To declaw or not to declaw your cat: that is the question on many new kitty owner’s minds. What was once fairly common among the cat parent world has now actually become illegal in many countries! Many animal welfare groups are trying to have it banned in the United States as well. Before you decide whether to declaw your cat, there are a few super important thing to consider. Let’s take a look!
I recently came across a question on a forum from a cat lover that really made me pause and think. It was one of those questions where you already knew the person’s opinion based on how they worded it! The person wanted to know why veterinarians declaw cats knowing it causes pain for the rest of the cat’s life.
Full disclosure – all the cats my family had when I was a child were declawed in front with their back claws intact. Up until recently, I honestly didn’t know that it caused pain for them, and I think a lot of new cat owners are in the same boat. Doing some research on the topic, however, I now understand the concerns. If you have a cat and are trying to decide whether or not to declaw, check out a few things to consider first.
5 Things You Need to Know Before You Declaw Your Cat
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- Scratching is a normal behavior for a cat. Animals are born with certain instincts, and scratching is innately part of who a cat is. Provide plenty of appropriate scratching posts and toys for your cat, and guide him to use them. Curb negative scratching with a spritz from a water bottle as you teach him where he can scratch.
- Understand the procedure. A declaw surgery, or onychectomy, is essentially an amputation. The procedure guidelines outline that the entire third phalanx bone be removed, but in a recently published study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that fragments of the bone were found in a whopping 63% of the 137 cats in the study who had been declawed. Poor technique opens the door even wider to chronic pain and abnormal behaviors. Also, as with any major surgery, there are risks associated with the surgery itself, such as infection or complications with anesthesia.
- Studies have shown a link to declawing and increased abnormal behaviors. In the study I just mentioned, there was a marked link to aggressive behaviors in the declawed cats, likely due to chronic pain. Removing the third phalanx means the second phalanx receives all the pressure of walking with no joint between the bones to act as a shock absorber. Cats who’ve been declawed and are experiencing pain may be more irritable and may not use the litter box (preferring soft surfaces on their sore feet), among other naughty habits.
- There are alternatives to declawing. Cats’ claws do grow quickly, and to keep them from becoming a problem, you need to stay on top of trimming. Ideally, you want to trim your cat’s claws once every week or two. You also may want to consider synthetic cat nail caps (which you replace about every 8 weeks).
- In rare cases, it may be the only alternative. As I’ve looked at information written by veterinarians who are not opposed to declawing cats, the recurring theme is that declaw surgeries may keep more cats in homes rather than being abandoned or ending up in a kill shelter to be euthanized. If you have a cat with destructive scratching behavior and have exhausted all of the other alternatives, discuss the situation with your vet.
Bottom line, the decision declaw your cat is not something to take lightly. As I mentioned above, many countries have gone so far as to completely outlaw the practice because they deem it to be animal cruelty.