Declawing cats is a controversial choice some cat owners end up making. But what is cat declawing? If you're the proud mama or papa to a kitty (or two or three), you may have noticed just how good they are at scratching up your furniture. All those scratch posts, mats, and pads and somehow, your furry felines still end up clawing across the couch, curtains, and rugs. For those reasons (and others), people sometimes choose to declaw their cats.
"Declawing a cat is amputating the last digits of their toe," Dr. Sara Ochoa, veterinary consultant for DogLab.com, tells Parade. "This is just like you cutting your finger off at your first knuckle and can be very painful."
If you're a cat owner, or if you're just curious about what declawing really is, here's everything you need to know about cat declawing—pros, cons, potential ramifications, and non-surgical alternatives.
What Is Cat Declawing?
Cat declawing is a surgical process—formally known as onychectomy—that veterinarians perform to permanently remove the last bone or "knuckle" of a cat's toes. To ensure a claw cannot grow, cat declawing surgery also requires removing the cat's entire nail bed, fully removing the claws, nail beds, and last bone of the cat's toes. This almost always results in cats having smaller feet with no claws.
"The older way of doing this procedure is by taking dog nail trimmers and trimming off the toes at this knuckle," Dr. Ochoa explains. "Now it is done with local blocks and surgical lasers, which make it way less painful and more humane."
There are several techniques to declaw a cat: guillotine nail clippers, scalpel blades, and CO2 lasers. In cats that have undergone CO2 laser declawing surgery, there tends to be significantly less bleeding and pain.
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Because it is a surgical process, declawing cats requires general anesthesia and the recovery time can take up to two full weeks. If a cat endures any complications during surgery or post-surgery, the recovery time might be longer.
"The cats I have seen declawed with a laser do not bleed much if any at all and are nowhere near as painful as they were 10 to 20 years ago," Dr. Ochoa adds. "For younger and smaller cats, I usually see them fully recover in two weeks. Many are back to 100 percent normal the next day. I do provide these cats with plenty of pain medication to help decrease any pain they may have from the procedure. Larger, older cats tend to be [in] more pain."
Post-surgery, declawed cats will understandably experience tender paws. However, this symptom may persist over time. After all, declawing a cat permanently changes the cat's anatomy, and just as a human may experience symptoms like tenderness, soreness, or pain after surgery, cats may deal with the pain of a declawing surgery for life. Other post-surgery complications may include aggression, disfigurement of the feet, and nerve damage.
While some cities and towns throughout the U.S. have passed legislation that bans owners from declawing cats, New York is currently the only state with statewide legislation that bans the declawing of cats. Similar attempts have been proposed (but not passed) in Colorado and New Jersey, while in Rhode Island, it is illegal for landlords to require pet owners to declaw their cats. Certain municipalities throughout California also have bans on declawing cats.
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When Is Cat Declawing Necessary?
Cat declawing is controversial because many animal-rights activists and veterinarians feel that declawing only exists to appease a human owner's desires. As in, the only point of making a cat endure an elective declawing surgery is so that a human doesn't have to deal with the scratching. There is no benefit—only harm, really—for the cat.
However, there are some instances when cat declawing is necessary. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), declawing may be necessary when "a cat's excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior causes an unacceptable risk of injury or remains destructive despite conscientious attention to behavioral modification and alternatives."
Dr. Ochoa gives one compelling example of when declawing a cat is necessary. "If an older person owns a cat and also has a medical issue where they need to take blood thinners, these cats can scratch their owner and cause them to have a lot of issues. These are instances when declawing the cat may be beneficial."
Another reason why an owner may choose to declaw is because of the cat's health. Should your cat be experiencing an infection in the bone or toe or be diagnosed with cancer in that area, a vet may opt to declaw.
The decision of declawing a cat is up to the owner (unless it is illegal where you live), but generally, declawing should be considered a last resort for dire, dangerous circumstances only.
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Cons to Cat Declawing
The main pro to cat declawing is that it impedes the cat's ability to scratch. For some humans, this may be considered desirable, especially if a cat is scratching furniture or aggressively scratching its owner. Another pro is that declawing cats may mean fewer cats end up in shelters. However, the cons of declawing far outweigh the benefits in most cases.
Declawing cats removes their natural ability to climb, jump, fight, and ultimately, protect themselves. Outdoor cats should never be declawed. If a cat is declawed, the general consensus is that the owner should then make the cat an indoor cat only. Should a declawed cat escape and have to fend for itself on the streets, it sadly, may not survive.
Are There Alternatives to Declawing?
Luckily, there are non-surgical alternatives to declawing cats that are much better options. Dr. Ochoa recommends the following alternatives:
- Use nail caps: These are plastic caps glued to your cat's nails. They do only tend to stay on for about 6 to 8 weeks max before you have to replace them.
- Get a scratching post
- Try Feliway Scratching Post Liquid: This is a liquid that you put on your scratching post to help entice your cat to want to scratch at these places.
- Try the water spray bottle method: Squirting your cat with water when they are scratching something that they shouldn't can help train them to stop scratching the furniture.
- Give rewards when your cat does what it should: Give your cat a treat when they scratch the scratching post.