4 Myths to Debunk Before You Consider Declawing Your Cat
As one of the many veterinarians who refuses to perform declawing surgery, I feel that I’ve heard all the excuses under the sun as to why cats should be declawed. Or, at least, what people thought they knew about declawing. Many people are shocked to learn how awful declawing actually is, and wonder why it was the norm for so long.
This surgery used to be performed fairly routinely, in order to keep cats from scratching furniture and carpets. Now, the procedure has become highly controversial, and many countries and municipalities have made it illegal. In fact, New Jersey recently voted to add onychectomy to the list of criminal animal cruelty offenses.
Read my response to these 4 preconceived notions I’ve heard throughout my career and start setting the record straight.
1. Declawing is a common, humane procedure
While the word “common” may be arguable, declawing is actually amputation. That is, amputation without a medical reason. Many of my patients are surprised when I tell them that declawing isn’t simply taking out the claw, it means amputating of the last phalanx of each of your cat’s ten front toes. On your own finger, this would be the part from the last joint to the tip of the finger. Imagine removing that just so you don’t have to cut your nails anymore!
But why is this done? Why don’t we just take off the nail? Because removing the nail itself often results in regrowth, and the goal of the surgery is to completely rid the cat of his claw, so for the procedure to be effective amputation is required.
2. The recovery will be easy
Your cat walks on his toes, meaning any surgery to this area will result in pain and bleeding. Blood vessels must be severed in order for the phalanx to be removed, and the simple act of walking after surgery will result in excess bleeding. Because of this, to prevent the delicate surgical area from pain and additional bleeding, cats need to wear heavy bandages that look like boxing gloves for at least 24 hours. And ideally, they should stay overnight in the hospital on intravenous pain medications.
Between the cost of the surgery, the hospitalization, and the medications, declawing can get very pricey very fast.
Additionally, the heavier your cat is, the more pain they will experience. Cats carry about 60% of their body weight on their front legs. We’ve now learned that declawing hurts every time it’s done, but heavier adult cats, for example, will experience much more pain than a kitten would as they recover. For this reason, declawing an adult cat is even less humane.
3. Declawing will give my cat a better life
Wrong again. Cats that have been declawed often have lifelong pain. In the past, most vets simply used regular pet nail clippers that had (hopefully!) been sterilized to slice the toes at the last joint. This method can leave behind small fragments of bone that cause pain every time the cat puts pressure on his paws – which is essentially every time your cat moves.
Now, vets take greater precaution, and use a scalpel blade or laser to remove the phalanx at the joint to reduce bone fragments. However, in my opinion, the only way to completely prevent pain is to not do the procedure.
4. Declawing will give me a better life
Let’s be real: many times this procedure is done in an attempt to avoid scratching of furniture, floors, or due to housing restrictions — and really isn’t to make the cat’s life better at all, but your own. While some situations may be unavoidable, cats who have been declawed may experience personality and behavioral issues that will cause you and them stress later on.
Many veterinarians believe that declawed cats can be more aggressive. As they can’t express their natural drive to scratch, they experience frustration that leads to aggression toward you, your family or guests who enter your home. Also, as we reviewed, many cats have chronic pain stemming from the surgery that will cause their paws to hurt constantly. Aside from putting your cat in pain, this often makes them avoid their litter box (as digging to bury will put their paws in even more pain) and may do their business elsewhere.
So, between the possible aggression and litter box accidents, it seems that declawing will actually make your life harder. Some solutions to avoid declawing include scratching posts and similar toys. Try a number of different ones, including cardboard, sisal, and carpet, and sprinkle catnip on them to attract your cat to them.
Another option is gluing plastic caps on your cat’s nails, such as Soft Paws, a veterinarian-developed and humane solution, which helps prevent damage from scratching without putting your cat in harm’s way. They are also much less traumatic than putting your cat through an invasive and painful declawing surgery.
About me: As a small animal veterinarian, I’ve done everything from working in a busy dog and cat practice, to doing volunteer work in Mexico, to teaching veterinary students about how to better communicate with the humans that their patients come with. I’ve also written over 250 articles and answered countless questions on PetCoach, a service that help pet parents better the lives of their pets through direct communication with veterinarians.
Photo of Christie and her cat Sidhartha aka “Sidh”