The Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Monday to draft an ordinance banning cat declawing within city limits. Councilmembers Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz proposed the ordinance stating that declawing caused “unnecessary pain, anguish and permanent disability” to cats. There are bans on declawing in many other California cities. West Hollywood has a ban on declawing, and Santa Monica is expected to approve a similar measure next week. Malibu, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco also are considering declawing bans. The California Veterinary Medical Association, however, is opposed to declawing bans and says this could lead to increases in owners relinquishing, abandoning, and euthanizing their cats.
Declawing seems to be an American thing. In many European countries, it’s illegal to declaw. I’ve worked in animal shelters with many Europeans over the years and they always seem to comment how unbelievable it is that declawing is allowed. I know many cat owners who have chosen to declaw their cats and I’ve found that most of them don’t always think it through. Not many people know that declawing is not a manicure; it is an amputation of the last joint of a cat’s toe. This is not a surgery to be taken lightly.
Aside from the pain involved in the declawing procedure, amputating the important part of a cat’s anatomy that contains their claws deprives a cat of its primary means of defense, leaving it vulnerable to predators if it ever escapes to the outdoors. Of course my readers already know that I believe cats should be kept indoors and only allowed out for brief periods under the strictest of supervision.
People have told me that their cat’s personality changed after being declawed. Although the medical community does not recognize this as potential side effect, it seems obvious to me that drastically altering part of an animal’s body that is used for balance will have a negative side effect on its personality. When a cat loses its primary means of defense, often times their next defense is their teeth. Many declawed cats become nervous, fearful, and/or aggressive. So when people tell me that they want to declaw their cat to prevent it from scratching their child, my comment is usually, “You may end up having a cat that bites your child instead.”
Another negative side effect of declawing is litter box problems. In some cases, when declawed cats use the litter box after surgery, their feet are so tender they associate their new pain with the box, and this can result in a life-long hatred of using the litter box. Other declawed cats that can no longer mark with their claws, mark with urine instead resulting in inappropriate elimination problems. In some cases this behavior results in relinquishment of the cat to an animal shelter, which can then lead to euthanasia.
I can empathize with owners who don’t want their cat to scratch in inappropriate places. However, there are humane alternatives to declawing. Here are just a few suggestions:
• Scratching posts. You can buy or make a scratching post and train your cat where to use it. Most importantly, you want to make sure that the post is tall enough for your cat to stretch out on. Some cats prefer to scratch a post covered with carpeting, while others like sisal rope or variegated cardboard. Carpet posts often teach cats to scratch on carpeting, which is fine if your only carpet is on the post, but it causes problems if you have carpeting elsewhere in your home. I’ve gone through many scratching posts over the years and found that sisal posts are by far the best. This is the one and only post you’ll ever need: www.purrfectpost.com.
If your cat starts to scratch furniture, or other inappropriate items, he needs to be pulled away and place his front paws on the scratching post. If he is seen scratching furniture, a squirt of plain water (not hot) from a squirt gun or spray bottle (anywhere but in the face), accompanied by a sharp “NO,” is a good deterrent.
Scratching posts should be placed in the areas where your cat has been scratching, such as the couch, chair, drapes, carpeting, etc. Another should be placed in the area where he sleeps. Cats usually like to scratch and stretch upon waking. You can encourage a cat to use a scratching post by placing his favorite toy on top, dangling it over the side, or by rubbing the sides with catnip.
• Weekly nail trims. Keeping the nails trimmed greatly decreases potential damage. Start trimming your cat’s nails at an early age and try to make it a weekly habit. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to trim your cat’s nails so you can save time and money by doing it yourself.
• Soft Paws Nail Caps for Cats. This product is a humane alternative to declawing. Developed by veterinarians, Soft Paws are vinyl caps that keep the cat’s nails covered. They’re great for households with small children and are extremely useful for people who are away from home all day and can’t continually watch their cat and train it to use a scratching post. The application is painless and simple to perform. The plastic tips are glued onto your cat’s nails (much like fake nails) and usually need to be reapplied every 4 to 6 weeks because tips will naturally fall off with wear and nail growth. They come in clear and a variety of other colors. I always recommend the colored caps because they have the added advantage of being more visible when one comes off. You can find Soft Paws on the web at softpaws.com or call 1-800-989-2542.
I welcome comments from my readers who have a positive or negative declawing story to share. Please post a comment online. It is obvious where I stand on this issue. I would love to see Santa Barbara as the next California city to ban declawing!