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More than a manicure

Written By: Jane Davidson RVN

There was some great news from the US last month - New York is going to become the first state to ban the de-clawing of cats - check the news here.

De-clawing is illegal in the UK - yet I have still had requests for the surgery. Working in London there are many US citizens here and it is not uncommon to get a request for a cat to be de-clawed. This is usually in response to a cat causing damage to furniture by clawing it and supports the news articles’ statement that de-clawing is a ‘convenience’ surgery for the owner with no benefit to the cat.


Why do cats ‘claw’?

Cats claws form in sheaths and as the claw grows these need to be removed. They can be helped by clipping the tip of the claw, but most often the cat prefers to groom them out themselves or claw a soft surface to help remove the outer sheath.

This can mean that a carpet or rug or sofa corner is the ideal place for a cat to stretch out and ‘claw’ at the sofa. It’s a perfectly natural activity for a cat and we also know that they leave their scent behind from the foot pads and this is comforting for them. 

Finally, cats can extend and retract their claws - and claws usually need to be fully flexed to be removed.


What is de-clawing?

De-clawing is a surgery that amputates the bone at the end of each cat toe thus removing the claw with it - there is more information here. The surgery leaves many cats in pain and it alters the way in which they move and can make them have more severe joint issues in the future.

Yet it is a cultural norm in some countries as a way to prevent cats damaging furniture. This behaviour can be very frustrating, but there is more you can do to help your cat display normal behaviours and not ruin your sofa.


What else can I do?

Scratching and stretching up and on furniture is a normal cat activity and one needed to keep claws trim and healthy. You can do several things to keep this activity happening and save your furniture.

Claw clipping can help and should be done around every 4-6 weeks. It’s great if you can do it at home but a nurse consult at your vets is a good way to get some help - even I can’t always clip my own cat's nails at home!


Providing an alternative 

Cat towers or scratching posts encourage your cat to climb on a surface that will remove claw sheaths. Ideally they should have good-sized platforms at different levels so your cat climbs up to get to the platforms and naturally removes old claw sheaths.

Often scratching posts aren’t used by cats as they are too small.  So, make sure you upgrade from your original kitten sized post to something for an adult cat. You may find adding treats around the upper platforms also helps encourage your cats to use it. 

I know that sometimes cats don’t want to use the ‘new’ item you just lovingly bought and that is often because it is unfamiliar and smells a bit weird. You can help by keeping the scratching post out of its packaging and keep it in a space away from your cat for a few days so it smells like it has been in your home for a while. There are also sprays to put on the scratching post so it smells more appealing to your cat so it’s worth getting those for the first few days.


Protecting your furniture

Furniture protectors are available and many people buy extra fabric that they can add to the chosen corner the cat likes. Having removable covers for sofas or armchairs can help as they are easy to remove and repair, or to add extra padding to.

Cats flex and stretch their claws and while normal everyday outdoor activity helps remove them, indoor cats may struggle to keep up with the claws on all four paws. Providing the opportunity for natural removal with scratching posts and high platforms indoors will help. Working with your cat to clips claws at home in a stress-free way will help you check and maintain their claws.


De-clawing needs to be outlawed in every country and we need to let cats live their lives in as natural a way as possible - and we can all help in that process.

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