When I was young, it was not uncommon to have your cat declawed at the time of spaying or neutering. Our vet recommended it and we thought nothing of it as it was just something that you did to prevent the furniture from looking like a Q-tip. Today, declawing cats is a hotly debated and emotionally charged issue as we know more about the physiology and psychological well-being of cats than we did 30 years ago. Scratching is a normal feline behavior. Cats need their claws for self-defense, stretching their bodies and even scent marking.
The veterinary community too has recognized that declawing should not be the first choice. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that the declawing of cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when clawing presents an above-normal health risk for its owner. In a position statement, The American Animal Hospital Association states that they are opposed to the declawing of domestic cats unless all other attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively.
As someone with a few cats, I can say that my furniture is intact and not clawed. I have a variety of textures available for my cats to scratch, none of which are upholstery. I have cardboard scratchers, wood, carpeted, wood and sisal posts. The posts are all high enough to allow the cat to fully stretch. In the past I have used Sticky Paws, a two-sided tape placed on an edge of a couch that the cats wanted to scratch. Using a squirt bottle with plain water also proves to be an effective deterrent to the kitty who feels compelled to claw the couch. After a few squirts, just picking up the bottle results in kitty skittering away. Lastly, nail caps can be an option prior to making the irreversible decision to declaw.
I have worked in animal shelters for 15 years and can say that the cats that are severely behaviorally and physiologically damaged are generally declawed. Data shows us that cats declawed after adoption are significantly more likely to be returned for behavior reasons than their clawed counterparts. Many cannot be housed in regular cat cages, as the confinement seems to be too much for them. Many are biters, likely because the choice was made to remove one of their primary defense mechanisms.
As I said, this is an issue about which there is a lot of debate and passion, but a veterinarian said one thing to me that was by far the most powerful in my decision never to declaw my cats: “We would never consider declawing our dogs.”
Denise Stevens is the director of operations for the Nevada Humane Society.