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Declawing is NOT giving your cat a manicure

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Declawing is NOT a manicure.

Declawing is actually an amputation of the last joint of your cat’s “toes,” which is comparable to amputating the last joint of a human finger. Veterinarians use one of three types of cutting tools—guillotine-type cutter, scalpel, or laser.

Your cat’s body is perfectly designed to give the grace, agility, and beauty that is unique to felines. Its claws are an important part of this design. Amputating the part of their anatomy that contains the claws drastically alters the conformation of their feet. The cat is also deprived of its primary means of defense, leaving it prey to predators if it ever escapes to the outdoors.

In addition, deprived of its front claws a cat may become insecure and distressed. A display of distress tends to take such forms as urinating on your favorite rug or spraying your antique armoire. Feeling defenseless without its claws, the cat may become hostile to people (including you), and to other cats and become more apt to bite. Some cats develop an aversion to their litter box because of the pain associated with scratching in the litter after a declawing procedure.

You need to know:

■ Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. A cat’s natural propensity for scratching is not big news, but it is a fact that you’ll need to take it into account if you’re to make any headway in winning the battle to keep it from scratching in places you consider undesirable.

■ You can’t keep your cat from scratching. You can’t make a cat do anything it doesn’t want to do. Therefore you have to think smart and re-channel its desires.

■ A word about punishment—Don’t do it!!! Cats don’t understand physical punishment. In addition to it being wrong to hit your cat, punishment simply doesn’t work and is likely to make your situation worse. Your cat will only compute that sometimes it is treated badly. This may make it insecure and stimulate your cat to scratch more or develop other undesirable behavior problems. Cats have excellent memories and hold serious grudges.

■ Why do cats scratch? Scratching is a territorial instinct by which cats place their mark and establish their turf. A cat’s paws have scent glands that leave their own special scent on their territory. Scratching also serves to keep your cat in shape.

■ Cats like rough surfaces that they can shred to pieces. Scratching posts are ideal for releasing a cat’s primal urges. Cats prefer to make their territory with vertical shredding marks, be sure not to throw it away when it is shredded, since that’s when it’s broken in satisfactorily. Your cat will not appreciate your tidiness.

■ A good post should be tall enough for your cat to fully stretch its body, usually at least 28 inches tall and should be very stable. Scratching posts should be placed in an area used by the family most of the time. To encourage your cat to use the post, play with your cat by the post, rub dried catnip into the post, or reward with treats when your cat uses the post. Never make the mistake of trying to “show it how” to scratch anything. You’ll only offend it. A cat knows perfectly well how to do it.

■ Your cat may be reluctant to give up its old scratching areas. Covering the area with aluminum foil or double-sided tape is a great deterrent. You may need to remove your cat’s scent from its former favorite scratching spots. Cats have an aversion to citrus odors. Use lemon-scented sprays or a potpourri of lemon and orange peels to make its former scratching sites less desirable.

■ Another solution to reducing some of your cat’s potential for destruction is by carefully trimming the razor-sharp tips of its claws. You will find that your cat does not find a manicure soothing. It is recommended that you receive instruction from your veterinarian or a professional groomer before attempting this procedure.

■ A product called Soft Paws is also available. These are lightweight vinyl caps that you apply over your cat’s own claws with a safe, non-toxic adhesive. Soft Paws are great for households with small children and are also useful for people who are away from home all day and simply can’t apply the watchfulness necessary to train a cat to use a scratching post. They should be used only on indoor cats and are generally applied to the front paws only. A Soft Paws kit will last approximately three to six months.

For more information on declawing, please visit www.declawing.com.

Karen Cunningham is president of the St. Lawrence Valley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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