By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 10 April 2011)
Declawing a cat is not the same as trimming its nails. Because the claw is tightly attached to the bone, some bone in the cat’s paw actually has to be removed. Basically, removing a claw requires an operation similar to amputating the third phalange of a human finger.
A declawed cat, which has suffered ten amputations, will not be able to lie still or sit in a wheelchair while recuperating. It must walk around on its severely injured and painful feet in order to eat, groom and use the litterbox. Although cats tend to be stoic about pain and suffer in silence, they certainly suffer. Pain experienced when trying to dig in kitty litter may cause the cat to go on the floor or the furniture instead.
If a declawed cat ever manages to get outside, it is vulnerable to attack. It cannot defend itself or even climb a tree easily to escape. Thus, the declawed cat is permanently vulnerable and endangered.
Medical Complications and Health Risks Associated with Declawing
Veterinarian Jean Hofve lists the following complications that may occur after declawing surgery:
- Altered gait (eventually leading to arthritis)
- Claw regrowth
- Cystitis (from stress)
- Long-term pain
- Permanent tissue or nerve damage
- Prolongued lameness
Behavioural Problems That May Be Caused by Declawing
Studies indicate that the risk of behaviour problems increases after declawing. Defenseless without its claws, a cat may become distressed, insecure and more inclined to bite. Declawed cats are also more likely to urinate and defecate outside the litter box than intact cats. Although many veterinarians believe that declawing cats prevents them from losing their homes, declawed cats are actually more likely to be surrendered to shelters than intact cats due to behavioural problems.
Declawing Is an Inhumane Practice
Many countries have recognized the practice of declawing as inhumane, including England, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Yugoslavia and Japan, where declawing is illegal or is performed only in extreme situations. Organizations that oppose declawing include:
- The European Council’s Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals
- The UK’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
- The World Small Animal Veterinary Association
- The Cat Fanciers’ Association
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- The Humane Society of the United States
- In Defense of Animals
- Friends of Animals
- The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights states:
“Declawing generally is unacceptable because the suffering and disfigurement it causes is not offset by any benefits to the cat…. Some veterinarians have argued that some people would have their cats killed if declawing was not an option. We should not, however, allow ourselves to be taken ’emotional hostage’ like this. If a person really would kill her or his cat in this case, it is reasonable to question the suitability of that person as a feline guardian, especially when there are millions of non-declawed cats living in harmony with people.”
There Are Humane Alternatives to Declawing
There are a number of ways to keep the furniture intact without mutilating the cat. Scratching is natural behavior for cats, so the first line of defense is to provide a scratch post, preferably an upright post that emulates the basic shape of a tree (if you’d like to build one yourself, you can find instructions and free plans here).
You can also trim the tips of the claws with specialized claw trimmers or human nail clippers to blunt them without hurting the cat (here is an instructional video, which includes tips on dealing with cats that won’t stay still).
To clip the nails, gently squeeze the end of the paw to expose the claw. Make sure that you don’t accidentally knick the pink portion and its white outline that you can see at the base of the claw, as this will cause pain and bleeding. Only trim the clear part of the claw to take off the sharp tip.
Pairing sofa scratching with a harmless but unpleasant stimulus, such as squirting the cat with water from a small squirt gun or spray bottle or blowing a whistle when it scratches the furniture also helps in some cases. Others have had luck with cat repellant products such as Sticky Paws tape or the SSSCAT motion-sensor device, which emits a startling but harmless burst of air when the cat comes near (available for around $22 on Amazon). In addition, many owners successfully break bad habits by spraying the targeted surfaces with pheremone products such as Feliway. Overall, the simplest solution is to throw a thick blanket over the sofa or other targeted surface when not in use.
There is also a solution called Soft Paws, which consists of light vinyl nail caps that are glued to the cat’s front claws. Each batch lasts for at least a month and they can be purchased in clear or in fun colors. These caps don’t hurt the cat, and they protect furniture and keep the cat from scratching children, if this is also a concern.
If you do choose nail trimming or Soft Paws, your cat should not be allowed outdoors unsupervised, as it will be less able to climb to safety or fight back if threatened by another animal.
To read about studies that have found increased risk of behavioural problems in declawed cats, see veterinarian Jean Hofve’s Paw Project page.
Recent polls show that an overwhelming majority of people are against declawing.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Bruce, A., & Dodman, N.H. (n.d.). “FAQs About Litter Box Problems and Declawing.” GoodCatsWearBlack.com.
- Dodman, N. (1999). The Cat Who Cried for Help. New York: Bantam. Quoted on Maxshouse.com.
- Fox, M.W. (n.d.). “Say No! To Declawing Cats.” TwoBitDog.com/DrFox/.
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- Hofve, J. (2010). “Declawing and Science – Should Declawing be Banned?” LittleBigCat.com.
- Hofve, J. (2001). “FAQs on Declawing and Feline Scratching Behavior.” PawProject.com.
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- Yeon, S.C., et al. (2001). “Attitudes of Owners Regarding Tendonectomy and Onychectomy in Cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 218: 43-47.