Can Cats Still Leap After Losing Their Claws?


Declawing is a surgical procedure that involves amputating part or all of a cat’s third phalanges, or toe bones, to prevent cats from scratching furniture or people. This controversial procedure has been banned in many countries, but remains legal in most parts of the United States. Declawing reduces cats’ ability to defend themselves and, according to some studies, negatively impacts their health and behavior. Although some owners choose to declaw their cats as a last resort, many animal welfare advocates argue that declawing is cruel and inhumane. The procedure has sparked considerable debate regarding how to balance the welfare of cats and the concerns of owners.

Declawing Procedure

Declawing a cat is an invasive surgical procedure that removes the entire third phalanx bone of each toe along with the claw. The phalanx bone is analogous to a human finger bone. To declaw a cat, the veterinarian first numbs the cat’s paw pads. Then, using a scalpel or laser, the vet amputates the last joint on each toe by cutting through tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels. This leaves the cat with an exposed, raw, bloody wound on each toe. Special bandages or surgical glue are applied post-operation.

Unlike human nails, a cat’s claws are attached to bone, so declawing a cat is more comparable to cutting off a person’s finger at the last knuckle joint. The surgery permanently removes the claw and severs important tendons, nerves and ligaments that allow for normal function of the paws. Declawing essentially turns a cat’s toes into useless stumps.


After a declawing procedure, cats will need a recovery period of around 2 weeks as their paws heal from the surgery. The paws are bandaged up after the procedure, and cats will typically need to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent them from biting or licking their paws. Pain medication is prescribed for around 2 weeks to manage discomfort. Some bleeding and swelling is normal in the week following the procedure. litter should be temporarily changed to paper-based rather than clay-based litter to prevent infection in the surgical wounds. Stitches may be absorbed over time or need to be removed by the vet after around 10-14 days. Activity should be restricted during recovery, with no jumping or stairs climbed initially. Appetite may be reduced at first but should return to normal within a few days. Full recovery takes around 1 month for most cats to be back to normal habits and behavior.


Long-Term Effects

Declawing a cat can lead to several concerning long-term physical effects. According to experts, declawing often results in chronic pain and inflammation in the paws from the amputation surgery and altered gait from the imbalance it causes ( Cats rely on their claws and digits for balance, so when these are removed, it disrupts their natural biomechanics. Some of the long-term physical effects include:

  • Joint pain – Cats shift their weight differently after declawing which puts extra strain on their leg joints, often leading to chronic arthritis or lameness.
  • Back pain – An altered gait from declawing changes the spine’s natural alignment, resulting in muscle spasms and nerve damage in the back and neck.
  • Weakened muscles – Digit amputation leads to atrophy in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the paws from lack of use.
  • Reduced mobility – Declawed cats may avoid jumping up to high places due to pain and muscle weakness, preferring to remain at ground level.

These long-term physical effects can greatly impact a cat’s quality of life. Declawed cats may experience chronic pain, difficulty exercising and playing, and issues with mobility as they age.

Behavioral Changes

Declawing often leads to unwanted behavior changes in cats, due to the pain and psychological distress it causes them. According to a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Montreal, declawing increases the risk of “long-term or persistent pain” which manifests as problematic behaviors like increased biting, litter box avoidance, and aggression (Source).

Another source notes that declawed cats are more prone to biting humans and other pets, as well as acting “nervous and high-strung.” This aggressive reaction is believed to stem from the chronic pain and stress declawing inflicts on cats (Source).

Cats use scratching and kneading as natural behaviors to relax and release stress. Without claws, they can no longer perform these rituals. The resulting frustration leads many declawed cats to act out through unwanted elimination outside the litter box (Source).

In summary, declawing frequently causes cats to experience behavioral problems like increased biting, litter box avoidance, aggression, and overall anxiety. This occurs because declawing is incredibly painful and psychologically traumatic for cats.

Ability to Jump

A cat’s ability to jump after being declawed can vary depending on the individual cat and the declawing procedure used. Declawing removes the last bone of each toe, which helps cats grip surfaces for jumping and landing. This can impact balance and coordination. However, some declawed cats learn to adapt and regain nearly full jumping ability over time.

Studies show mixed results on declawed cats’ jumping ability. One study found declawed cats jumped less often and from lower heights than clawed cats. But other studies found no significant difference in jumping between declawed and clawed cats after an initial adjustment period. The height cats could jump to also did not change post-declaw in one study.

Much depends on surgical method. For example, laser declawing is less invasive than scalpel declawing and preserves more of the toe bone, reducing long-term impacts. With proper postoperative care and physical therapy, cats can regain strength in their paws and adapt their jumping technique to compensate.

Overall, while some declawed cats may show reduced jumping ability, many can still jump well and have normal activity levels. Providing proper rehabilitation and ensuring surgical precision can help declawed cats retain their natural agility and grace.


Alternatives to Declawing

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that cat owners can consider instead. The most basic alternative is to regularly trim your cat’s claws. Using claw trimmers designed specifically for cats, trim off the sharp tips of the claws. This removes the points that can damage furniture and belongings. Trimming should be done every 1-2 weeks.

Another option is using nail caps or covers. These are plastic sheaths that fit over the cat’s nails to prevent scratching damage. Nail caps come in various colors and last 4-6 weeks before needing replacement as the nails grow out. They are safe and painless for cats.

Providing appropriate scratching surfaces is also key. Scratching posts, cardboard scratchers, and scratching pads give cats an outlet for their natural scratching instinct. Place the scratching surfaces near furniture or areas the cat tries to scratch. Reward and praise the cat for using their approved scratching tools.

With patience and positive reinforcement, cats can also be trained not to scratch furniture. Use treats and clicker training to teach them to only scratch approved surfaces. Distracting with play when they start scratching furniture is another technique.

While declawing may seem like an easy solution, humane alternatives are available. With effort and environmental changes, cat owners can redirect scratching behaviors.

Adoption Policies

Many animal shelters and rescue organizations have policies against declawing cats. When a potential adopter comes in, the adoption counselor will often provide information about why declawing is inhumane and discuss alternatives. Adopters are frequently required to sign an agreement that they will not declaw the cat they are adopting. This is intended to discourage people from choosing to declaw after adoption.

For example, Cat Adoption Team in Oregon asks adopters not to declaw adopted cats and provides information on why declawing is detrimental (1). Some shelters will refuse to adopt to potential adopters who are insistent on declawing or have a history of doing so.

Enforcing these policies can be challenging once a cat is adopted. However, many shelters and rescues will follow up with adopters and even request proof from a vet that the cat has not been declawed. Some contracts allow the organization to reclaim the cat if it finds the adopter violated the no-declaw policy (2).

Legal Status

The legality of declawing cats varies by country. In the United States, declawing is legal in most states, though some cities like Denver and San Francisco have banned the practice. Declawing is illegal in many other parts of the world, including the UK, Europe, Australia, Brazil, Israel, and Japan. Cat declawing is illegal in Japan, with the procedure considered an act of cruelty. Declawing cats is also illegal in Australia, where it is deemed an unnecessary and inhumane procedure. Though legal in much of the US, declawing is opposed by many veterinary organizations and animal welfare groups as an ethically questionable practice that can lead to medical and behavioral problems in cats.


In summary, declawing cats is a controversial procedure that permanently removes a cat’s claws by amputating the end bones of their toes. While some believe it can prevent unwanted scratching, others argue it causes pain and behavioral issues. The declawed cat loses its primary defense mechanism and may struggle with pain, balance, and mobility.

There is an ongoing ethical debate over the acceptability of declawing, with many calling for bans on the practice except for medical necessity. While declawed cats can still jump and play, the surgery changes their natural behaviors. Many advocate for alternatives like regular nail trims, scratching posts, or temporary nail caps instead.

Overall, declawing elicits strong opinions on both sides. There are risks and adverse effects to consider before subjecting a cat to this permanent, elective procedure. More research is still needed to better understand its long-term impacts on cat health and welfare.

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