Declawing ban doesn't mean more unwanted cats, says behavior expert

Jul 23, 2019

Credit freeimages.com/Sarah Benton

Animal rights advocates are applauding New York State's ban on the declawing of cats, but opponents of the new law are worried that it will lead to more homeless and euthanized cats.

Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester says scratching behavior is not a main reason people give when surrendering cats to their shelter. In fact, the opposite is more likely.

"We see our fair share of cats who are relinquished to the shelter for behavior issues, that are also declawed," said Rebecca Lohnes, The Humane Society's behavior and training manager and a certified cat behavior consultant.

She says cats whose claws have been surgically removed sometimes avoid their litter box -- one reason is becuase it may be painful to step on gritty litter. Declawed cats may also bite people, seeing it as their only remaining defense.

Now that it's illegal to declaw a cat in New York, Lohnes has some tips for avoiding scratched furniture or people.

First, she recommends getting scratching posts that are tall enough for a cat to stretch on.

"Where I then see things go wrong most often in people's homes is that they place a scratching post in a dark, unused corner of the house where no one ever goes," said Lohnes. "Cats want to scratch in places that are socially significant, like somewhere where they've just taken a nap and now they want to get up and stretch and scratch."

Double-sided tape can be used to discourage scratching on furniture, even a blanket draped over the corner of a sofa can be an effective deterrent.

Second, Lohnes says people should ask for a cat's permission before petting it. That means extending a hand in a closed fist. If the cat rubs the hand with its cheek or gives a head butt, it's okay to do it again.

"So basically, petting becomes more of a conversation and less something you are doing to the cat, you're imposing on the cat whether or not they like it," she explained.

Lastly, Lohnes says cats need vigorous, daily play sessions with their people. She recommends using a wand or fishing pole-type toy to mimic a cat's prey by making it leap out of boxes or from behind corners.

"Don't just wave it in front of the cat's face," she said.

Lollypop Farm offers free advice to pet owners through its "Pet Peeves" behavior help line (585) 295-2999.

Cat declawing is already illegal in much of Europe and Canada, as well as in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver.