Should I Declaw My Cat? The short answer is: No.
Declawing of cats is a popular procedure performed in many American veterinary hospitals. Declawing a cat involves removing a cat’s claws so that he or she can no longer scratch people, other pets, or valuable household items (such as furniture). Although once extremely common and widely acceptable in the United States, this procedure is now banned in many countries and is becoming less favorable in the eyes of veterinarians, animal welfare groups, and the general public.
Many veterinarians have started to view the declawing procedure (or onychectomy) as an archaic and barbaric practice. Seven out of ten Canadian provinces and one US State have banned the procedure, and many more will likely soon follow suit.
Many veterinarians who perform declaw offer appropriate pain management and make sure that their clients are educated so that they can guide them to make the best decision possible. However, I believe that there are very few acceptable reasons to declaw a cat. If you are not sure if you should proceed with having the procedure done, keep reading.on
Here are 5 Major Reasons to let your cat keep his claws! More than just the claws are removed
The name “declaw” is deceptively simple. Simply removing the claws doesn’t seem too bad on the surface, but that changes if you know how the procedure is performed. The last digit of the cat’s toe is removed during the surgery, usually at the knuckle. This has to be done (instead of simply removing the claw) so that the claw will not grow back.
If a human were to be “declawed” the same way that a cat is, the procedure would involve cutting off the tips of every one of the fingers and toes at the last knuckle joint. Obviously, this is major orthopedic surgery. Ouch!
There Can be Significant Risks and Side Effects from the Procedure
Not only is the surgical procedure unnecessary and painful, but cats who undergo onychectomy have a high risk of postoperative problems. Immediately after the surgery, the cat will be in pain and unable to walk normally. There is a risk of infection and even in improper claw growth if any of the P3 bone was mistakenly left.
The most common postoperative side effect is hemorrhage, which can continue for days after the procedure. This is most common in older and heavier cats, but can happen in any cat. Cats are often bandaged and kept in the hospital for 1-2 additional days postoperatively to prevent this, but the bleeding can still start or recur once the cat is home.
Long term side effects that may occur from onychectomy include behavioral problems (aggression, house-soiling, etc), arthritis, abnormal stance and gait, and chronic pain.
Many Professional Veterinary and Animal Welfare Organizations Oppose Routine Declawing of Cats
Many reputable animal welfare and veterinary societies are decidedly against declawing. There are other groups, such as the AVMA (animal veterinary medical association), that oppose routine declawing but are willing to make allowances in certain situations when the veterinarian is involved in the decision making process and other attempts to discourage scratching behavior have failed.
New York state recently made the news in 2019 when they became the first state in the US to ban feline declawing. Seven out of ten Canadian provinces have banned declawing, and it can be assumed that many more US states may proceed to enact declaw bans of their own.
The AAFP, or American Association of Feline Practitioners, a veterinary organization dedicated to the advancement of feline medicine and establishing standards of care that support feline welfare, has opposed feline declawing since 2017. The AAFP states that “[it] is not a medically necessary procedure for the cat in most instances,” and encourages alternatives to declawing, such as behavioral modification, nail caps, and scratch training, instead of declawing.
Scratching is an Important Feline Behavior
Cats don’t scratch our furniture just to be jerks- they do it to mark their territory, communicate, exercise, and keep their claws healthy. The claw is a cat’s first line of defense against danger in the world. Danger that includes other cats, dogs, wildlife, and even humans. The need to keep their claws in top shape is instinctual, even to our pampered house cats.
The primary reason for scratching is to keep the muscles and tendons in the digits and claws strong and flexible. These structures are vital to climbing and hunting. Another reason cats scratch is to help the claw shed it’s husk, or overgrown cuticle. Lastly, cats mark their territory by scratching, which is why it is important to have scratching posts displayed conspicuously in prominent, high-traffic areas in your house.
This post contains affiliate links. CincyPet and/or Dr. Katie Hogan may earn a small commission if you click on a link and make a purchase.
There are Several Easy Alternatives to Declawing
There are a myriad of ways to prevent your cat from scratching you or your furniture. These methods include using temporary nail caps, such as soft paws. These caps cover the toenails so that your cat is unable to scratch you or the furniture. The cat can still exhibit normal paw flexing behavior while these are on.
Frequently trimming your cat’s claws (every 2-4 weeks) will also help prevent excessive scratching, as the cat won’t need to scratch excessively to keep the claw in good condition. You can learn how to trim your cat’s nails online here. I recommend nail trimmers made especially for cats and small pets.
It is also important to utilize positive reinforcement training, where the cat is rewarded for scratching in appropriate places. Rewards include catnip and catnip spray, extra playing and toys, and/or treats on cat trees and scratching posts. There are also feline pheromone sprays, such as feliway, that can discourage scratching in inappropriate areas and make cats less stressed.
Usually, a combination of the above techniques can help prevent excessive scratching. There are many other resources online about positive reinforcement and teaching your cat to scratch on appropriate places and toys.
Now you know five great reasons to say “NO!” to feline declawing. If you are still on the fence, please talk to your veterinarian about what is best for your cat and your family.
Dr. Katie Hogan is a full-time veterinarian at Grady Veterinary Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. She works with dogs, cats, and exotic companion animals and is dedicated to furthering the human-animal bond. In her free time, she creates online content for her blog, KatieHoganDVM.com, which is dedicated to helping pets, pet parents, and veterinarians live the best lives imaginable.