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Living With Cat Claws

Why do cat's have claws?
Cat's need their claws for various reasons. They use them for communication with people as well as with other cats. They can scratch at themselves to show another cat they are relaxed around them, they can "make bread" on their favorite human to show their love and trust. They also use them as grooming tools. When they have a scratch claws will itch it and if there is a tangle or mat in the hair they can scratch at it with their claws and work it out . If a cat should ever accidentally leave the safety of his home, he needs his claws to hunt for food, defend himself against any predators and also to scurry up a tree if needed to escape to safety. Claws play a very important part of a cat's life.

With a little bit of time and love most cats don't need to go through declaw surgery. There are plenty of options to consider first to avoid undo trauma and risk to your cat and potential problems due to declawing.

What exactly is declawing?
When a cat is declawed, the procedure is called Onychectomy. What this involves is the amputation of not just the nail itself but also the amputation of the end toe joint. Painful? Sure it might be...and in some cats, the pain may last a week or many weeks (depending on the cat, the age of the cat and the size of the cat).

Tendonotomy is another operation that prevents the use of the claws. In  tendonectomy, the tendon that allows the cats nail to extend is severed so the cat isn't able to extend or retract his nails anymore. Problems with this procedure include possible joint fusion or arthritis problems. Also, the nails still need to be trimmed and since the cat can't claw to naturally trim down the nail there is the danger of the nail growing into the pad of the foot if trimming is overlooked.

Are there any complications of declawing?
Complications of the declaw surgery can include hemorrhage, infection, nail regrowth (which can cause serious pain and are very difficult to remove because it grows back deformed) and altered feeling to the toes (which has been linked to inappropriate litterbox habits that develop after declaw operations). The cat may lose trust with the owner for a short time and sometimes months after surgery and, if this happens, the cat may avoid humans as if they had been abused. Cats without claws may become biters since they have lost one of their other means of defense. Sometimes, there may be lameness associated with declawing, especially if it is an older cat being declawed. There are also complications that may arise due to any surgery such as cardiac arrest or to much anesthetic.

Healthy Alternatives to Declawing...
There are numerous options to help us leave our cats feet intact. Cats can very easily be trained to scratch on cat trees or posts. A VERY inexpensive favorite is the corrugated cardboard scratching pad. These are priced from $4.00 and up and with a little bit of catnip sprinkled on top it will keep a cat occupied for hours. Scratching posts can be very easily made to with a 2 X 4 and some sisal rope (available at hardware stores for little money). All of these would be preferred by the cat with little to no coaxing. Retraining can very easily be done by not allowing the cat in a room where problem spots are and offering several of these alternatives to the cat. After a couple weeks of solely scratching on what we want them to, then gradually introduce the cat to the areas where there had been problems and strategically place the new and improved scratch surfaces on or near the problem spots. If the cat would choose to go to the problem spot, gently take the cat and place on the scratch pad to redirect them.

Nail trimming is also very helpful. Weekly trimming can help keep the destructive edge off of the claws and makes them virtually harmless. Also without the extra growth there it also reduces the need to scratch since some of the time they scratch it is to shed the outer sheath from the nail. If the cat is resistant to trimming it is helpful to teach the cat that handling the feet is alright. Make rubbing the feet part of the normal petting procedure. Petting the kitty from head to toe...literally! This will help build trust with the cat and confidence with the human.

Your veterinarian probably has available a product called Soft Paws. These are kind of like "artificial nails" that are much softer and less destructive than the cats natural nail. These are glued onto the cats nail and they just need to be replaced as they break or fall off. Of course normal nail trimming is necessary before and in between applications.

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