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Here's to Your (Cat's) Health: Declawing

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Photo by law_keven | Flickr

Here's to Your Health is a deeper look into the health issues of the day. Recently, we've looked at the Power Plate and Beneveda. Today, we explore declawing...

Last night, Culver City became the most recent California city to enact a ban on cat declawing, joining L.A., Berkeley and San Francisco, to name a few. With all the hullabaloo surrounding the bans, and many people wondering why policy-makers are spending their time on this, the question on everyone's mind is: what's the big deal?

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Is your kitteh really better off with or without his nails? And is it worth the mindpower and consideration of elected officials who inarguably have bigger fish to fry?

Folks who oppose declawing, or onychectomy, will tell you that the primary reason for opposition is that the procedure is no simple trip the nail salon; it involves removing a portion of the cat's toes up to the first joint, potentially doing a fair amount of permanent damage.

"It is not just removing the claw of a cat, it is amputating the entire last joint of a cat's toe," said Jennifer Conrad, DVM, Veterinarian and Director of the Paw Project. "Declawing is one of the most painful routinely performed surgeries in all of veterinary medicine."

But those who believe in freedom of choice when it comes to declawing claim that modern technology allows the procedure to be relatively painless, and permits a speedy and full recovery. And while many groups are outspoken about their opposition to the practice, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) both remain in favor of keeping it legal. Both groups also say that the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. From the CVMA website:

Veterinarians must be allowed to make qualified medical decisions in consultation with their clients and upon a proper exam and understanding of the pet’s home environment...That may include removing a cat’s claws in a humane manner with proper pain management.
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A statement from the AMVA goes on to cite research demonstrating that cats who scratch excessively (or owners who can't train them not to) are more likely to be abandoned or euthanized. It's only in those circumstances, they say, and after every other attempt to teach the cat how to wield it's claws with care has failed, that declawing should be employed.

Many groups who are in favor of keeping the procedure legal also claim that it can be safer for the owner -- who then won't get the shit scratched out of them -- particularly if the owner has a compromised immune system. But according to Conrad, declawing actually makes cats a bit more dangerous.

"Declawed cats bite more," she said in an email, adding that they also "use the liter box less" since it can be uncomfortable for them to paw through the kitty litter.

Regardless of which side of the issue you fall on, now that it's been banned in L.A., you, much like teens from Mississippi seeking an abortion, will have to cross borders if you want access to the procedure. To save you the trouble, here are some tips to help train your cat not to claw:

  • Scratching posts: Cats scratch. It's what they do. A scratching post gives them a fine and dandy place to do it. Save the cat, save the sofa.
  • Training: Spray the little guy in the mug with water when he's scratching in the wrong spot. You can also put a bunch of pennies or small rocks in a jar and shake it like a polaroid picture when your cat gets close to the object of his desire. Either way, he'll dislike what's happening and eventually associate it with the object.
  • Regular manis: Cats nails should be trimmed every one or two weeks.
  • Nail caps: They go over the nails and stay in place with glue. Try Soft Paws.

As far as lawmakers go, with a budget to balance, a broken school system, and skyrocketing rates of unemployment, perhaps they could have simply released a well thought-out declawing pros and cons list and called it a day.