The Truth About Declawing Cats

Declawing Cats

Too often people believe that declawing is a simple surgery that removes a cat’s nails; sadly, this is far from the truth. Declawing traditionally involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe and, if performed on a human being, would be comparable to cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.

Unlike human fingernails or toenails, a cat’s claws are closely adhered to bone. Declawing is a serious surgical procedure in which all ten frontal tendons and nerves must be amputated to remove the claws. It is a potentially crippling surgery that deprives a cat of the means of self-defense and sometimes movement. Declawed cats who escape outside are always at an increased risk of injury or death from other animals.

When I was a child we rescued Dusty, a cat that had already been declawed and he remained indoors and got along well with our other cats. Unfortunately, one day he slipped past my brother and me and escaped out the back door and into our neighbor’s yard where he was sniffing everything he could find, being as curious as cats will be. While trying to get him back into our home a stray dog ran into that same yard and attacked our Dusty. We did everything we could to scare away that dog. Sadly, Dusty had no means to defend himself and suffered a horrible death. Dusty would have had the opportunity to protect himself if he’d still had his claws. This was very traumatic and unfortunately, I remember it clearly to this day, thirty years later.

Another procedure introduced more recently deactivates cats’ claws by severing the tendons that extend the toes. Called a “tendonectomy,” the surgery retains the claws in the paws and has a shorter recovery time. But the method has its own set of problems. Since cats are unable to keep their claw length in check through vigorous scratching, owners must continually trim nails to prevent them from growing into the paw pads and causing infections. A 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found the incidence of bleeding, lameness, and infection was similar for both procedures. Furthermore, the American Veterinary Medical Association does not recommend tendonectomies as an alternative.

Declawing has a painful healing process for cats, and can lead to long-term health issues and numerous behavior problems. This is especially unfortunate because declawing is an owner-elected procedure.

Educated owners can easily train their cats to use their claws in a manner that allows animal and owner to happily coexist.

It is important to know why cats scratch and that it is normal behavior for them. They scratch to mark their territory (they have scent glands in their paws), to shed the dead outer layer of their claws, to stretch their bodies and flex their feet and to burn off energy.

Helpful and Effective Solutions

Purchasing a scratching post is an important step in training a cat to avoid destructive scratching. Cats like a post that is tall enough so they can stretch fully and also reach the windowsill so they can look outside. Encourage the cat to investigate the posts by scenting them with catnip or hanging toys at the tops of the posts. Take care to place posts in areas where the cat will be inclined to climb on them safely.

Learn how to clip the cat’s nails every couple weeks. Your veterinarian can easily teach you how to do this safely without cutting into the quick (blood vessel) or they can do it for you at a very nominal cost.
Consider using plastic caps (Soft PawsTM) for the cat’s nails. These caps attach to the nails with an adhesive so that if the cat scratches, no damage is done. The caps are temporary, lasting about 4 to 6 weeks.

Discourage inappropriate scratching by removing or covering desirable objects in your home. There are sheets of clear double-sided tape that can be applied to the corners of furniture to deter a cat from scratching. If, and only if, you catch your cat in the act of scratching an inappropriate object, you may try startling the cat by clapping your hands or shaking an aluminum can with a couple of pennies in it. Do this sparingly because the cat may associate you with this startling event and come to fear you.

What Not To Do

Do not hold your cat up to the scratching post and force her to drag her claws on it. This procedure may frighten the cat and teach her to avoid the scratching post completely. 

Do not throw away your cat’s favorite scratching post when it becomes unsightly. Cats prefer shredded and torn objects because they can really get their claws into the fabric—and best of all, the object is infiltrated with their scent.

Behavioral Problems related to Declawing

Many experts say that declawed cats have more litter box avoidance problems than clawed cats. It is not uncommon for declawed-cat owners to trade scratched furniture for urine-soaked carpeting.

Deprived of claws, a cat may turn to its only other line of defense—its teeth. Some experts believe that naturally aggressive cats that are declawed are likely to become biters.

If declawing seems to be your only answer you might want to consider a different type of pet.

Some of the informational content herein was quoted from The Humane Society of the United States and ASPCA.