Why you should not declaw your cat

A few decades ago, I adopted a 3-year-old declawed cat whom I named Oaf from the shelter and a street kitten, Woodbine, who had all his digital tools. Not knowing any better, I decided to get the kitten declawed, too.

Woodbine came out of surgery bearing me no apparent ill will, but he walked on his legs like a kangaroo for days and peeped in pain when his paws touched the ground. He lived for 17 otherwise happy years, but I wish that I’d investigated the procedure beforehand. Who knew, right?

“This really was not a big issue back in previous years like it is now,” someone who also had declawed her cats told me. “I was just not aware when I was younger.” Since then, she’s learned what the procedure involves—amputating the last bone of each toe and leaving the animal with no defense and in some cases behavioral and medical issues. A Humane Society of the United States article, “Declawing cats: Worse than a manicure,” describes the procedure and states that it’s of “no medical benefit to the cat.”

hand, palm down facing a brown cat leg with a tan tip, and a line running through both to illustrate the painful declawing process.

“When we have people approach us at adoption events [about declawing], I tell them to hold out their hand, palm outward, fingers outstretched,” said Brandy Gaunt, founder of Jellicle Cats Rescue Foundation. “‘See your nails? And that first joint just below?’ I say, ‘Imagine if someone cut off your fingertips at that joint. That’s what they do when they declaw a cat.’ That visual is very shocking to some. Not all, but a few, have been so horrified that they cross it off their list of ‘things to do to my new cat.’”

Several years and shredded scratching posts later, a lot of cat people decry the procedure unless there’s a medical need: a tumor, a recurring infection or any reason affecting the cat’s health. Declawing for cosmetic reasons is illegal in several cities across the country, including in California, as well as in many countries around the world. New York, followed by Maryland, have legalized statewide bans on the procedure.

State legislators are once again vying to make California the third state to forbid declawing. California Assembly Bill 2606, sponsored and co-written by cat-advocacy organization The Paw Project, aims to serve this purpose.

California considers banning declawing of cats in most cases

A few years ago, the bill’s co-author, Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, Ventura County, introduced similar legislation that didn’t make it to the governor’s desk. There have been a few other failed attempts as well. AB 2606 passed the Assembly on May 26 and is headed to the Senate, but there’s no guarantee that will be any more successful than its predecessors.

Even if the bill doesn’t make it through, its creation is an opportunity to discuss declawing and offer suggestions for redirecting your cat’s attention from the sofa. First, it’s painful to the cat and can have lasting effects such as paw pain, tissue death, lameness, back pain, nerve damage and bone spurs.

Humans have no other benefit except to their furniture—as Gaunt put it, “Rest in peace, many of my couches.” Kellye Pinkleton, HSUS director of public policy for companion animals, argues against the perceived health risk of cat scratches.

“People who are worried about being scratched, especially those with immunodeficiencies or bleeding disorders, may be told incorrectly that their health will be protected by declawing their cats,” she said. “However, infectious disease specialists don’t recommend declawing. The risk from scratches for these people is less than those from bites, cat litter or fleas carried by their cats.”

“There are safe, humane, effective and economical alternatives to declawing for those who need to be more conscientious about receiving a cat scratch or those who worry about their furniture being ruined by scratching cats,” LBACS director Staycee Dains said. “Animals should not continue to suffer for the convenience of people.”

Cats without claws are without defense if they should escape the house—and don’t think a determined feline won’t succeed at that.

“Back before I knew any better, I had indoor-outdoor cats—even now that they’re indoor only, I wouldn’t do it [declaw cats],” said animal advocate Aostara Kaye, who said she was against declawing even before she realized how bad it was. “The cats need their claws if they get out—it’s their defense.”

One voiced concern about the bill’s passing is that shelters would fill with cats whose owners had wanted to declaw them. That’s debatable, too, according to conflicting studies and opinions. Janet McWhorter, a Long Beach Animal Care Services cat volunteer, said that no one who wanted to adopt has so far asked if any of the shelter cats are declawed Some rescuers feel, in fact, that the medical problems associated with declawing could lead to surrendering a declawed cat.

“On a Venn diagram, there’s probably a pretty big overlap between ‘people who declaw their cats’ and ‘people who dump or euthanize their cats because of the later-life behavioral and health issues caused by declawing,’” Gaunt said.

Individual cat roommates in the community at large said that they’d never declaw any cat.

“Speaking just for me, I would not get a cat declawed,” said Long Beach resident Pat Gallandt, “The one cat I have who is declawed came to me that way—I didn’t do it!”

“It’s inhumane and barbaric, causing them nerve damage and behavioral changes for life,” Andrew Lander agreed. “We are realistic though—having cats, things are bound to get a little damaged. We learn what they chew on—one of our cats will chew plastic—and make sure it’s not within reach. I don’t use water bottles to deter behavior—I try to change the attraction to whatever is causing them to misbehave.”

Which leads to solutions for those claws and the salvation of your upholstery. The Paw Project’s website has a plethora of suggestions, and there are a couple of entertaining, educational videos on cat man Jackson Galaxy’s website.

“Probably the best advice I could give is for people to remember that the cat doesn’t understand why you’re freaking out when it scratches your couch,” Gaunt said. “You have to think like a cat, stop anthropomorphizing them, and look at your cat to tell you what their specific needs are. Are they doing it for attention, is it territorial, are they doing it because they don’t have enough other surfaces to scratch on satisfyingly? And adjust your behaviors and expectations—and furnishings—accordingly.”

Local rescuers and residents—and I wish I had room to thank them all by name—provided more ideas.

  • Clawing is a normal behavior that cats use to shed their claws, so make sure that they have something to scratch. Provide several scratching post and pads around the house. We (that is, the housecats and I) love the cardboard ones, and so do resident Sunny Neu’s cats—she said that the bits of strewn cardboard beat out shredded furniture. Spray the posts with catnip spray, and provide a few that are sloped, upright and horizontal.
  • Clip their claws regularly. Long Beacher Sandra McGinty rewards her cats with goodies after the manicures.
  • Apply Sticky Paws double-sided tape to sides and arms of furniture (not on seat, for obvious reasons).
  • SSCAT makes a compressed-air canister triggered by a motion-sensor detector. It emits a loud puff of air that’ll harmlessly run Fluffy off.
  • Microfiber upholstery has been said to deter many a cat and save many an armchair. It comes in all kinds of patterns, too. No guarantee, but worth a try.
  • Despite Andrew McGinty’s contentious water-bottle statement, we’ve used them successfully.

Humane laws are necessary to protect animals. But as Aostara Kaye succinctly put it, “If people would take responsibility to educate themselves about what’s best for their animals and make compassionate choices, we wouldn’t need the law.”

Virtually pets

Brandy Gaunt views her world at an outre, eccentric angle, which is why she does cats so well. Her rescue, Jellicle Cats Rescue Foundation, holds adoptions at two local PetSmart locations: Long Beach Towne Center and Long Beach Exchange. You can fill out an adoption application for any of the kitties here. Meet-and-greets are done by appointment once your application has been approved.

orange cat lies on the hot-pink mouth of a huge green stuffed fish.

Maggie May is a former street cat from the mean streets of South LA. But she’s a big softy at heart and was not cut out for life on the streets, not that any domestic cat is. She was surrendered to Jellicle with her son, Tommy Pickles, and the two share a very close bond. It’s taken some TLC to get her to be the lovable weirdo that she is. She’s missing a few teeth, so her little tongue pokes out at you a lot of the time. She’s not comfortable being held, but she sort of enjoys it and will awkwardly make biscuits. But lap time and dinnertime? Different story. She’ll give you a quiet squawk if you take too long to feed her, but she’ll head-bonk you in appreciation for filling up her bowl. She’s an older girl, and she will need one more dental appointment before an adoption can be finalized. But this golden cat has got a lot to give in her golden years.

brown tabby curls up with gray cat with paws thrust forward

Frankie’s bio reads, “I am a deep thinker with a lot of existential dread, and the inclination to share it with you out loud. The only thing that keeps me centered is my best friend, Flip.” Frankie, a brown tabby, was rescued from a local shopping center where she was living with her big brother and protector, Flip. Frankie is a little shy still and frequently looks to Flip for safety. She can be very chatty and is playful and loves to have her belly rubbed. However, the look of worry never leaves her face. Don’t fret; she only looks worried! Flip is a giant gray mush of a kitty. He’s . . . a little odd but sweet. He’s called Flip because even as a street cat, he would flip over onto his back and wriggle around happily when someone stopped to feed him. He’s got a few bad habits from living on the streets: he hogs the bed, he leaves his toys all over, and he nibbles. But he has a very fine purr motor that rumbles very deep in his chest. Frankie and Flip are quite bonded, and even though they are an odd pair, they are a pair nevertheless and must be adopted together.

 

solemn-faced black cat with white chest star raises a paw and looks at the camera

Nicodemus always looks as if he’s plotting world domination. He has the face of Leonard Cohen and the disposition of George Clooney. He’s a young, energetic boy who is motivated by food and attention and is playful and inquisitive. Nicodemus hasn’t been dog tested yet, but he definitely needs a home where he has a kitty friend to play with. You can always adopt him with another Jellicle kitten!

 

Great Furballs of Fun

Seal Beach Animal Care Center Meatball Fundraiser: Saturday, June 11, Seal Beach Animal Care Center, 1700 Adolfo Lopez Drive, Seal Beach, donations accepted

It’s meatballs and not furballs that will help fund the miraculous but very expensive treatment of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) for two of SBACC’s wonderful felines, Ninja and Mr. Whiskers. These two have been cured of this formerly fatal disease, but it costs! The full lunch includes a beef or vegan sandwich, veggies, chips, water or soda, and dessert! The cost will be whatever you care to donate. Invite your family and friends!

 

Help needed, help offered

Friends of Long Beach Animals’ free microchip clinic: Through July 3, Bixby Animal Clinic, 3938 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, 562-426-4066, appointments preferred but not required

The Fourth of July—or rather, the unbridled fireworks season that should start (or continue) any day now—is the worst holiday for animals. Every year at this time, dogs and cats fill shelters in disturbing numbers after they’ve been startled by a crack or a boom and go running off. The best way to make sure that your pet gets a ride home is with a microchip. Friends of Long Beach Animals (FOLBA) is once again living up to its name by providing free microchipping for your dog or cat. Please take advantage of this opportunity if your pet is not currently microchipped—it may mean the difference of being reunited with your pet. Pass on this information to everyone you know so FOLBA can microchip as many pets as possible in Long Beach and the surrounding areas.

Adopt, adopt, adopt

Long Beach Animal Care Services’ Adoption Waggin’ will roll in, and the volunteers will show you all the wonderful animals aboard.

Long Beach Animal Care Services Adoption Waggin’ at Bixby Knolls First Fridays: June 3, 6–8 p.m., Bixby Animal Clinic, 3938 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, adoption fees apply

If it would only rain water the way it’s raining kittens. The shelter’s Adoption Waggin’ will be on hand this Friday with adorable kittens and cats to adopt.

Foster for awhile—or furever!

If you’ve always wanted a pet but aren’t sure if you’re ready for a lifetime (the animal’s) commitment, or if you’re past the pet-roommate days for any reason, fostering might be a great way to go, especially with one or more of the kittens popping up during kitten season. Every one of the organizations listed below is in desperate need of fosters who’ll social them and help save their little lives. Who knows—maybe one of those lives will change your mind about the not-ready-for-roommate thing!

These nonprofits also regularly feature cat, dog and rabbit adoptions. As of now, adoptions are mainly by appointment. Click on the links for each rescue in case of updates or changes. These organizations operate through donations and grants, and anything you can give would be welcome. Please suggest any Long Beach-area rescues to add to the list.

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Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Kate Karp is the Pets Columnist for the Long Beach Post covering the world of animal activism, pet adoptions and lots of cute cats. She’s called Long Beach home since 1994 and has written for the Post for about 10 years. Kate’s day job is as a copyeditor, which she discovered a love for during her 30-year tenure as a teacher. She describes the job as “like taking the rough edges off a beautiful sculpture.”
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