“That’s a beautiful cat! What’s her story? Why is she still here?”
Well, while her story isn’t long, it’s plenty sad. She was surrendered as a young adult in 2011, and though her looks have brought her plenty of interest from potential adopters, she is still here seven years later.
Snowflake is one of our sanctuary cats—one of the ones that will most likely live here for the rest of her life. While all our sanctuary cats are available for adoption, it’s unlikely that they will ever find a home; each has its own struggles and challenges that make it difficult to place them with an adopter. Snowflake unfortunately has five strikes against her:
1) She’s older;
2) She has urinary issues that require special food;
3) She doesn’t use her litter box;
4) She has arthritis;
5) She bites.
To some, it would be surprising that three of her five strikes stem from the one thing that many people assume would make her highly adoptable—Snowflake is declawed.
For many people, declawing a cat has always been a routine procedure, like vaccines or spay/neuter surgery. I have met many people who have never lived with a cat that has claws; their parents had declawed cats, so they have declawed cats. In many cases, pet parents just don’t ask the question of whether or not they should declaw their cats. For a long time, many vets actually recommended the procedure. So why is it now a contested issue?
For those that may not know, declawing a cat isn’t as simple as removing the nail. In order to make sure the nail doesn’t grow back, the first joint of each toe must be amputated. For many people, this is enough to make them reconsider—after all, amputating the tip of each of your fingers would change your life substantially, right? However, I also ask you to consider that most bones serve a purpose. In the case of the bones of the feet, part of the job of the bones is to support weight, and to spread the weight of the cat over a certain area. With the first joint removed, the weight distribution of the cat is changed, and the cat must learn to re-balance itself. This often means that the weight shifts to other bones and tendons that are not as equipped to handle this weight, leading to arthritis and back pain later on in life.
Also, as with any surgery, things don’t always go right. In a study in 2017 of 274 cats, 137 of which were declawed, 63% of the declawed cats had bone fragments present at the site of the procedure. Ouch! Bone fragments can move and shift around over time, causing pain that can show itself as overgrooming, litter box avoidance, and aggressive behavior. According to the results of this study, declawed cats are 7 times more likely to urinate and defecate outside their litter box, and are 4 times as likely to bite. Both of these behaviors are among the top five reasons that cats are surrendered to animal shelters—and these behaviors are what landed Snowflake here with us.
A look at Snowflake’s X-Rays provides a pretty clear picture of why she’s in pain. Snowflake’s declawing surgery was done badly, making it easy to see on the X-Ray where the problem is. For many declawed cats, their pain isn’t as obvious, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make itself known.
There are currently 10 declawed cats in our care at ACS. Of these 10, four do not use a litterbox, three display obvious arthritis, and eight will (and do) bite. Only one is considered highly adoptable. It’s entirely likely that the rest of them will spend their entire lives here, and while there are certainly worse places to be, no cat should have to live without a family because of a decision that was made for them.
Now, I recognize that not every declawed cat will have problems. If every cat had issues, we would have realized much sooner that declawing might not be a good idea. But the odds are not in their favor. Before you make the decision to roll the dice with your cat’s future, consider other alternatives to declawing. ACS can provide you with glue-on nail caps, or instruction on how to trim your cat’s nails and train it to use a scratching post instead of your furniture. Let us help—because Snowflake and her friends don’t need to keep adding to their number.
Cat behavioral advice is available for free by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 570-596-2200 option 5. To read more about the research article referenced above, visit https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170523124130.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Ftop_news%2Ftop_science+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Top+Science+News%29
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