Do Declawed Cats Suffer? The Truth About Feline Declawing


Declawing cats, also known as onychectomy, has been practiced for many decades, but has become increasingly controversial in recent years. Declawing involves amputating a cat’s claws and often the ends of their toes using either a scalpel, laser, or clippers. Historically, declawing was performed to prevent cats from scratching furniture or people. However, animal welfare advocates argue the procedure is inhumane and robs cats of their natural defenses. Today, declawing cats is illegal or restricted in over 20 countries, as well as some U.S. cities. Despite the controversy, declawing remains a common practice in many parts of North America. This article will provide an overview of the declawing procedure, its effects on cats, alternatives, and perspectives on cat welfare.

What is Declawing?

Declawing is the surgical amputation of the end bones of a cat’s toes, including the claw and claw bed. It is also referred to as onychectomy or partial digital amputation (, 2022). During this procedure, the veterinarian uses a scalpel or laser to remove the entire last knuckle on each toe. This severs tendons and ligaments as well as the tiny bones that control the claw (, 2022).

Declawing goes beyond just removing the nails. It is the complete removal of the cat’s claw down to the last knuckle bone. Many vets compare it to cutting off a person’s finger at the last joint (, 2022).

Why Do People Declaw Cats?

The most common reason cat owners choose to declaw their cats is to prevent scratching of furniture, carpeting, woodwork, and people. According to the AVMA, 78% of clients requesting declawing do so to prevent destruction of property [1]. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and serves to remove dead outer claw sheaths and mark territory [2]. However, destructive scratching can be frustrating for cat owners. Declawing is seen as a solution to stop damage to home furnishings.

Declawing may also be requested by owners to try to prevent scratches to people. Scratching is not typically an aggressive behavior but is often playful or accidental during petting. However, eliminatating the claws is viewed as a way to prevent potential scratches, especially for immunocompromised owners or families with small children. Overall, the desire to save furniture and reduce scratches leads many cat owners to choose declawing.

The Declawing Procedure

Declawing a cat involves amputating the last bone of each toe. It is an invasive surgical procedure typically done under general anesthesia. The standard method is to amputate with a scalpel or guillotine clipper, though some vets may use a laser. According to the Human Society, “The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue, and the feet are bandaged.”[1] After surgery, there is often bleeding and pain as the cat recovers. Antibiotics and pain medication may be prescribed.

As described by one veterinary hospital, “The medical terminology for declawing a cat is an onychectomy. Essentially, it’s a process, a surgical procedure where we amputate the last bone in each toe.”[2] So in this surgery, the last knuckle bone of each toe is completely removed along with the claw. This leaves the tendons, ligaments and muscles attached to the amputated bone dangling, which can cause long-term discomfort.

Short Term Effects

Declawing is an extremely painful amputation surgery that causes a great deal of suffering for cats in the short term. During the declawing procedure, it’s common for cats to experience extreme pain as part of each toe bone is removed with a scalpel or laser. The pain continues after the surgery as well. According to the Humane Society, declawing often leads to complications like bleeding, swelling, pain resulting from clipped nerves, infection from surgery, and tissue death from improper bandaging.1

The initial recovery period after declawing surgery is extremely uncomfortable and painful for cats. Their paws are tender, sore, and sensitive after having their toes amputated. It can be difficult and painful for cats to walk or move around normally. Pain medication is used to manage their discomfort, but many cats continue to experience pain, even with medication. The short-term suffering caused by the declawing procedure and initial recovery period is quite severe compared to a normal spay/neuter surgery. Proper post-surgery care and bandaging is essential to reduce risks of complications like bleeding or infection.

Long Term Effects

Declawing a cat can lead to chronic long-term pain, arthritis, and behavior problems according to the Humane Society. The amputation surgery removes the entire third phalanx bone in each toe, along with ligaments and tendons. This can leave nerve endings exposed which leads to significant pain. Declawed cats may continue to feel phantom limb pain in their toes long after surgery. The altered footing from losing claws can also lead to joint, tendon, and ligament issues over time. One study found that 33% of declawed cats developed arthritis or lameness within a few years. The chronic pain from declawing has been linked to increased biting and elimination problems in some cats as they try to cope.

Impact on Normal Cat Behaviors

Declawing can have significant impacts on normal cat behaviors such as scratching, using the litter box, and playing. According to the PAWS organization, scratching is a natural behavior that allows cats to stretch their muscles and mark their territory. Removing the claws makes these normal scratching behaviors difficult or impossible. Cats may become frustrated and resort to biting when they cannot scratch.

Using the litter box can also become problematic after declawing. According to the Humane Society, the surgery can cause pain in the paws that makes digging in the litter uncomfortable. This can lead to house soiling outside of the litter box. The cat may associate the litter box with pain and try to find softer places to relieve themselves.

Play behaviors can change as well after declawing. The cat’s balance and grip strength are diminished without claws. Jumping, climbing, and swatting toys become more challenging. The cat may become less active and playful as normal play causes discomfort.

Alternatives to Declawing

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that allow cats to keep their claws while protecting furniture and other possessions. The most obvious solution is regular nail trimming. Trimming your cat’s nails every 1-2 weeks prevents them from becoming too sharp and ragged. Use clippers designed specifically for cats and only trim the sharp tip, avoiding the pink quick inside the nail which would cause bleeding and pain. Visit your vet for a lesson if unsure how to properly trim.

Providing adequate scratching surfaces around the home is another key way to prevent unwanted scratching. Scratching posts and pads should be tall and sturdy to accommodate full stretching. Place them near furniture and areas your cat tries to scratch. Use different materials like sisal rope, cardboard, and carpet so your cat has options. Praise and reward with treats when they use the scratcher.

Nail caps like Soft Paws are plastic covers that glue onto claws to prevent damage. A vet or groomer applies them, and they last up to 6 weeks before needing replacement as the nail grows out. They come in colors and prevent scratching without pain. However, some cats dislike wearing them.

Animal Welfare Perspectives

Many animal welfare organizations strongly oppose declawing cats and view the procedure as inhumane. Declawing is considered an amputation that removes important parts of a cat’s anatomy integral to balance, defense, and normal behavior.

The ASPCA is against declawing except for rare cases where it is medically necessary. They view declawing as an unnecessary cosmetic surgery that offers no benefits to the cat (Source). The Humane Society also opposes elective declawing, believing the potential risks outweigh any benefits (Source).

Many countries have banned declawing as an inhumane practice, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Israel, and across Europe. There are growing calls to ban declawing in the US and Canada on animal cruelty grounds.

Ultimately, declawing is considered an ethically questionable practice by most animal welfare groups. It prioritizes human convenience over a cat’s natural behaviors and anatomy. More humane alternatives exist that address undesirable scratching behaviors while allowing cats to keep their claws.


Based on the information presented, declawed cats can still live relatively normal lives after the procedure. However, declawing does impact a cat’s natural behaviors and abilities, like scratching and climbing, which are important outlets for feline physical and mental stimulation.

While declawed cats can adapt if given proper care and attention, the procedure itself carries risks of short-term and long-lasting pain. Many animal welfare advocates argue that declawing is an inhumane practice that should be avoided in favor of alternatives like regular nail trims, scratching posts, nail caps, and training.

In summary, declawed cats can live pleasant lives with caring owners who provide enrichment and meet their health needs. But the declawing procedure takes away natural abilities that are part of a cat’s innate behaviors. Most experts recommend avoiding elective declawing given the potential drawbacks for the cat’s wellbeing.

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