As more and more people have come to realize, declawing a cat is a cruel solution to a problem that can be addressed in a much more humane manner.
In this article, we explain why you shouldn’t declaw your cat, dive into the origins of declawing, go over different declawing techniques, and take a look at declawing laws.
See also: How can I stop my cat from scratching furniture?
Should I declaw my cat?
No, you should not declaw your cat. The most recent veterinary studies highlight the harmful consequences of declawing, which affects behavior, mental health, and musculoskeletal development. In fact, the ban on declawing is gaining ground, and a growing number of veterinarians refuse to practice this surgery.
To prevent your cat from injuring anyone or damaging furniture, you should instead
- provide it with scratching surfaces
- trim its nails
- install nail caps on its claws
See also: Can Bengal cats be declawed?
The origins of cat declawing
Onychectomy, commonly known as “declawing,” became popular in the 1970s. At that time, declawing was primarily intended to protect cat owners from “cat scratch fever,” a newly-discovered bacterial disease that was thought to be dangerous, especially for children.
Even after fears of the fever subsided, people kept declawing their cats. Nowadays, this procedure is mostly done to prevent damage to furniture.
What is declawing?
Declawing is an amputation of the last phalanx (the distal phalanx) of the cat’s toe. Three methods can be used:
- Guillotine: A guillotine nail cutter is used to sever the third phalanx of each cat’s toe. As it lacks precision, this method can cause nerve damage. Moreover, bone fragments may remain inside the skin, causing the cat pain and discomfort.
- Scalpel: A scalpel allows for better precision than a nail cutter. However, this method requires a tourniquet to control bleeding. Because the tourniquet can compress the nerve, it can cause temporary paralysis.
- Laser: A laser beam is used to amputate the phalanx, ligate blood vessels, and cauterize nerve endings.
Even if the laser declawing method is known to cause less damage, declawing in itself is still very harmful. Research has shown that whichever method is used, the effects on the cat are basically the same.
The harmful consequences of cat declawing
Cats normally walk on the tip of their toes. If they feel residual pain, they will change their weight distribution, as we do when we have a blister. This change in posture will cause tension in muscles, ligaments, and bones.
Infections are a possible side effect of any surgical intervention. In the case of declawing, namely a toe amputation, the cat is at risk of developing an infection while walking on the floor or in the litter box. Cat owners who choose to declaw their cats need to be extremely vigilant for any sign of infection to prevent serious complications.
Lameness can be temporary or permanent, depending on the origin of the problem.
It is common for declawed cats to feel pain in their paws for various reasons.
In some cases, veterinarians fail to remove the entire first joint, leaving traces of claw tissue. That tissue may push back under the skin, deform the finger, and lead to an abscess.
In other cases, veterinarians cut too high above the joint and hit the digital pad. The resulting scar tissue then causes pain when the cat walks.
Paw pain can also be caused by bone fragments that have been left under the skin or by nerve damage resulting from a lack of skill or an inappropriate surgical technique.
Cats use their claws to satisfy various needs and to defend themselves. When deprived of their claws, they are likely to develop a variety of behavioral problems.
For instance, it’s common for declawed cats to start biting as they can’t defend themselves normally. Moreover, many declawed cats become anxious. Anxiety, combined with pain and underdeveloped motor skills, causes a large proportion of declawed cats to be less playful and more sedentary, which can lead to obesity.
Litter box aversion
Some recently-declawed cats stop using their litter box for a while, perhaps because they feel pain when moving the litter around to cover their droppings.
Cat declawing laws
The American Association of Feline Practitioners has been officially against declawing since 2015. Declawing is still legal in every state, except New York, which banned the practice in 2019. However, multiple cities and towns across the country have outlawed declawing.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association is opposed to the practice of declawing unless it is necessary for the health of the animal. Declawing is illegal in 7 of the 10 Canadian provinces: Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. Moreover, it will soon be illegal in Quebec.
Declawing is still legal in the three Canadian territories; however, the only clinic in Nunavut doesn’t practice declawing.
As you can see, declawing a cat is generally a bad idea. It should only be done in the event of a health problem (e.g. chronic inflammation, tumors, persistent infections, or gangrene). Thankfully, more and more jurisdictions are banning this cruel practice.
To learn more about movements against declawing, visit The Paw Project’s website.
- AMVQ (Association des médecins vétérinaires du Québec). “Le chat et ses griffes.” https://www.amvq.quebec/fr/nouvelles/le-chat-et-ses-griffes.
- AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). “AVMA revises declawing policy.” 2020, https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2020-03-01/avma-revises-declawing-policy.
- Clark, Kyle et al. “Comparison of 3 methods of onychectomy.” The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne vol. 55,3 (2014): 255-62.
- Fowler, David. “Textbook of Small Animal Surgery, 2nd ed. vol. 1 and 2.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal vol. 35,11 (1994): 721.
- Hughes, Kate. “7 Negative Side Effects of Declawing Your Cat.”, PetMD, 2018, https://www.petmd.com/cat/care/7-negative-side-effects-declawing-your-cat.
- Patronek, G. J. “Assessment of claims of short- and long-term complications associated with onychectomy in cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association vol. 219,7 (2001): 932-7. doi:10.2460/javma.2001.219.932
- “phalangectomy.” Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary. 2012. Farlex 2 Nov. 2022 https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/phalangectomy