February 4, 2014
by Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie
As many pet owners know, cats like to scratch - and this natural behavior can result in shredded furniture and other troubles. For many years, cats were routinely declawed to prevent such problems, but the tide is turning on this surgical procedure as a growing number of people begin to question it.
In fact, some debate is rising over whether declawing should be deemed illegal in Colorado. Although no other state has completely outlawed declawing, more than 20 other countries have banned the practice.
The American Veterinary Medical Association advises that declawing of domestic cats – called onychectomy – should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively, or when its clawing presents a health risk for owners. Read the AVMA statement here.
Why the concern over onychectomy? It is the surgical amputation of all or part of the end bones of the cat’s toes. Declawing removes not only claw, but bone. It is not a procedure we, as veterinarians at Colorado State University, choose to perform without careful thought.
Up to three-fourths of cats entering animal shelters in the United States are euthanized for a variety of reasons. Cats are relinquished most commonly because their owners are moving or because of unwanted behavior – including missing the litter box, called inappropriate elimination; aggression between animals in the house; and destructive behavior, usually clawing in the wrong spot.
First, it’s helpful to know that scratching is a natural behavior. It conditions the claws by removing aged cuticle; serves as a visual and scent territorial marker; provides defense from attack; and stretches the muscles of the limbs, thorax, and back.
Here are some ways to redirect scratching and to prevent damage from the behavior:
Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie is a veterinarian and clinical coordinator for the Community Practice service at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Community Practice provides general care, wellness services, and treatment of minor injuries and illnesses for pets.