The de-clawing debate

Even the most devoted cat lover will admit to being frustrated and annoyed when the family feline damages a favorite item because of intense scratching. De-clawing may seem like the best solution, but before making this irreversible decision, it’s important to understand the important role claws play in the life of the cat.

What is the purpose of claws?

Claws are multi-purpose tools. As you would expect, cat’s claws are used for self-defense, for hunting, and climbing –all instinctive behaviours. A cat without claws is both vulnerable to attack and unable to provide itself with food. Claws are important for personal grooming, as well, enabling the cat to smooth and clean its fur.

This isn’t just vanity! It’s actually important for cleanliness, health, and for waterproofing the cat’s body. Additionally, grooming enables the cat to control its body temperature and scent signals. The licking and scratching that a cat does while grooming itself, combs out tangles in the fur, and removes skin irritations and dead skin and hair. Claws play an essential role in this daily ritual.

What does de-clawing entail?

De-clawing is the surgical removal of the claw and the area that it retracts into and is usually only performed on the front claws. The reason for this surgery is almost exclusively motivated by a desire to prevent the cat from scratching and damaging household items. The surgery is painful and is even banned in some countries. While cats can learn to climb with their rear claws, their climbing ability is reduced. Some cats exhibit aggressive behaviour such as biting and growling after being de-clawed. Not only do they no longer have their natural means of defense, but they can no longer scratch to mark their territory.

Are there alternatives?

Alternatives to de-clawing do exist. One of the simplest is to train your cat as a kitten to scratch only certain items, such as scratching posts. Even adult cats can be redirected to clawing and scratching approved items through the use of rewards. By trimming your cat’s claws, you will limit any damage caused by inappropriate scratching. The benefit will be a cat that can happily pursue all its instinctive behaviours while you maintain peace and order in your home.

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