Wanna start a fight? Mention the word “declawing” in a room full of cat lovers and step back. Step way back.
In order to discuss declawing, we need to understand what it is and, therefore, what it is not. Declawing, as the name may imply, is not the cutting off of claws. It does not mean that they simply take a cutting instrument and trim the nails. Declawing is a clean-sounding and deceptive word for a complicated operation, which, if performed on humans, would be called an amputation of the phalanx, something that would never, ever be done in the absence of severe infection, cancer, or major trauma.
Claws are not like fingernails, which sort of lie on top of and slightly imbedded into the nail bed. Cats’ claws are attached to the distal (last) bone of the toe. When they remove the claw, veterinary surgeons must also remove the bone, tendon, ligaments, nerve, and joint capsule. It is far from a simple operation and can have severe side effects that present several serious risks. Aside from the excruciating pain and potential for infection, complications can also include hemorrhage, nerve damage, bone chipping, abscesses, and possible re-growth of a mutated claw, necessitating more surgery (and more pain, more trauma, and so on). Declawing is so cruel, in fact, that it has actually been made illegal in some countries, and for obvious good reason!
So, now that we have a clear idea of what it is, let’s look at some of the reasons why people insist on doing it to their cats. A lot of people see it as a matter of course, a lot like a circumcision. They aren’t informed about the procedure and don’t even know to question it. They believe that all cats should be declawed and that it is just “normal,” and that is often a result of their veterinarian’s failure to provide simple education. Others try to rationalize the idea: “The cat will scratch the new baby” or “The cat will scratch the furniture.”
I will admit that I am not without blemish here. When I was first married, I had a puppy and an older cat. Untrained as I was in introducing animals to each other, I figured they would work it out together. Well, I was wrong. The cat took a swing at the puppy and blinded the puppy in one eye. I have never forgotten that lesson. So when the time came again to introduce a new cat to a household that already had a dog, I decided to declaw the cat. Now this may bring up a whole new debate revolving around which animal has the bigger right here: the cat’s right to his claws or the dog’s right to healthy eyes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are other ways of protecting the dog’s eyes, the baby’s skin, or the new couch that do not involve mutilating your cat.
Trimming cats’ nails is a piece of cake. Most cats will submit to this indignity after they figure out that it doesn’t take long, it doesn’t hurt, and they get a treat during the process and afterward!
Cats need their claws for a variety of reasons that go far, far beyond simple protection. The reasons have to do with their psychological, emotional, and physical well-being, and to declaw your cat is to take away their valuable state of homeostasis, and it can never be returned.
As a grandmother, I am always very sensitive to the lessons that I am inadvertently teaching my grandchildren. Little children are always on the lookout for new things to learn. They soak up their environments like little sponges, and that is why we should always be very careful about the things we say and do around them. That Grandma has a cat who is declawed is not all right. That Grandma’s kitty cannot defend himself against curious, probing toddler fingers is not all right.
If you absolutely can’t handle trimming Felix’s nails, look into getting Felix “outfitted” with Soft Paws, a protective, pliable vinyl sheath that is applied over the claws and stays in place for approximately six weeks. You can get them clear or in a variety of colors. It is not ideal because it is not natural, but it does not hurt the cat and is very effective. It can be done by a groomer, vet, or vet tech. Some brave, skilled cat guardians can apply them themselves, with some initial instruction.
There’s not a day that goes by that I am not sorry for what I did to “Mommy’s Mikey,” and if I could undo it, I would. But it’s permanent, and so I have learned from my mistake.
And so here I am, risking humiliation writing about my mistake with the hope that others may learn from it and that cats will be spared from this needless, hideously painful and cruel procedure.