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Cats with Claws

Every part of an animal’s body has a purpose, and when it comes to our feline friends, their claws are no exception. They use them as a way of experiencing the world around them; to hunt, to learn about their environment, and to protect themselves in times of stress or danger.

However, it has been a common practice in years gone by to remove a cat’s claws for a number of different reasons; mostly due to destruction of furniture and possible injury to humans. It was previously the norm for veterinarians to perform a surgery that removes, not only the claw but the last digit of the cat’s toes, to prevent them from scratching. Times are changing, and now, many provinces in Canada, including the Maritimes have banned this surgery (Partial digital amputation/onychectomy/declawing), and New Brunswick will likely soon be following. New legislation to prevent veterinarians from removing cat’s claws for any reason other than for the benefit of the animal themselves will hopefully come into effect in the coming months.

As we have seen over the years, cats that have their claws removed suffer a lot of residual pain following the procedure and often compensate for the loss of one defence mechanism by using another (ex. biting). With all of this in mind, it is up to us to give the public information regarding the alternatives we have to replace feline declawing.

Here are a list of the alternative methods of keeping your cat’s claws trimmed and preventing scratches from occurring:

  • When petting any cat, let the cat come to you and gently pet his/her head, never touch a cat’s stomach without warning, as their reflex is often to scratch.
  • Look for signs of stress in your cat: ears turned back, swishing tail, low head carriage, crouched body, and dilated pupils, hissing or growling. Consider that the cat may be in pain or scared, do not attempt to touch or pick up a cat in this state.
  • Provide cat scratching posts and cat trees around the home, in open areas of the house. Taller trees with multiple levels are best as cats like to be up high. Catnip can be applied to encourage use.
  • Trim the cat’s claws every 1-2 months, yourself at home or at your local vet clinic. Use cat specific nail clippers.
  • Give your cat access to plenty of rough surfaces.
  • Never leaves kids and cats alone together, as children may not always keep the respectful distance required by cats.

Cats make wonderful companions, and if we learn to respect their natural boundaries and replicate their normal behaviours, we can coexist very happily with them and their claws.

Written By: Dr. Aoife Hand, Mayfield Veterinary Clinic

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