Deciding whether to declaw your cat may be one of the most important choices you make as a cat owner. And, for many feline lovers, it’s a thorny issue.
What Is Declawing
Declawing is a painful surgical procedure done for the convenience of the cat owner. It’s similar to amputation and it can have serious consequences for the cat because, without its claws, a cat may have trouble balancing. This, in turn, may bring many behavioral changes. Declawing is known as onychectomy and many medical experts oppose it. In short, it includes the removal of the bone, tendons, nerves, and ligaments in a cat’s paw.
The Truth About Declawing
"Declawing is an inhumane, unnecessary procedure that has many alternatives. It is never in the cat's best interest. With declawing, we are interfering with a species' nature because of our own whims, misconceptions, misinformation, and sometimes, laziness." Neil Wolff, D.V.M.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, the author of The Cat Who Cried for Help, and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, has the following to say about the procedure: "Declawing fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint and dismember all apply to this surgery in veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as a model of severe pain for the testing of analgesic drugs."
While declawing is a popular and lucrative practice in the United States, it is not practiced in European countries. It is, in fact, illegal in many, including England, Germany, and Switzerland. In recent years, some U.S. states have also taken measures to ban the cruel practice, and in 2019, New York became the first state to outlaw it.
The Declawing Operation
The standard declawing procedure calls for the removal of the claw, the cells at the base responsible for the growth, and part or all of the toe's terminal bone. It is performed to make your cat unable to scratch furniture, people or other animals. Usually, only the claws on the front feet are removed, but sometimes the digits are. It is actually an amputation comparable to removing the fingers of the human hand at the last knuckle. The cat experiences considerable pain during the recovery and healing process.
The declawing surgery is so painful that a nerve block is used in each paw that’s declawed. Then, the cat has to stay at the vet for a couple of days with bandaged paws. Pain medication is given to the kitty for at least a week after the surgery.
Once the cat is home, it has to use paper litter for a while because the regular litter may get into the wounds and cause an infection.
What You Need To Know
The cat's claw is not a toenail at the end of the toe as in other animals. It is a movable digit attached to a muscle, as a finger might be. Note the strong ligaments and tendons which give the power to extend and retract the claws. This is unique in cats. Without this, your cat would not properly grasp, hold, or establish footing for proper walking, running, climbing, or stretching. So, without its claws, a cat may have trouble moving and feel endangered, causing it to bite.
Think of the cat as having 10 toes on each foot. When the end digit, including the claw, is removed, the sensory and motor nerves are cut, damaged, and destroyed. They do not repair themselves or grow back for many months.
Following the surgery, there is a lack of feeling, then a tingling sensation during the long recovery while the cat must walk on the second digit's stub end. Remember that the cat does not have the option to "rest" its feet during this time as we would after a similar surgery, but it must continue to go to its litter box, walk and attempt to jump as usual regardless of the pain.
How Declawing is Done
There are several methods for performing the procedure, but the goal is the same: Complete removal of the third phalanx (last bone in the toe) and the nail that grows from it.
Declawing could be done with a scalpel, a guillotine-like clipper, or laser. Some veterinarians say that laser surgery lessens the pain and post-operative bleeding.
During laser surgery, a small, intense light beam is used to cut through tissue by heating and vaporizing it. Either way, your cat’s toes will be bandaged, and it may take a couple of weeks for your cat to walk normally. Some cats bounce back quickly, especially kittens.
Another technique, known as a tenectomy or tendonectomy, also exists. According to Pet MD, this technique may seem less invasive than traditional declawing, but it could lead to more problems in the long run.
During tendonectomy, instead of amputating the cat's claw, the surgeon removes a piece of the tendon that controls the cat's ability to flex and extend its claws. After surgery, the cat's claws are intact but remain permanently extended. Some of the cats who undergo this procedure can still use their claws to some extent but cannot scratch normally. Because the cats can't sharpen their claws, they quickly become rough, grow excessively, and must be trimmed regularly.
The Side Effects of Declawing
Remember that declawing disfigures the feline anatomy, so the surgery may change your cat’s balance and behavior. Declawing may leave the animal physically crippled or cause psychological and behavioral issues. Here are some possible side effects:
- Cats may change their personality. For example, a playful cat could become reclusive. Because the claws are important parts of the feline body, adjusting to life without them could make your cat withdrawn.
- A cat may start biting for the same reason. Some cats may become aggressive and anxious.
- Urinating around the house is another unwanted behavior that may result from declawing. One reason is that, without its claws, a cat doesn’t have the ability to mark its territory. Another reason is that using the litter box may cause pain and stress, resulting in inappropriate elimination.
- The declawing surgery may also cause numbness (neuropathy) in your cat’s paws. The animal may start limping.
- Chronic pain is, unfortunately, also a possible side effect. The American Veterinary Medical Association cites reluctance to move as one clinical sign of pain following declawing.
Alternatives to Declawing
1. Buy or make a scratching post
Cats enjoy scratching – to them, it’s natural, so train your cat to scratch on a post. Ensure the cat scratching post is strong enough not to wobble and tall enough to accommodate a cat at full stretch. Sisal and corrugated cardboard make good scratching surfaces. Avoid carpeting as it is easy to tear up. Also, the cat will have a hard time differentiating between "good" carpet to scratch (the post) and "bad" carpet to scratch (your living room rug), so you may create a new problem.
Praise your pet when it uses the cat scratcher. Make it a fun place by placing toys on or around it or rubbing it with catnip. Make sure to put it in an accessible area. If you’re trying to discourage the cat from scratching a particular piece of furniture, try placing a scratching post in front of it, gradually moving it aside as the cat begins to use it regularly.
2. Train your cat
Encourage the cat to use its claws on the right objects. Each time you bring the cat to the scratching post or your feline friend goes there on its own, praise, pet, and spend a minute playing at the post. If the cat begins to scratch where it isn’t supposed to, call it by name, firmly telling him or her "no," and move the pet to the scratching post. You can put its front legs up on the post and make scratching motions. Dangle a toy in front of the post so that when your pet goes for the toy, it will touch the post. Most likely, it will enjoy the feeling and continue using the post afterward. You can also “use” the post so that your scent will be on it and entice your cat to mark the territory itself.
3. Trim your cat’s claws
Although it may seem like a daunting task at first, trimming your cat's claws regularly is an important part of maintaining your feline companion's hygiene. Keeping your cat's claws clipped will also minimize scratches on your furniture. When clipping your cat's nails, it is a good idea to enlist two people - one holding your pet securely and the other to clip the nails. Never use regular scissors. Use only clippers made especially for cats and clip only the very tip of each claw. There are veins (sometimes visible as a pink area near the base of each claw) that you should note. To be safe, consult your vet when and how to trim your cat's claws or enlist the vet's office assistance. You can also review the nail-care section of the cat grooming tips prepared by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
4. Get nail covers
Nail covers are another option to reduce scratching damage on the furniture humanely. The plastic covers or caps, available under brand names such as "soft paws" and "soft claws", can be glued to a cat’s claws following a nail trim. The manufacturers recommend a complete replacement every month, but replacing individual lost nails is also possible.
5. Use double-sided tape
Use a double-sided tape that is safe for furniture (like Sticky Paws) to break the scratching habit. Using such tape will take away the gratifying experience of scratching and instead make it not so enjoyable.
Get the anti-scratch cat tape, cover off-limits spots with it and then direct your cat(s) to the scratching posts.
In conclusion, please remember that declawing is a surgical procedure that is much more complex than trimming or removing cats’ nails. Declawing is elective and done for the sole convenience of the animal’s owner, with no benefit to the feline.
If you really love your cat, don't declaw it. Destructive scratching problems are 100% correctable. Providing the cat with suitable scratching cat tree to satisfy its instinctive behavior is generally all that is required.
The infographic below represents some of the alternatives to cat declawing.