The story of a claw resurfacing in the top of a declawed catâ€™s paw sounds like a myth. When we adopted Laverne â€“ a previously declawed cat â€“ this summer, we had no idea she would show us just how real this painful experience can be.
As I write this entry, Vernie is in surgery. I accidentally discovered a problem when I was petting a paw gently with one finger and felt something odd, then saw the claw and realized this was a front foot and the top of the foot at that. She hissed at me for the first time and ran off. By the time I was able to get a really good look, she had pulled the claw out, leaving only an inflamed area barely visible between and above her front toes, under her fur.
Iâ€™d been concerned from the time we adopted her after noticing her paw pads did not look as even and balanced as the other declawed cats I had seen. She had probably pulled the claw off many times before; the vet and I both checked her paws on previous occasions and did not find any visible issues.
If my original cat, Kisses, had not arrived declawed 10 years ago, I probably would have declawed her based on the misconception I still hear often: â€œThatâ€™s just what you do with indoor cats.â€ Since then, I have learned not just about the surgery, which severs toes at the first joint, but also how unnecessary it is. Itâ€™s easy to give Kitty a chance at keeping her claws while you keep your furniture intact, and I have additional tips for anyone with an already-clawless kitty.
How to Keep Those Claws
First, ignore the short scratching posts available at many pet supply stores. Walk away! Cats need a full stretch, and the best way to protect your furniture is to give them a more attractive option for stretching and scratching. Some posts will tip over easily, which is not fun. You want, and they want, a tall, sturdy post.
If youâ€™d like to build a post, consult the Cats International Web site. Instructions are also offered by Pam Johnson-Bennett in her books “Cat vs. Cat” and “Think Like a Cat,” with the latter containing more detailed directions.
Feline behaviorists have recommended several scratching posts, and we own two of the three towers mentioned below. The prices are higher than most short posts, but these effective, durable products are worth the investment.
â€¢ Felix Katnip Tree, recommended by Anitra Frazier in “The New Natural Cat.” Felix produces a large, 28-inch, four-sided post wrapped in sisal (including the top of the post) plus other scratching products.
â€¢ TopCat, recommended by Johnson-Bennett in “Cat vs. Cat.” A full 32 inches tall, the TopCat has a small indentation on top for holding a toy.
â€¢ Ultimate Scratching Post by SmartCat, recommended by Kirsten Kranz of Cats International and Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue. A padded red perch can be added to the top of this post.
Another suggestion about scratching posts: stick with sisal or rope coverings. I have seen some contraptions with multiple posts of carpet and wood, but such a smorgasbord of scratching surfaces may be a bad idea unless you want to teach Kitty how fun it is to rip into your carpeted floor or wooden table legs.
Soft Paws can be applied by you, your veterinarian or groomer. According to a Cats International article, â€œMany apartment managers who previously required cats to be declawed are accepting Soft Paws vinyl nail caps or the evidence of a good scratching post.â€
Deterrents such as â€œSticky Paws,â€ a double-sided tape, can make furniture and other surfaces unpleasant to Kitty. More ideas are available from the resources mentioned above.
If you are planning to add a cat to your feline family, focus on compatible personalities, not whether one cat is declawed and another is not. Laverne is from a multi-room shelter which crated the cats only at night and for naps, and most of her roommates were clawed. Her Persian â€œsister,â€ Beatrice, will never be declawed, and the two get along well.
As she shimmies up her scratching post like a monkey, flexes beautiful intact paws and captures her toys in one swat, Beatrice displays abilities Laverne can no longer fully enjoy.
Help for an Already Declawed Cat
Clawed cats naturally exercise their front muscles through their scratch-and-stretch behaviors, and inviting a declawed cat to mimic these motions can be pleasant for the cat as well as beneficial. Consider a cardboard scratching ramp available from many pet supply stores and easily laced with catnip or a tall, inviting sisal post designed for a clawed cat.
Obviously, never let a declawed cat outdoors since it will be virtually defenseless, unable to claw an attacker or run up a tree.
Checking your catâ€™s paws is a good habit, whether the cat is clawed or declawed, and your vet can offer a more detailed inspection particularly if the cat is already anesthetized for teeth cleaning or another procedure.
Longhaired cats are good at hiding skin-level issues, and with their wild roots, felines are particularly gifted at hiding suffering. (Hiding pain is a defense mechanism designed to keep predators from spotting weakness and vulnerability). Laverne never limped, but perhaps some of her jumpiness may have been inspired by pain rather than a nervous temperament.
My vet said he has seen claw regrowth but never from the top of the foot like Laverneâ€™s. He believes she had a â€œnontraditional declaw,â€ perhaps using a single instrument like a clipper or cutter. I just spoke with his office and learned her surgery went well. Sheâ€™ll be home soon.
Photo of Vernie: Candace Schilling