Declaws, Tendonectomies, and Alternatives

Cats’ Claws
Cats are graceful and agile and their claws are used for balance, mobility, and survival. The retractable claws allow the cat to gain footing for walking, running, springing, climbing, and stretching. The claws are a cat’s best defense as well as tools to assist in the capture and restraint of prey. Claws are also used in grooming to help keep the fur smooth and clean. Grooming is the way a cat controls body temperature and the affects of outside temperatures. Grooming spreads oils throughout the fur to help with waterproofing as well. Using its claws, a cat can effectively comb out tangles in the fur, remove skin irritations, and dead skin and hair.

Cats also scratch due to boredom or stress. Since the act of scratching makes cats feel better, they may resort to it in times of anxiety or boredom. Make sure you reduce the amount of stress your cat experiences as well as providing plenty of toys and play time with yourself to help curb his desires.

Cat scratching on sisal post.

Why Do Cats Scratch?
The outer part of the cat’s claw becomes frayed and when a cat scratches, this outer part is removed, exposing sharp smooth claws below. Cats also mark their territory by scratching objects. From within the glands on the pads of the feet, secretions are released and the cat’s scent marks the object when they scratch. Scratching stretches the muscles along the cat’s body and is a form of exercise working body muscles as well as shoulder and leg muscles. Kitty yoga actually makes the cat feel good!

Rough Play
If your cat plays rough and grabs your arm or hand while playing, you can stop this behavior by removing the claws from your skin and walking away. If you do this every time your cat or kitten gets overstimulated he will associate rough play with losing his playmate. You may say “no” and then walk away giving your cat a verbal cue as well. This way, in the future, if he gets rough, say “no” to make him stop. If he does not respond immediately, walk away and ignore him. This can work especially well if you have adopted and tamed a feral cat who does not yet know boundaries.

What is a Declaw Procedure?
Onychectomy, the declaw procedure, involves the amputation of the first joint of the cat’s toe including the nail. This is synonymous to a human having their finger amputated to the first joint. At this time, there are three different procedures for declawing.

Bones of the front foot of a cat.

One involves partial removal of the third digit (bone) of the toe including the claw and the cells at the base responsible for the growth. The incision may be left open or closed with sutures or surgical glue. Since all of the third bone is not removed, there may be regrowth of the claw. When this occurs, it is usually accompanied by infection and the remaining bone must be removed surgically. The cat will stay at the hospital for two or three days for recovery and pain management. Make sure your doctor treats your cat for pain as there are many new medications that are effective and safe. Your cat’s litter box must have shredded newspaper in it while the wounds heal.

Another procedure involves the complete removal of the third bone of the toe including the claw. Disconnection of the ligaments holding the third bone in place is required. With this procedure, it is impossible for the claw to regrow. However, cutting the ligaments will cause a subtle drop in the way the foot is held. Most owners do not notice the change in posture. The cat will stay at the hospital for two or three days for recovery and pain management. Make sure your doctor treats your cat for pain as there are many new medications that are effective and safe. Your cat’s litter box must have shredded newspaper in it while the wounds heal.

A newer procedure involves the use of a laser. The laser reduces the amount of blood loss and produces less pain. The toes tend to heal faster as well. Many veterinarians do not have the laser equipment to perform the surgery and those who do may not have enough experience, causing burning of tissue and delayed healing. Ask your veterinarian how many laser declaw surgeries he has performed. The cost of the laser equipment ($20,000 – $40,000) must be absorbed by the client and declaw surgeries by this procedure may be $50 to $150 more than traditional methods.

Declaw Surgery Complications
General anesthesia must be used to anesthetize the cat during the procedure. Although anesthesia is relatively safe, it still presents a certain degree of risk. Infection and blood loss are possible surgical complications of declawing. An incorrect cut can remove too much of the toe including part or all of the toe pad. If all of the toe or cells are not removed, the claw may regrow requiring additional surgery. If the cat’s nail is brittle or the instrument dull, the bone may shatter and cause a sequestrum (fragment of a dead bone that has become separated from surrounding tissue) which serves as an area for infection, causing continuous drainage from the toe. Another surgery will be required to correct the problem. Abnormal growth of severed nerve ends can occur, causing long-term, painful sensation in the toes. Bandages wrapped tightly to control the bleeding after surgery should not be tight enough to cut off circulation.

The tendonectomy is a surgical alternative to declawing. A ligament is cut on the underside of each toe to prevent grasping motions. The cat will no longer be able to extend its claws. The surgery causes less pain and the cats generally recover faster than with declaws. No bandages are required and no special litter is required. The tiny incisions are usually closed with surgical glue. Since the claws are left intact, regular trimming of the nails is still required. If the nails are not kept trimmed, the claws will grow in a circular manner into the foot pads causing pain and infection. A cat that has had a tendonectomy will require lifelong management of its claws in the form of trimming. Some veterinarians have reported joint fusion and arthritis in some of their patients.

Drawbacks of Surgical Procedures
Declawing and tendonectomies reduce the effectiveness of grooming, defense, climbing, and hunting for a cat. They are painful and may cause future problems for cats including physical, emotional, and behavioral problems. Some observations about declawed cats include: declawed cats can resort to biting since their claws are either removed or ineffectual, declawed cats can’t effectively climb trees, declawed cats can’t effectively catch prey, and declawed cats tend to stop using their litter boxes. Declawed cats should stay inside permanently as they have lost an integral part of their defense system.

Some countries, such as Great Britain, considers declawing a cat, mutilation, and has deemed it illegal except for medical reasons. In the United States, declawing is still legal and you should discuss all options and consequences of declawing your cat with your veterinarian. A number of cities, counties, and soon states are banning declawing of cats. Declawing should only be performed in extreme cases for medical reasons or where intensive training has failed and there is no other option than euthanasia or the cat being turned out into the street and becoming homeless.

SoftPaws kit with nail covers and glue.

SoftPaws were developed to prevent damage from scratching claws. They currently come in four sizes and many colors. The plastic nail covers are placed over the cat’s natural nails with nontoxic glue. Each kit costs about $19.95 and includes 40 nail covers which is about a 4-6 month supply. Each set lasts from 4 to 6 weeks and are only placed on the front paws. As the cat naturally sheds its nails, the SoftPaws will fall off. They will not all fall off at the same time and will have to be individually replaced periodically.

SoftPaws are used primarily on a temporary basis while you retrain your cat where to scratch, however, they can be used permanently for cats that cannot be trained. Some cats have been able to scratch even larger holes in furniture while wearing these but many cats have no problem with them and do no damage to furniture. SoftPaws can only be used for cats whose humans can trim their nails. Not only do the nails have to be trimmed each time you apply the SoftPaws but you’ll also have to manage handling your cat’s feet to actually apply the nail cover. Many veterinarians will apply them for you for a fee, so check with your veterinarian as well. You can visit the SoftPaws website for more information.

Stop the Scratching
First thing to know, is that it is impossible to stop a cat from scratching. However, teaching your cat to scratch on appropriate items is possible. Of course, the younger you train your cat, the easier it will be to teach them to scratch on acceptable items.

  • Spaying and neutering will help reduce the amount of scratching your cat does. Neutered cats tend to defend less territory a smaller amount of time.
  • Indoor/outdoor cats tend to scratch more than indoor only cats. Indoor only cats will learn to scratch on the items allowed while outdoor cats will scratch on anything outside and forget that they do not have total freedom indoors.
  • Keeping the nails trimmed will also help prevent constant scratching that cats do to shed the frayed outer layers. Trimming also reduces the damage done to both your furniture and your cat’s furniture.

Punishment or negative reinforcement never works on cats. In fact, it can actually exacerbate the situation. By giving your cat attention even though it is negative attention, you’ll reinforce the habit.

  • To stop the scratching, use a verbal cue such as “off” or “no scratch” then redirect your cat’s attention to his appropriate scratching items or redirect his attention with toys.
  • You can also use the “act of god” scenario, whereas, you make a loud noise or shake a can filled with pennies to distract your cat. Just don’t let your cat see you do it or he will associate the loud noise with you and continue to scratch when you are not at home, not in the room, or otherwise occupied! Using a squirt bottle filled with water has also proven effective, but once again, don’t let your cat see you squirt him.

Make the furniture harder to get to and less attractive.

  • You can try rearranging certain pieces of furniture or moving magazine racks next to etc. to discourage access to the area.
  • On certain furniture you may place clear two sided carpet tape that you can purchase from any home improvement store. Cats do not like sticky items and will no longer scratch the area. Use the tape until your cat has learned to use his new scratching items, then remove the tape but not in the presence of your cat! He will need to come over to the spot and examine it and test it out!
  • For furniture that you cannot put tape on, you may try using foil which cats do not like (unless it is rolled into a ball!).
  • Try using a plastic floor runner turned upside down. It will be uncomfortable for your cat to stand or jump on and he will no longer use the area.

There are many products to repel cats from a particular location, but FNC does not support any methods that use electrical shock or mousetrap type of discouragements as they can be painful and dangerous to your cat.

Training Your Cat to Use Acceptable Items
Whatever type of item you purchase for your cat, you should place it near the area currently being scratched. When your cat starts to use the new scratching post etc. move it a few inches every few days into the position where you would like to keep it. To effectively train a cat to scratch on appropriate items, you should place a scratching item in each room he has access to. Cats get the notion to scratch whenever, and if he has to travel through the house or upstairs to reach an acceptable scratching item, he may just stay where he is and go to town on your furniture.

To get your cat to the scratching post, some suggest taking your cat there and rubbing its paws on the post. This is really unnecessary as cats full well know what to do with their claws. You can however, rub the post or item with catnip or place some favorite toys on top of it or near it to entice your cat to start using it. Each time your cat uses the post, praise him, pet him, and spend some time with him at the post. Remember, the whole time you’re getting your cat used to the post, discourage him from using your furniture with the above suggestions and be consistent. Discourage him immediately since delaying only a few minutes can confuse your cat as to what he is doing wrong.

You may find that if you have cats that are already trained to use the appropriate furniture and areas in your home for scratching, adding another cat to the house (and trying to train him to use these areas as well) may be easy. He will observe what the resident cats do and will imitate them. This is particularly true for adopted ferals, as they have limited or no experience with furniture and upholstery.

Where to cut your cat’s nails.

Trimming Your Cat’s Claws
Working patiently by yourself or with an assistant, you can trim your cat’s claws fairly easily.

Trimming reduces the amount of damage a scratching cat does. In the winter you may have to trim them once every two to four weeks and in the summer, you may need to trim your cat’s nails once every one to three weeks.

Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed will keep them blunt causing less damage to whatever they scratch on. Your scratching post will have a longer lifetime if your cat’s nails are trimmed regularly.

If you don’t keep your cat’s nails trimmed regularly the claws will grow too long, and the cat may end up walking on the sides of it’s toes or feet causing joint problems.

Your cat has 5 claws on each front foot and 4 on each back foot unless he is polydactyl (having more than the normal amount of toes on each foot). The fifth claw on the front feet is the dew claw and must be trimmed as well.

Different styles of nail clippers.

If you can only manage to clip one nail per day, that is fine. Your cat may eventually get used to the procedure, at least enough to remain mostly relaxed and calm while you are clipping the nails. Just do one nail a day or one paw a day. It is still better to clip the nails individually than doing them all in one day if this is the only way you can accomplish the task.

Start with a relaxed cat; let your cat get comfortable with you touching his paws. You may also get your cat used to you massaging his paws and pressing out his retractable claws. Trimming will require; adequate light, sharp clippers (you may use specially made cat scissors or human clippers), and styptic powder (flour or cornstarch will do).

Giving your cat a treat before, during, and after the ordeal may help him accept the nail trimming. Speak calmly throughout the procedure reassuring him constantly.

  • Get into position by either kneeling behind your cat or by supporting your cat in your lap. You may also opt to do the trim on the kitchen counter where you can place your arm around your cat at standing height. Another, very successful method, requires you to sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Cross your legs at the ankles and gently place your cat upside down with his head away from you between your legs (make sure his spine is on the floor, not on your legs). You can gently squeeze your legs together to keep him there and slowly begin to trim the nails.
  • If you are kneeling down, secure the cat between your knees and take his front paw in your left hand. If your cat is on your lap, have him facing upright, and support him securely with your knees and take his front paw in your left hand. It may be easier to start off with the cat wrapped in a towel with only his paws extended, however, this may place undue stress on him. (Reverse this procedure if you are lefthanded.)
  • Place your thumb on the top of the paw and your other fingers underneath; apply gentle pressure to extend a claw.
  • Find the pink portion called the quick, if nicked this blood vessel will bleed and it is very painful. If this happens, press the nail into some corn starch or flour to stop the bleeding. You may want to stop the nail trim for the day and try again in a day or two.
  • Holding the clippers in your other hand, make sure there is no chance that the clippers will catch any of the pads or sheaths and fur. Press down and snip the claw avoiding the quick.
  • Repeat this process for each claw.

Choosing Scratching Alternatives
Make sure that any post you purchase it at least 30 inches tall with a heavy sturdy base. Check to make sure that it is well made and that the staples do not pull out or any other pieces may pull off that your cat could swallow. Scratching posts using glue may be toxic and not hold together when your cat starts tearing at it. If your cat attempts to scratch at a post that can be pulled over or knocked down, it is unlikely he will use it again. This is where the old saying “You get what you pay for” comes in. With scratching and climbing furniture for cats, always go with quality. Buy from a company that supplies a limited warranty on structure and workmanship.

You must first determine what items your cat prefers scratching. You can determine this from the type of furniture or upholstery they are using in your home. Answer the following questions to help determine the items to purchase or make for your cat.

  1. Does your cat like vertical or horizontal surfaces (or both)?
  2. What type of material is preferred: carpet, soft (curtains), coarse (upholstery, wood) or various types?

Once you’ve answered these questions you can begin your hunt for the proper scratching items for your cat. If your cat prefers different types of media, purchase or make several different ones so he can have his pick as the mood strikes him.

TIP: For the most part, kittens prefer sisal (coarse rope make from plant fiber – you can purchase it from any home improvement or craft store) and adult cats prefer carpet.

Scratching Furniture

Sturdy cat tree.

Scratching Posts/Furniture
Posts and cat trees come in a variety of styles and sizes. The posts can be left in natural wood or covered with carpet, upholstery, or sisal (coarse rope make from plant fiber). Make sure it is well made and is tall enough for your cat to extend to his full length or he may not use it.

Scratching Carpets
Many stores have fancy or decorated pieces of carpets to throw on the floor for your cat to use. You can purchase one of these or you can buy a small piece of remnant carpet for your cat in any craft, home decor, home improvement, or carpet store. Throw several around the house.

Scratching Cardboard
Many department and pet stores carry scratching boxes comprised of corrugated cardboard and spiked with catnip. Cats love these and they are great for vertical or horizontal scratchers as they can be placed either flat on the floor, tilted slightly or hung from a doorknob. To make your own, rip apart a box and peel off the thin layer of brown paper from the corrugation, throw on the floor and watch the antics.

Homemade Scratching Boards
Take half inch plywood 36 inches long by 12 inches wide and staple gun remnant upholstery fabric to it. Make sure you cover the front and back as cats will sometimes drag themselves around the board. Just staple gun the fabric in the back as though you were wrapping a present. Use plenty of staples and pull the material taut. Make sure the staples are firmly seated by gently tapping them with a hammer. Lean it up against a wall in a room with carpeted floors for grip. Place it at a 45° angle against the wall. You can also lay a shorter version on the floor and cover with carpet or upholstery. Re-cover the board as necessary. According to the wear and tear it receives, it may last for months or a year or two before you need to reupholster it.

Scratching comes naturally to cats so instead of fighting it, work with it. Trim your cat’s nails regularly and provide plenty of appropriate items for your cat to scratch on. Positive reinforcement will quickly train your cat to scratch in acceptable places in your home. While training always be patient and consistent.

Information on this site is for general information purposes only and is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. This site is not intended to replace professional advice from your own veterinarian and nothing on this site is intended as a medical diagnosis or treatment. Any questions about your animal’s health or diet should be directed to your veterinarian.

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