Claws For Concern by Anita Kelsey

A  UK news article caught my attention recently that set me on a friendly worldwide debate amongst cat groomers regarding the use of claw covers such as Soft paws™. The article was regarding a domestic cat called Christina.

ABOVE PHOTO TAKEN FROM HTTPS://WWW.VETTIMES.CO.UK/NEWS/CLAW-COVERS-CAUSE-FOR-CONCERN-CHARITY/

Christina was taken to the vets after showing signs of distress and pain from red claw covers of an unknown brand. The aps were stuck firmly on the nails and it had not been determined in the report how long they had been there. The decision to remove them under anesthetic was taken by the vets at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home with the story covered in UK newspapers such as The Telegraph and The Vet Times.

The specific details of what happened did not appear in the reports but I can only assume that the nails were not fitted by a professional groomer or were left on for too long causing the extreme outcome that it did.

This ‘growing fad’ has actually been a staple service of cat groomers for a long period of time, more so in the USA than in the UK. The companies selling nail caps state that ‘If applied correctly and removed within the time frame stated the nail caps should cause no physical pain’ although there is never any mention of anxiety this may cause a cat whilst restricting it from its natural behaviours and of which it has no say.

Before I go any further I would like to point out where I stand on this subject.

I have always seen animals as sentient beings we share the planet with and feel that we have a great duty of responsibility to ensure any animal we take as a pet is not forced to change its natural behaviours to fit in with our lives, likes and dislikes. They are not commodities or fashion assecories, rightly said by Battersea’s head of catteries Lindsey Quinlan. But whilst discussing the cat claw covers, with my US grooming colleagues, a worrying trend started to rear its ugly head and highlighted the serious consequences of banning claw covers outright over there. Many US cat groomers feel that claw covers are better than the worst option some cat owners would consider – declawing their cats or, worst still, taking their cat back to a shelter which may well result in euthanasia.

Bonnie V Beaver in her book ‘Feline Behaviour. A Guide For Veterinarians’ reported in an US study that between 24.4% and 52.3% of cats are declawed with 86% of cat owners stating the reason was down to household damage. Of this percentage half of said cat owners would have chosen to get rid of their cat if declawing was not an option. This is where claw covers can save lives in the US. But what does it say for humans? Sadly, not much!

In the UK declawing was outlawed by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which explicitly prohibited “interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, otherwise than for the purposes of its medical treatment” Even before the 2006 Act, however, declawing was extremely uncommon, to the extent that most people had never seen a declawed cat. The procedure was considered cruel by almost all British vets who refused to perform it except on medical grounds. The Guide to Professional Conduct of the Royal College Of Veterinary Surgeons stated that declawing was “only acceptable where, in the opinion of the veterinary surgeon, injury to the animal is likely to occur during normal activity. It is not acceptable if carried out for the convenience of the owner, the removal of claws, particularly those which are weight bearing to preclude damage to furnishings is not acceptable”. It is of no surprise then that a US vet designed vinyl claw caps in 1990 probably as a solution to thwart declawing.

It is appalling that in the 21st century such a cruel practice of amputating an animals claws from its body still exists in a first world country. I am further appalled that people would consider declawing or dumping their cat back in a shelter rather than educate them-selves on why cats do the things they do so that environmental changes can be easily implemented.

I do understand that in some circumstances claw covers may help a dire situation and that every case should be looked at closely and, if needs be, claw covers considered as a last option. An example of this was when I was asked to give advice on a cat that was seriously self-harming. Its nails were long and the cat had an issue with scratching itself causing open wounds on the body. All avenues were investigated including medical causes plus behaviour causes as well as advising on trimming the nails. I then advised that if all else failed then claw covers, like the brand Soft Paws, would have to be professionally applied, as a temporary measure, to try and stop the wounds getting any worse. I very rarely suggest such measures but know that in the UK declawing or killing an otherwise healthy pet would not happen. I was lucky in that I had room to try different options out. However, cultures and attitudes differ across the world.

I checked the website of favourite US cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy to see what he felt about claw covers. I wasn’t surprised to see that he mentions them as an option at the end of a blog piece on how to stop a cat scratching furniture. I have no doubt that this is due to declawing still being legal in many areas of the US as well as animal shelters being overrun with unwanted pets. Thus, he knows claw covers could save the life of a cat and is far better than the amputation of the claws. How a cat owner would ever consider declawing their cat to save furniture is beyond me *

All claw cover brand websites, in their FAQ’s, state that their products are completely safe and humane and that they’re an excellent alternative to declawing. I have no doubt they are safe and, somewhat, humane (depending on how you define humane) for in-door cats but is this the right way of looking at it? It reminds me of when a cat client asked me to shave her domestic short hair cat under sedation because it left fur around the home. Yes, it’s a cat. They have fur don’t you know!! I could have given the popular ‘lion cut’, a cut that removes all of the hair from a cat leaving the paws, feet, tail and mane, but this would have felt so completely wrong to me. I can hear readers shouting at me – but they probably had asthma. No they didn’t! It is lazy cat parenting.

 

CLAW FACTS 

Now that we are on to education here are three important points about a cats claws courtesy of Ms Linda P Case, an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine.

  1. A cat’s feet are digigrade meaning that it walks on its toes. The front paw has five claws and the back paw 4.
  2. The claws are protractile meaning that the claws are sheathed in the resting positive (already out)… They do not retract. When a cat’s claws are fully retracted the tendons lock the two final phalange bones together, holding the joint in a rigid position, thus keeping the claws unsheathed.
  3. Cats use their claws for climbing, marking territory and defence.

SCRATCH FACTS

15% of cat behaviour complaints are down to cats scratching furniture according to Ms Beaver. Below are 8 pointers from Ms Case regarding cats and why they scratch…

  1. It’s a form of marking territory by depositing scent, from the interdigital glands, on the item being scratched.
  2. Scratching is a natural necessary behaviour in cats.
  3. Scratching rough surfaces such as our furniture presents removes the outer dead layer of claw exposing a fresh sharp new claw underneath.
  4. The scent marking is visual as well as olfactory.
  5. Scratching also conditions the front nails as well as exercising the muscles in the paw and around the claws.
  6. A cat usually stretches when scratching, especially on vertical surfaces, so the action of scratching goes alongside stretching the body also.
  7. The olfactory function of scratching in a multi cat household is believed to be a method of providing reassurance and security about the territory rather than a means of defending it.
  8. A cat also uses its claws when grooming and when alleviating an itch on its body.

Thus claw covers, although not usually harmful physically, will stop a cat doing natural everyday actions that are important to it.

GIVING A CAT ALTERNATIVES

Kalven cat scratchers

Lets now look at environmental options to guide a cat to the correct places to scratch. (What about cats scratching frail old ladies with thin skin I can hear you screaming at the screen. I will cover scratching humans later!)

I have seen many clients with the wrong sized scratch furniture for their cats or designer furniture their cat doesn’t like so it’s good to try and understand what your cat prefers form the start. For example, many cats prefer to stretch upwards for a good scratch so a small vertical kitten post for an adult cat is unsuitable. Other cats prefer to scratch on a horizontal surface but again ensure the right size is bought. Sprinkle the scratching furniture with catnip.

Other great scratching options are wall posts or sofa corners (See right). Posts don’t have to be expensive. There are many DIY articles, like this one on the Purina website. on how to make scratch posts economically

Surely cat owners should strive to understand a cat’s basic needs and behaviours over putting their furniture first. If an animal is not suited to a home or lifestyle then perhaps another pet that does should be considered?

* For further info on declawing and the campaign to ban it worldwide visit http://www.pawproject.org/

Finally

We come to elderly or medically vulnerable cat owners. A vet, cat groomer or a cat experienced friend can help keep a cat’s nails sufficiently trimmed should an elderly cat owner be worried about getting accidentally scratched by their pet. If a cat is aggressive then steps should be taken to understand the behaviour to keep the cat owner safe. Steps can include hiring a cat behaviourist or speaking with a vet to see if any issues have an underlying medical cause.

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About Anita Kelsey - Cat Behaviour Consultant

Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita is based in Notting Hill, London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza. Anita's debut book, Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer is published by John Blake Publishers and is out on 7th September 2017 (available for pre-orders on Amazon UK)
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