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Pet Set

Should You Declaw?

Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page M07

Declawing wasn't always such a controversial subject -- many vets used to perform the surgery as a matter of course (it wasn't unheard of for them to offer a discount-declaw while spaying your cat, for example). These days, it's a different story: Animal-protection advocates have called the procedure barbaric, and at least one California town has banned it entirely. But although declawing has drawn criticism, the American Veterinary Medical Association

(AVMA) has stopped short of disavowing the practice, calling it "a lifesaver" in cases where it prevents scratch-happy felines from being given up for adoption or euthanized. Considering declawing your cat? Take time to think about some of these pros, cons and alternatives.


"Do you think I need a manicure? I don't know. I kind of like the pointy look." (The Image Bank/getty Images)


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1 Scratching

is normal

Cats scratch for several reasons. First, it feels good. It also "files" their nails and helps make room for newer growth, says Marq Nelson, a cat adoption coordinator for the Washington Animal Rescue League. "They also have scent glands in their paws and they're marking their territory," he says. "Scratching is a part of cats' lives."

2 Declawing can

trigger behavioral problems

Although veterinary research has not turned up evidence that declawing alters a cat's personality, the simple mechanical changes the procedure brings can eventually result in behavioral changes, says Yody Blass, an animal behaviorist and director of Leesburg-based Companion Animal Behavior. Declawed cats may be more likely to bite, for example, since their first line of defense is gone. They can also, Blass says, have problems with kitty litter while they're recovering from surgery; some vets suggest using shredded newspaper instead, but that switch may cause a cat to avoid the litter box altogether.

3 Your cat may not even be a candidate

The procedure isn't right for outdoor cats -- they need those claws to protect themselves from backyard predators. If you choose to declaw an indoor cat, you should try to do so before his first birthday: Younger kitties heal faster and adapt better to their newly altered digits, says Marcus Brown, a vet at Capital Cat Clinic in Arlington. He also suggests keeping in mind that heavier cats (those weighing 10 pounds or more) and those with medical problems tend to heal more slowly than their svelte, healthier counterparts.

4 There are

alternatives

AVMA recommends that owners thinking about declawing try other options first. Blass suggests

trimming your cat's claws frequently and buying a scratching post to sub in for that treasured armchair (sprinkling catnip on it may help get him interested). Products available at pet stores also may help, she says: Try Sticky Paws, a double-sided tape you can stick to any surface to discourage scratching, and Soft Paws, temporary glue-on nail caps that render claws harmless by encasing them in plastic.

5 But in certain cases,

it may be the

only solution

Even vets who prefer to avoid declawing say it's the only option for some owners, such as those with immune system problems. Lee Morgan, a vet at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital, says he declawed a cat for an elderly woman after she wound up in the hospital with infections from minor scratches. Then there's the otherwise tolerant owner who ends up turning his cat over to a shelter (or even euthanizing him) because he can't take the scratching. As Morgan says, he "would rather see a cat with no claws and a good, safe home than a cat with its claws ending up at a shelter because it was causing problems for the owner." Emily Heil


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