Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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August 27, 2012
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Pet column: The declawing controversy continues

Declawing is outlawed in many countries but not in the United States. In recent years cities like West Hollywood have banned declawing as inhumane. Veterinarians have mixed feelings about the recent renewed attention to the controversial procedure. Some see it has a lucrative elective procedure for clients who simply want a guarantee their furniture will not be scratched. Other more compassionate veterinarians decry the fact that the general public is not aware of what "declawing" truly means for the cat. In her recent Veterinary Practice News article titled "Declaw: Whom Are We Protecting?" Dr. Narda Robinson poses the question "How does protecting furniture or one's bottom line compare with the veterinarian's oath to employ knowledge and skill for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering?'" She discusses how the semantics of "declawing" hide the truth about the procedure from the general public. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor of Behavioral Pharmacology and Director of the Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and internationally known specialist in domestic animal behavioral research, explains declawing in his book "The Cat Who Cried For Help" and states that "In short, a declawed cat is a maimed, mutilated cat, and no excuse can justify the operation."

Declawing is the amputation of a cat's claw and bone, equivalent to a human finger being being amputated at the first knuckle. It is not a simple removal of a nail. There are physical and psychological implications for the cat. Ironically, many declawed cats end up abandoned in shelters after the deliberate crippling, which demonstrates that declawing does not guarantee a cat a home as some argue. Thereafter, placement can be difficult because adoptive homes must protect cats who cannot protect themselves

Why do cats need claws anyway?

Protection from the family dog as well as other animals is obvious. In addition, like dogs, cats walks on their toes. The bones of their feet make up the lower part of the visible leg. Cats walk precisely, placing each hind paw directly in the print of the corresponding forepaw, allowing them to be silent and to reduce visible tracks. "Registering" provides sure footing for the hind paws when navigating rough terrain or stretching. Balance and posture is compromised with declawing. Some cats try to cope by walking in an awkward manner to make up for the missing part of the foot. Since their basic self protection is gone, some cats become biters to keep themselves safe. Other consequences of declawing are: being unable to climb trees to escape danger, unable to balance to prevent falls from fences and railings, and unable to perform natural movements such as extending claws while stretching or kneading, which keeps muscles toned. Declawed cats can develop chronic back pain.

Why do cats need to scratch?

The American Association of Feline Practitioners statement on declawing states:

"Scratching is a normal feline behavior. It is a means for cats to mark their territory both visually and with scent, and is used for claw conditioning ("husk" removal) and stretching activity. It is important for cat owners to understand that scratching is a normal behavior, and that it can be directed to areas that owners consider appropriate." Writing for the journal of the California Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Christianne Schelling explains "A cat's claws are used for balance, for exercising, and for stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders, and paws. They stretch these muscles by digging their claws into a surface and pulling back against their own clawhold - similar to isometric exercising for humans."

What do cats need from their guardians?

Kittens who perceive everything as prey can be offered interactive toys as they learn not to scratch people and given treats when they play nice. All cats need scratching posts or mounted scratching pads. Both horizontal and vertical surfaces should be offered because some cats have preferences. The most appealing material is wound sisal rope or corrugated cardboard pads. These can be rubbed with catnip. Scratching posts must be tall and sturdy so that the cat can stretch full length and pull down without toppling the post. Temporary claw covers are available from veterinarians. Trimming claws on a regular basis is a good alternative. A veterinarian can provide a lesson.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and S.P.C.A. to help "Keep Tahoe Kind". Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 27, 2012 06:38PM Published Aug 27, 2012 06:37PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.