Years ago, declawing house cats was a popular practice. It seemed to offer the best of both worlds: a fuzzy friend to add to the household, and expensive furniture that was kept intact. Now, case studies and research on declawed cats show the harsh truths about this practice, and evidence of how it creates more problems. The equivalent of this practice is taking each digit on a human hand (where the fingernail is) and removing the digit at the knuckle. It seems hard to imagine going through life with such a detriment. However, there are simple and humane solutions that will maintain the furniture without any harm done to the claws.
What is declawing and how is it done?
The claws of a cat are attached to the bone by muscle, tendons and nerves. To declaw a cat, the first digit must be amputated. Yes, amputated. This is not a small procedure; this is a serious surgery. There are multiple ways to declaw a cat. One way is to remove each claw with a surgical knife or guillotine cutter (think cigar cutter). The second way is with a laser that should cauterize the muscle, tendon, skin and bone. The third way is called a tendonectomy. This procedure removes the tendon, but keeps the claws intact. It is like an amputation because the cat has lost all claw control.
Negative side effects
Once a cat is declawed, it is impaired for the rest of its life. Without their main source of defense, declawed cats can become aggressive biters. They can start to inappropriately eliminate (going outside the litterbox) because the litter can hurt the nerves in their feet. Declawed cats are more prone to arthritis, back pain and infections. These are if the surgery is done "correctly." If not done correctly, cats can have improper regrowth of the claw or bone spurs.
Stop scratching humanely
There are several ways to help prevent scratching without subjecting a cat to such a brutal procedure. The first is to trim the claws, the same way humans trim fingernails. It is best to get a cat used to this at a young age so they don't try to fight it. Offer treats or tuna after each nail trimming, so the cat associates the act with a positive aftermath. Invest in cat trees and scratchers, and use catnip on these specific areas so the cat understands these are appropriate territories to claim. SOFT PAWS is a popular brand of nail cap that is glued to the base of the nail. The caps last for several weeks, and are shucked off as the nail grows. They can be applied at home by the owner, or at a vet's office.
A feline is a friend for life
Cats can live fifteen to twenty years, and those years are best spent nurturing patience and love against unwanted behaviors. Studies and outreach done by vets, activists and others have shown there are humane ways to handle any feline behavior that a cat owner may encounter. Education is at the heart of this issue. Knowing about humane outlets that will modify and encourage new behaviors is the best guarantee to a happy life with your domesticated felines.