Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
To declaw or not to declaw your cat—that is the question on many new kitty owner’s minds.
Declawing cats was once fairly common in the cat-parent world but 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 things to consider. Let’s take a look!
Declawing Cats Explained
Declawing, also known as onychectomy, is a surgical procedure where a cat’s claws, along with the last bone of each toe, are removed.
It is primarily done to prevent scratching behavior, but it is criticized for being painful and having potential long-term physical and behavioral consequences for the cat.
Scratching is a natural and necessary behavior for cats, and declawing is viewed by many as an invasive and unnecessary alteration that can negatively impact a cat’s well-being.
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.
If you have a cat and are trying to decide whether or not to declaw it, check out a few things to consider first.
5 Things to Consider Before Declawing Cats
1. 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.
2. Understand The Procedure
A declaw surgery, or onychectomy, is essentially an amputation.
The procedure guidelines outline that the entire third phalanx bone be removed.
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 and weird behaviors.
Also, as with any major surgery, there are risks associated with the surgery itself, such as infection or complications with anesthesia.
3. Declawing Increases Abnormal Behaviors
Studies have shown a link to declawing and increased abnormal behaviors.
In the study we 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.
4. There Are Alternatives
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).
5. Declawing As The Last Alternative
In rare cases, it may be the only alternative.
We looked at information written by other 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.
Cost of Declawing a Cat
The cost of declawing a cat can be a controversial subject, and it’s important to know the facts before making any decisions.
Experts estimate that this procedure has been performed on over 25% of cats in the US.
The average cost of declawing a cat is between $100 and $500, depending on the type of procedure used.
Factors that can affect the cost include the age and size of your cat, as well as any additional medical issues they may have.
Your vet may recommend pre-surgery bloodwork or other tests, which are additional costs to consider prior to surgery.
It’s also important to factor in post-operative care such as antibiotics, pain medications, and follow-up visits with your veterinarian.
When considering declawing for your cat, it is important to weigh all options before making a decision.
Declawing a cat can be an expensive procedure, but there are several options available to help reduce the cost.
To ensure your pet’s safety and well-being, it is important to properly prepare for the procedure.
Risks Associated with Declawing a Cat
It is important to understand the risks associated with the procedure before you make a decision on declawing your cat.
Anesthesia carries its own set of risks for any surgical procedure, even one as common as declawing a cat.
Your pet may experience allergic reactions if it has an adverse reaction to any of the drugs used during surgery, and administering too much anesthesia at once can also pose a risk of respiratory distress.
Talk to your vet about these risks before any surgery on your pet. They will tell you how to watch and care for your pet after surgery, in case something goes wrong.
Infection due to improper sterilization techniques or excessive bleeding caused by cutting too deeply into sensitive tissue while performing the operation itself.
Nerve damage is another possibility when removing claws from cats since nerves run through their paws just like humans have in our fingers and toes.
If not done correctly, this could cause long-term pain or discomfort, in addition to making it difficult for them to use their paws normally again after healing has taken place following surgery.
Long-Term Health Issues
Pain or discomfort in the paw area following a declawing procedure can cause long-term health issues.
It can eventually lead to arthritis and other joint problems down the road if left untreated over time.
This makes it especially important that owners pay close attention both before and after surgery so they can spot any signs early.
It is better to have medical intervention sooner rather than later in order to prevent further injury from occurring over time.
Declawing your cat can cause behavior changes that affect their health and happiness.
Declawed cats may become more aggressive, bite more often, or avoid using the litter box.
They may also suffer from chronic pain, overgrooming, or back problems.
With that said, declawing is a cruel and unnecessary surgery that should be avoided.
Where is Declawing Illegal?
Previously, there were a couple of declawing bans in cities around the United States, but Maryland and New York are the only two states that ban the procedure.
It’s also illegal in certain other countries. For instance, it is illegal in much of Europe and some Canadian provinces. Various U.S. cities at the municipal level, including Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, have also banned it.
Many cat parents usually opt for the procedure, thinking it’s a quick fix to the unnecessary scratching. But this is far from the truth.
The new law makes it impossible for any veterinary practitioner to perform the procedure unless it is deemed medically necessary. Anyone caught breaking the law will be liable for a fine of up to $1,000. What does this mean?
Declawing is an inhumane practice that involves amputating a cat’s last bone on each toe, which would be equivalent to removing a human’s fingers at the last knuckle.
Some opponents of declaw bans have raised concerns that this will lead to more cats being given up.
This is because people who don’t want their cat to scratch furniture or who have concerns about the cat scratching will be forced to use other ways to keep the cat from doing so.
However, research says declawing could lead to worse behavior, like biting. For example, a cat without claws is more likely to bite if it feels threatened or has issues with litter box training if its declawed paws get irritated.
Declawing is not as simple a surgery as most people think. It’s actually unwarranted for surgery with no medical benefit. It’s not as simple as trimming your fingernails, either.
Bottom line: the decision to 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.
What other things can you think of to consider before you declaw your cat? Please share your thoughts below to help out new cat parents!
Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS is a locum veterinary surgeon who has worked in London for the past 8 years. She graduated top of her class in small animal medicine from UCD, Dublin. She is currently a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Linda is the resident vet for Woman magazine and a frequent contributor to People’s Friend Magazine, the Dogzone website, Vet Help Direct and Wag! Linda also writes content for the CVS veterinary group, Vetwriter and a number of other establishments.