What Is Declawing?
Declawing a cat (onychectomy), is a topic that is always controversial, emotion charged and with differing opinions.
The procedure is commonly called ‘Declawing,’ the name implying that declawing involves removing claws. It is actually far more than removing the claws, as the name may suggest. It is actually amputation of the claw and surrounding bone as described in the statement below from ASPCA. To compare in human terms, it is the equivalent of amputation at the first knuckle.
The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their owners or to prevent damage to household property. The only circumstances in which the procedure should be considered are those in which all behavioral and environmental alternatives have been fully explored, have proven to be ineffective, and the cat is at grave risk of euthanasia. Cats' claws are a vital part of their arsenal for both offense and defense. They use them to capture prey and to settle disputes with or escape from other animals or people who are hurting or threatening them. As part of their daily rituals, cats instinctively pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance. They do this to mark their territory, exercise muscles normally used in hunting, relieve stress and remove worn sheaths from their nails. Declawing of cats, or onychectomy, is the amputation of the last digital bone, including the nail bed and claw, on each front toe. If the surgery is performed correctly and the entire nail bed is removed, the claw cannot regrow. The surgery involves the risk of anesthesia, excessive bleeding and postoperative complications, including infection, and is accompanied by pain that may last from several days to much longer unless appropriate pain control is provided.
New York has become the first US state to ban declawing unless it is necessary for medical purposes. Read more about it here.
Where declawing would be acceptable is if the life of the cat was in danger and onychectomy, (declawing) would potentially save the animals life.
Why Are Cats Declawed?
Cats are most commonly declawed because of the potential damage to furniture, carpets or curtains that may occur when the cat uses its claws to scratch. Cats scratch using their claws extended which is how the damage occurs,
The practice of declawing is a medical procedure carried out by a veterinarian.
It is a highly contentious issue and is not common practice or even legal, unless necessary for the health of the cat, in most parts of the world.
This is a good article around this emotive issue which points out why cats should not be declawed and this article from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals outlines their position statement on declawing cats.
Many declawed cats end up in shelters because declawed cats frequently develop problems using a litter box. This is a sad situation however I applaud anyone who decides to adopt one of these abandoned cats.
Whatever we might personally think of the procedure, it is most important that we treat all of our kitties with the care and love they need.
Problems After Declawing
This is a list of issues that can arise after a cat is declawed. It doesn’t mean that all declawed cats will have these problems however this may highlight issues that you hadn’t considered previously.
- The cat may bite more often and become aggressive because they have lost their main line of defense.
- Often declawed cats will have bowed front legs and are not able to walk properly as their paws have been amputated. Declawed cats bear weight differently to cats that have not been declawed, as the digits help support body weight.
- Outside cats have no defense and are not able to protect themselves by climbing to a higher vantage point which is usually what cats under attack will do. Declawing lessens the cat’s ability to climb a tree. They cannot defend themselves in the same manner as a cat with claws.
- Some landlords insist that a cat be declawed before leasing a property. Fortunately people are becoming educated about the negative issues that surround a cat being declawed for non medical reasons.
- Declawing does pose unnecessary health risks Sedation always carries a risk of death. There is always post operative pain. This is distressing and we know how good cats are at covering their pain. There is more information here about how and why cats cover their pain.
- There is a risk of infections and complications after surgery. This can cause more pain and distress for the cat. If you have a rescue cat that has already been declawed this article discusses the best litter for declawed cats.
- A cat cannot scratch an itch with the front paws once it has been declawed. This is a most regrettable situation for the cat.
- Have you ever seen a cat use its claws to get stability when climbing a tree, walking along a fence or when they land? A declawed cat is not able to do this.
- Declawing may also affect the cat’s ability to grasp toys. In time all of these natural actions which have been denied will affect upper body musculature.
FAQ - Declawing A Cat
It is cruel to declaw a cat. The cat no longer has any natural defense mechanism. In addition it is an operation that is not without risk and should not be carried out purely for the convenience of it's owner. Declawing is sometimes a necessary procedure for medical reasons.
Declawing is painful for the cat. Cats hide their pain very well as part of survival in the animal world. Infections after the operation will cause further pain.
Declawing a cat can make the cat aggressive as the cat's means of defense has been removed. A cat's personality will often change and they will become "biters" as this is now the only way they can protect themselves.
Adult cats can be declawed however they often take longer to recover as opposed to the operation being carried out in younger animals. They may also become aggressive and not use the litter box because of pain or difficulty getting traction in the litter. Sadly these cats are often found at animal shelters as the owner can no longer cope with the behavior of the cat.
Front Leg Claws And Rear Leg Claws
It is the front claws that do the damage when a cat is clawing at furniture. The image below shows how the claws of a cat are about to inflict damage.
Why Cats Need Their Claws
Cats need their claws to walk, run and to balance.
Cats love to jump to high places and they use their claws for traction, support and stability. That’s what claws are designed to do.
Cats use their claws when running up and down trees and to escape when needed.
Cats scratch when stretching. Scratching marks a cat’s territory. Cats claws need sharpening and scratching also helps to remove the worn outer claws exposing the new sharper claws.
What About Declawing An Indoor Cat?
Declawing an indoor cat is not an acceptable practice for all the reasons listed above. If you already have a declawed cat, it is safer for the cat to be an indoor cat as its defense mechanism has been removed. If allowed outside the cat may not be able to escape a predator. Declawed cats must always be indoor cats.
Health Issues With Declawing Cats
Declawing cats can cause health problems, for example the wound can become infected which then needs further veterinarian care.
This can cause problems with balance, walking and running and leaves the cat unable to defend itself. Cats use their claws to help cover eliminations.
Declawed cats often have litter box avoidance issues which leads to peeing and pooping anywhere and that can lead to abandonment and is the reason many declawed cats end up in cat shelters.
Some veterinarians provide laser declawing in place of the more traditional surgical procedure.
Laser declawing is more expensive than traditional declawing and doesn’t make the procedure problem free. This is a link explaining some of the potential pitfalls of laser declawing.
The Best Litter For Declawed Cats
Make the life of your declawed cat easier by using an appropriate litter.
Newspaper Litter is the Best To Use After Declawing
Newspaper litter will greatly lessen the chance of infection after an operation