opinion about declawing has changed overtime.  I have come to recognize declawing for what it is: a painful surgical procedure with not one health benefit to the cat.  So if I can change my own stubborn opinion, I know with a little education I can hopefully persuade others to rethink declawing their cats.
So let the education begin.  First I have to make sure all who want to get their cat declawed understand what the surgery is all about.  The claws cannot be removed without also removing the last bone in every toe that is being declawed.  Declawing is AMPUTATION of the end of the toes X 10 toes in the case of front claws being permanently removed.  Just cannot sugar coat that any which way.

For some, just knowing that fact is enough to turn away from declawing.  But the biggest hurdle is what to do with a cat that wants to use it claws to scratch furniture/woodwork/ carpet, etc and cats DO want to use their claws to varying degrees.  Scratching is a normal behavior.  You cannot get rid of a normal behavior.  You have to redirect it.  You have to do a little work.  Yes, work.  Never did understand why dog owners will go through all sorts of effort to housebreak dogs and teach dogs to do this and that, but cat owners will not teach their cats appropriate scratching behavior.  It is no different.  It does take some effort.  

There are lots of web sites out there that give training tips.  This is one of my favorites because it is complete with pictures and I LOVE pictures.  

How to stop a cat from clawing furniture

If you don't want the hassle of training a cat when and where it can scratch and taking care of things like keeping claws trimmed, perhaps you shouldn't own a cat.  It is simple logic.

If you don't want to listen to loud cock-a-doodle-dooing early in the morning, don't have a rooster.
If you don't want a house full of hair, don't own a dog that sheds.
If you don't want an animal that has claws and might use them on occasion, don't own a cat.
Just think about it.  That is all I ask.


1 comment:

  1. I always find it very bizarre when I hear about the declawing practice. I say that because in my country it is illegal, but mostly because the majority of people doesn't even know that declawing is possible! It's like you said: if you own a cat you know from starters that you'll own a clawed animal! I own one myself and he (we don't have a neutral pronoun in our language either :) ) was trained and had his claws trimmed since he came to live with was (he was 4 months old). We trim his claws weekly and we have minimum damage to things.