Jeff Feinman VMD, CVH — Weston, Connecticut — Call: 203.222.7979
Therapeutic exercise allows the creativity in our minds to come forward as we design rehabilitation programs based on the animals’ individual needs and requirements.
BEFORE HAVING YOUR PET DECLAWED, READ THIS ARTICLE TOO: Above all, don't declaw.
A cat's remarkable grace, agility, and sense of balance are in part due to its retractable claws, which allow it to establish footing for walking, running, springing, climbing or stretching. A cat's claws are also its best defense mechanism.
The outer part of a cat's claws regularly becomes frayed. When the cat scratches, it pulls off this outer part and exposes sharp, smooth claws. Scratching is also a way of fulfilling a cat's strong instinctive need to mark its territory. Not only do cats mark objects visibly by scratching them, but the scratching deposits secretions from glands in the feet that can be smelled by other cats. Scratching can also provide valuable stretching and foot exercise.
The standard declawing procedure calls for the removal of the claw and the first bone of the toe. The operation is usually performed on the front feet, and is actually an amputation comparable to the removal of human fingertips at the first knuckle. The cat experiences pain in the recovery and healing process.
Medical Risks: . An incorrectly positioned cut during declawing surgery can remove too much of the toe, taking with it part or all of the toe's pad. But if the whole claw is not removed, misshapen claws can grow back. In addition, if a bone fragment is left at the surgery site, it may become a source of infection. Both claw regrowth and infection necessitate additional surgery. Post surgical blood loss is another concern, but great care must be taken that bandages wrapped tightly to control bleeding do not cut off circulation.
Safety Risks: A declawed cat must never be allowed outdoors; its ability to defend itself or escape from danger has been seriously impaired.
Introduce a scratching post. Buy or make a scratching post that's tall enough so the cat can stretch completely when scratching, and stable enough so it won't wobble when being used. It should be covered with a heavy, rough fiber like the back side of carpeting. Make the post a fun place to be by placing toys on or around it, or by rubbing it with catnip, and put it in an accessible area. If you're trying to discourage the cat from scratching a particular piece of furniture, try placing the post in front of it, gradually moving the post aside as the cat begins to use it regularly.
Train with a dual approach: encourage the cat to claw the right things, discourage him from clawing the wrong things. Each time you bring the cat to the scratching post or he goes on his own, praise him, pet him, and spend a minute playing at the post. If the cat begins to scratch where he isn't supposed to, call him by name, firmly telling him "no", and move him to the scratching post. Put his front legs up on the post and make scratching motions with them. Or keep a spray bottle filled with plain water handy and squirt him on the back when he claws the furnishings. The favorite household scratching area can be made less attractive by attaching tape that is sticky on both sides or a piece of cotton scented with bath oil to the area.
Keep the cat's nails trimmed. Cutting the nails regularly may help keep a cat from scratching furnishings, or at least reduce the damage done by his scratching. Get your kitten used to having his feet handled and his nails clipped while he's young. With an older cat, it may help to begin by handling the cat's feet under pleasurable circumstances. Then introduce the clipping procedure by approaching the cat while he's relaxed - or even napping- and clip only one nail per session. Praise your cat while you clip the nail, and reward him with a treat.
If you're in doubt about what the proper nail length looks like, watch your veterinarian trim the nails. The only equipment necessary is a good pair of nail clippers. Never use scissors, since they can tear the nail.
Slide the blade onto the nail you will be trimming. Before cutting, look for the pink "quick" that runs down the center of the nail. The clipper blade should be about 1/8" forward of the quick, and the nail clipped with one smooth squeezing action of the clippers.
Be extremely careful not to cut into the quick. If this happens, the cat will experience pain, and bleeding is likely. The bleeding may stop without assistance, or you may need to hold a soft cloth on the nail or apply a little styptic powder. If you trim a small amount of nail every couple of weeks, the quick will tend to recede.
Copyright © and reproduced courtesy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Humane Education Society. For more information, contact Beth Shapiro, MSPCA/AHES Publications Department, 350 South Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02130; (617) 541-5107