ICT editor Rosalie loves her cat April’s big, beautiful, oven-mitt paws! She gets April’s nails trimmed at the Worcester Animal Rescue League on Holden Street.
By Paula Moore
New York state could one day be cats’ favorite place to live. That’s because New York Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal has penned a bill that would ban declawing statewide, except in those rare cases when it’s truly necessary for medical reasons, such as to remove a tumor.
And it’s about time.
Declawing is a painful mutilation that should be illegal—and not just in New York.
This cruel procedure is almost always performed for the owner’s convenience, not for the cat’s health, and it often causes far worse problems than a shredded sofa. As veterinarian Jean Hofve says, “It’s a surgical solution to a non-surgical problem.”
Despite what some cat owners seem to think, declawing is not a “quick fix” for scratched furniture. It’s a crippling surgical procedure that robs cats of their natural ability to climb, balance, scent-mark with their paws, stretch their shoulder muscles and, of course, defend themselves.
And it doesn’t just remove cats’ nails. Declawing involves 10 separate painful toe amputations that sever the entire last joint, including the bones and cartilage. Veterinarian Louise Murray explains, “If you look at your fingers, declawing would be like amputating the last section of each finger. If you were declawed, you would have 10 little short fingers. It’s amputation times 10.”
Complications from declawing can include gangrene, hemorrhaging, permanent nerve damage, chronic pain and bone splintering (which requires additional surgery). It can also result in a gradual weakening of leg, shoulder and back muscles, and because of impaired balance caused by the procedure, declawed cats have to relearn to walk, much as a person would after losing his or her toes. After declawing, the nails may even grow back inside the paw—which is extremely painful for cats but invisible to observers.
Declawed cats may also begin to exhibit behavioral problems that are far more troublesome than wayward scratching.
According to Dr. Hofve, the top three reasons why cats are taken to animal shelters are house-soiling, biting and aggression—the same problems that many cats (33 percent, according to one study) develop after declawing. My cat Romeo developed two of these three: He’s a biter, and his litterbox habits leave something to be desired.
Trust me—training your cat to use a scratching post is a lot more pleasant than cleaning up cat urine on a regular basis.
One study found that house-soiling is twice as common in declawed cats as it is in intact cats. Declawed cats are also more likely to be surrendered to shelters. Coincidence?
Romeo had been declawed before he was found as a stray by PETA fieldworkers and I adopted him. My guess is that after he was declawed, he started urinating outside the litterbox and was summarily dumped by his previous owner. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine that people who would willingly have their cat mutilated for convenience’ sake would then abandon that same cat when he or she became even less “convenient.”
There are simple things that you can do to protect both your cat’s health and your furniture. Trimming your cat’s nails regularly will curtail the damage that they can inflict. You can also teach your cat where to scratch and where not to. Give him or her several scratching posts, and make them fun places to be by sprinkling them with catnip, attaching toys to them and playing games around them. Placing your cat’s paws directly on the scratching post and gently moving them will scent the post and encourage exploratory clawing.
And for those who still insist that they’ll allow only declawed cats into their house: There are plenty of them languishing in animal shelters, abandoned by their previous owners when the “quick fix” didn’t work out.