Tracy of Fort Campbell KY writes (4/5/04):
I am writing in response to the letter against declawing. I will start by saying that I have two cats, whom I love very much, and who are both declawed. The first of my girls, Mina, had two problems ... not only did she resist training to a scratching post (I live on a military base and cannot allow my cats outside) and regularly use people for scratching, but she seemed to have problems retracting her claws, and would often get them caught in things (trimming did not seem to help).
Knowing the procedure for declawing, I made sure that the vet used the laser procedure, and that Mina was given a long-lasting painkiller before she was released. She went outside her litter box once - because I didn't get to it fast enough when I was still using alfalfa pellets after her surgery (she flatly refused to use newspaper, and wouldn't go at all until I switched), and rather than going in the slightly dirty pellets (you have to scoop right after they go with those things, or face much nastiness), she went on a blanket on my bedroom floor. I can't blame her, those pellets were pretty gross.
About a year later, we adopted Lucy, the cuddliest cat you have ever met. She was declawed about 4 months later. Though she liked the scratching post, she seemed to take it as permission to scratch everything else - the problem actually increased when I introduced it and never decreased afterward, no matter what I tried. And as a former street cat, she got really rough with Mina, who had never been outdoors in her life and was less aggressive.
Again, I made sure to opt for the laser procedure and painkillers. Lucy has never gone outside of the litter box. Both cats were walking and acting normally, though a bit more tired, the day I brought them home. They were a bit more careful jumping for the next couple of days, but played and moved around normally. They did have problems with their stitches tightening - the vet said that sometimes they chew and pull on them, causing them to tighten to the point of discomfort. That was easily remedied by removing the stitches. (You can also get a plastic collar for them to wear until they heal, but that seemed like it would be too uncomfortable for them.)
The laser surgery cauterizes immediately, so there was no bleeding, and the paws healed very quickly. Only Lucy has a chewing problem. She likes plants. But she did that since the day I got her, so it's nothing new. (Speaking of which, growers should really add toxicity to the labels when selling plants. I'm tired of looking them up.) Neither cat has changed behaviorally since, other than calming down a bit with age.
I also have a daughter who just turned 4 years old, and both cats are excellent with her. Neither has ever bitten her. Before, they had a problem with the occasional stray claw, but even that did not cause me to worry too much, as it was always very slight and accidental.
According to the publisher of the web site "Good Cats Wear Black", cats need to scratch to work the muscles in their backs, shoulders, and stomachs. This is only semi-true. A cat scratches to rid itself of the sheath on each claw, which it constantly sheds, causing it to itch. If you watch a cat scratch, it will often both scratch and stretch. This is what helps work the cat's muscles. My girls still stretch against the furniture, and so does every declawed cat I have ever met. Both of my cats have retained normal muscle tone, even after spaying.
Most people also worry that a cat can no longer climb or defend itself after declawing. Though I don't agree with declawing an outdoor cat myself, since they do have a distinct disadvantage when facing another cat, this is not entirely true either. I have seen a declawed cat climb a rather large tree, using mainly its back claws. When I lived elsewhere, my neighbor had a declawed cat who lived to be 18. He was allowed outside, and never urinated anywhere but in his litter box or outdoors. As for fighting, well, our black lab got loose once. He would not go near that cat for the world. There was never a dog or cat who was tempted to enter his territory. And, if you watch a cat fight, they use their back claws as well as the front. The front paws (claws are helpful, but not necessary for this) are used to hold the opponent, then they rake the back claws along the stomach.
I have seen Lucy send my sister's large, aggressive, clawed male cat running. As for the specific information reported on the aforementioned website: You cannot cite your own book to prove your point. You have made your point, there is no sense in re-referencing. The Veterinary Journal information is good, but how many vets actually follow up with their cats years after surgery? How many owners are likely to report if they have no problems? With as many declawed cats as there are in this country, that seems rather a small control group.
As for your data, well, someone is hardly likely to call in unless they have a problem, are they? No one is likely to call to say, "I just wanted to let you know that my cat is behaving perfectly." I also see a mention that 90% of your calls related to urination problems are declawed, SICK, OR OLD. You say that most of your behavioral calls relate to declawed cats, but later in a chart on the page I note that the numbers say that more of your overall calls are for clawed cats. I also note that you say that taking the cat outside once a day usually solves the litter problem. As it is actually harder to dig in the ground than litter, and I know that no cat only urinates once a day, this leads me to believe that the cat goes back to using the litter box. This seems to indicate some discontentment with the cat, not a problem with pain in the paws.
As for the fact that your data indicates that declawed cats have litter problems earlier than clawed cats, well, some cats do earlier than others. You have an awfully small group to base this data on, and no control group whatsoever. You mention complications with surgery, which is the case with any procedure, and why you should consider before you have one done. And that you shouldn't just put a cat through surgery just for convenience. (I agree, but most people who declaw have a reason.) Does this mean you're against spaying/neutering, too?
I really hope this letter is published (unlike my last one on this subject), because you do not inform people of both sides of the issue. My last, and probably biggest problem, is that you tell people not to adopt a declawed, young, healty cat from an animal shelter. How can you deny the cat a home? There is a very good chance that that cat is there for a reason other than behavioral problems. If the cat is friendly and healthy, there is no reason it won't make a good pet. From your site, it seems as though you want all declawed cats to be euthanized. This is unfair to some wonderful, loving animals. I know that declawing isn't for everyone, and as with adopting a pet in the first place, you should make an informed decision. I will say to everyone who owns a pet - dog or cat, clawed or otherwise - you are responsible. Once you adopt that animal, you need to take care of it.
As I believe the web site mentioned, a lot of people will get rid of a pet if it becomes too much work. A pet is a member of the family, and you need to treat it as such. If you can't, then you shouldn't have one in the first place.