Feline Practitioners Ban Declawing At Cat Friendly Vet Practices

Category: Declawing Cats, Veterinary News
Reading Time: 5 minutes

You’re not thinking about declawing your cat are you? If you are, you might have a hard time finding a vet. A growing number of veteriarians have stopped declawing. And now, The American Association of Feline Practitioners is onboard. It’s banning declawing at its certified Cat-Friendly practices. 


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Speed Read

The American Association of Feline Practitioners has banned declawing at its certified Cat Friendly practices.

Shredding your furniture is not the reason cat paws come with claws.

I can still see Samantha, a calico with attitude and one of my all-time favorite pet sitting cats, racing up a tree and perching on a branch so she could jump on her dog friend Jake’s back as he walked under her. Declawing didn’t seem to slow her down a bit. She climbed trees, made marks on the furniture by “scratching” it and sat on the back of a wingchair demanding that Jake do her bidding.

Declawed cats often develop a litter box aversion, and that seemed to be the only issue Sam had with losing her front claws. With three boxes to choose from, she still preferred the floor. But she was one of the lucky ones. Many declawed cats suffer from chronic pain. And declawing cats can affect their balance and cause other health and behavior problems. So it’s good news, although long overdue, that the American Association of Feline Practitioners has banned declawing at its certified Cat-Friendly practices. 

Declawing Is Not Cat Friendly!

I was surprised to learn that the Association of Feline Practitioners is just now banning declawing at its certified Cat-Friendly practices. After all, there are few things vets do that seem less cat-friendly than declawing.

In a radio interview with certified animal behaviorist and author Steve Dale, AAFP president Kelly St. Denis discusses the declaw procedure, which involves severing soft tissue and nerves and sometimes cutting bone to amputate the top digits of the cat’s toes.

But mostly, she focuses on the pain declawing causes. “As we all know, cats are great at hiding illness and pain,” she says. “What scares me most is that it’s hard to assess chronic pain in cats.” Since the early 2000s though, study after study has shown that many declawed cats live with chronic pain.

St. Denis attributes declawed cats refusing to use their litter boxes, becoming biters and other behavior issues to pain. She also says many declawed cats suffer from back pain because they’re forced to put weight on their back feet instead of walking on their toes.

She discusses phantom pain, too, and says cats may not show any signs of pain until as long as 10 years after declawing. So if you notice behavior changes in your older declawed cat, it would  be a good idea to ask your vet about pain meds. 

Paws Come With Claws For A Reason

Believe it or not, cat claws deserve our respect, if not our affection. They make it possible for cats to do many of the things they need to do just to be cats. Here are some reasons why all cat paws need claws.

Cats are digitigrades and walk on their toes. Their back, shoulder, paw and leg joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves are all designed to support and distribute weight across the toes as they walk, run and climb. Amputating the top digits of their toes forces them to walk on their back feet. And that abnormal posture can cause back pain.

♦ Cats need claws for balance. Since declawed cats’ feet meet the ground at an unnatural angle, their balance is always a bit off.

♦ Cats need their front claws for traction and stability. Think of them as the cleats on humans’ shoes.

♦ Another reason why cats need claws is to help them get a grip and balance in narrow spaces. When your cat is strolling across a narrow railing, it’s his claws that keep him from falling.

♦ Cats need claws to dig into a surface and really stretch the muscles in their backs. Of course, their claws also help them grip the fence or tree they want to climb. Declawed cats can climb trees, it’s just more difficult. They also enjoy wide scratching pads and tall, stable scratching posts.

♦ Cats also need claws to create visual signposts for themselves with their scratch marks. They mark their territory with the scent glands between their toes, too. This can be as important indoors as it is outside. Both keep them from getting lost and let other cats know they’ve been there.

♦ Much as we don’t like to think about it, cats need their front claws to firmly grip prey or a toy. Declawed cats can hunt, but it’s much more difficult. And it can be heartbreaking to watch a declawed cat try to hang on to the toy she wants to catch.

♦ Cats need claws to pull mats and burrs out of their fur and scratch annoying itches.

♦ And finally, cats need their front claws to defend themselves. But declawed cats aren’t completely defenseless. They can swat very hard and do some real damage with their front paws. And with their first line of defense, their front claws, gone, many declawed cats become biters

Alternatives To Declawing Cats

Cats and furniture can coexist without serious damage to either. It just might take some compromise on your part. Think about these alternatives to declawing.

♦ A tall, stable scratching post. A post that’s 33 inches tall and has a heavy base so it won’t wobble or tip is best. But when it comes to scratching posts, location matters. Put it at the entrance to a room that’s used often so your cat can show the world that bit of turf belongs to him. Or put it against the piece of furniture he’s scratching. My cats had a special fondness for the sofa and a big chair, so I put scratching posts against both. We also have one at the entrance to our living room. They use all three!

♦ Wide corrugated cardboard scratching pads. Make sure the pads are long enough for the cat to really stretch and wide enough for him to nap on when he’s finished scratching. Again, location is everything. Put the pads against furniture he’s scratching and the room where he naps most often so he can get a good stretch when he wakes up. Most cats would take an inclined scratching pad next to a piece of furniture over the arm of a chair or sofa any day.

♦ Plastic nail caps will protect your furniture while letting your cat keep and use his claws.

♦ Double stick tape or Sticky Paws will discourage him from scratching. He won’t like the sticky feeling on his feet.

♦ An electronic deterrent will keep him away from furniture he scratches.

That Cat Friendly Practice

It could take a good bit of convincing to persuade some cats that any vet is friendly. But clinics with the Association of Feline Practitioners’ Cat-Friendly certificate are doing their best to at least make visits less stressful for cats, their people and the clinic staff, even if they’re not pleasant.

Cat-Friendly practices must provide a separate waiting area for cats or let them stay in the car until the doctor is ready to see them They must also set aside an exam room that’s used only for cats and put a soft mat or fluffy towel on the table. But doctors are encouraged to examine the cat where he’s most comfortable, even if that’s in his carrier, under a chair or on the vet’s lap.

Other certification requirements include not rushing through visits and giving the cat a break when he needs one; gentle and respectful handling; stress-free boarding and hospitalization, including hiding places in cages and a dedicated operating room with cat-sized equipment.

And then there’s the ban on declawing. It’s in effect now for newly certified practices. Current member practices have to stop declawing within six months.

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