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My Pet World: Stick with Shelter Contract and Skip Declawing Your Cat

By Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services on

Celebrating the fact that June is American Humane Association Adopt a Cat Month, this column is devoted to your cat questions.

Q: I don't believe in declawing. My husband wants me to declaw a kitten we recently adopted from a shelter. For starters, the shelter contract specifies that we never declaw. My husband says, 'How will they know?" What do you think? -- S.K., Cyberspace

A: Legal issues aside, simply show this column to your husband. No doubt an open-minded and smart man, after reading it he will agree with you.

A declaw (called an onychectomy) is an irreversible surgical procedure. A cat's toe has three bones; the claw grows from the end of the last bone. In declawing, the veterinarian amputates the end section of that last bone, which contains the growth plate, along with the nail. Simply put, a declaw is an amputation.

Ask your husband to bend his finger at the last joint. This is where a declaw surgery is done.

We know that people who've lost limbs "feel" phantom pain for years, or even a lifetime. No one knows if the same is true for cats. Some studies do suggest declawed cats are more prone to behavioral problems (though other studies disagree).


As for your pet, while any cat can be "taught" how to scratch in all the right places, this is an especially easy (and fun) task with kittens. All you need are a few sturdy scratching posts and an interactive cat toy. Dangle the feather or fabric at the end of the toy at the tree, compelling your kitty to paw at it, depositing its scent on the tree in the process. Most kitties will soon go back there for a good scratch. You can also teach a cat to scratch on a post using a clicker. For more about all of this, check out a free document (which I co-authored), "Think Twice Before You Declaw," at Click the Kitty K tab on the left.

In my opinion, there's absolutely no reason to declaw this kitten. While shelter staff may never know you violated the terms of your contract, is that really the point? Consider why they included a "no declaw" clause in the first place; the procedure is simply not in the best interest of the kitten.


Q: My 16-year-old cat acts like he's drunk, unsure, unstable and slow. When he's done in the litter box, he falls over. He's on medicine for hyperthyroid (disease) and pancreatitis. Our veterinarian doesn't know what's wrong with Joseph, and neither does a veterinary neurologist. Could the problem be dementia? Or maybe he's dizzy. Joseph is affectionate and alert. We want the remainder of his life to be healthy and happy. Can you help? -- R.F., Clearwater, FL


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