The Purrfect Purrsonality. How Declawing Impacts Cats

What is Declawing?

Declawing is an elective surgery that removes a cat’s claws by amputating the last bone in each of its toes. It is also called onychectomy. There are two main methods:
– During a scalpel declaw, a small portion of bone is removed from the last bone of each toe. This severs the tendon that controls claw motion and permanently prevents regrowth of the claws.
– A guillotine-type nail trimmer can also be used to amputate the last bone. The crushing action damages the nerves and stops claw regrowth.

Declawing is controversial because it removes a cat’s primary means of defense and compromises mobility. Many vets and animal welfare organizations view the practice as inhumane when done solely for the convenience of owners. Complications like chronic pain and behavioral issues may arise after surgery. The Animal Legal Defense Fund opposes declawing as “unnecessary mutilation” and notes that declawing is outlawed in many countries.

Short-Term Effects

Declawing a cat often causes them pain, both immediately after surgery and in the weeks following as they recover. Studies have found that most cats will experience pain for several days after the procedure, even with pain medication. The declawing surgery involves amputating the end bones of each toe, so this can be extremely traumatic for a cat’s sensitive paws.

Infection is another common risk after declawing surgery. The paws are bandaged for a period after the operation, but bacteria can still enter the surgery site and cause problems that require antibiotics or additional treatment. Litter particles can also get trapped under bandages and irritate the incisions.

Other physical effects in the short-term may include bleeding, swelling, and lameness as cats learn to walk without their claws. They often avoid bearing weight on their paws or shifting position because of the pain. Their first instinct is to hide while recovering from the declawing procedure.

Long-Term Physical Effects

Declawing a cat can lead to many long-term physical effects that impact their health and quality of life. One major issue that can arise is arthritis in the toes. With the last bone removed, cats bear their weight unnaturally which can cause pain and arthritis over time (https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/negative-side-effects-of-declawing-cats).

Declawed cats may also start avoiding the litter box because digging in the litter causes pain in their feet. The litter gets stuck in the open wound where their claw was removed, leading to infections as well (https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/why-declawing-bad-your-cat).

The lack of claws can also cause cats to become more prone to biting when playing or annoyed, since they no longer have claws for defense. Their first instinct may be to bite instead, which can be problematic (https://www.saintiowa.org/declawing-facts/declawing-long-term-effects-and-humane-alternatives).

Finally, cats rely on their claws for balance and climbing. Without claws, cats have a reduced ability to climb trees, scratching posts, and other surfaces. This takes away an important physical and behavioral need for cats (https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/why-declawing-bad-your-cat).

Psychological Effects

Declawing a cat can have significant psychological impacts that affect their behavior and personality. Deprived of their main defense mechanism, declawed cats often become withdrawn and demonstrate increased fear or anxiety [(SPCA)][(IdyllicPaws)]. Without claws, they feel more vulnerable which damages their self-confidence. This can lead to anxious or aggressive behavior as they try to compensate.

Many declawed cats become less eager to play or interact, choosing instead to withdraw from social engagement. The chronic pain and discomfort from declawing is believed to cause depression in some cats, making them less active and playful. There is evidence that declawed cats are more likely to develop aggression and bite out of fear or frustration from their diminished defenses. Their anxiety and insecurity can also translate to increased territorial marking and litter box avoidance.

Ultimately, declawing alters a cat’s personality by taking away their primary defense mechanism. It increases their stress and changes how they interact with their environment in withdrawn, fearful, or aggressive ways. The impact on their mental health and wellbeing is significant.

Changes in Personality

Many experts argue that declawing can negatively impact a cat’s personality and behavior. According to the Community Concern for Cats https://www.communityconcernforcats.org/resources/declawing/, declawed cats often become less active and confident. The procedure removes their primary defense mechanism, so declawed cats may feel more vulnerable and become more reclusive or timid.

For example, a study by Yeon et al. found that 33% of declawed cats had a significant increase in hiding behaviors after the procedure. https://www.northwoodanimal.com/declawing-cats-examining-the-pros-cons-and-alternatives/ This increase in hiding is likely a sign that declawed cats feel less secure without their claws. Other signs of decreased confidence include reluctance to jump up to high places and hesitancy to explore new environments.

In some cases, the pain and trauma from the amputation procedure causes lasting psychological effects. Declawed cats may associate their negative experiences with their owners or environment and become withdrawn. Though not all declawed cats have significant behavior changes, experts recommend avoiding elective declawing to prevent potential long-term personality impacts.

Preventing Unwanted Scratching

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that can prevent cats from unwanted scratching behavior:

Trimming Nails

Regularly trimming your cat’s nails will blunt the tips and reduce damage from scratching. Use cat-safe nail clippers and reward your cat during and after trims to make it a positive experience.

Scratching Posts

Provide sturdy scratching posts and boards around your home. Place them near furniture or areas your cat tries to scratch. Encourage use by rewarding your cat when they scratch appropriate surfaces.

Pheromone Diffusers

Synthetic pheromones like Feliway can help reduce stress and anxious behaviors like scratching. Plug in diffusers near scratched areas.

Nail Caps

Vinyl nail caps like Soft Paws are glued over claws to prevent damage. They fall off as nails grow and must be replaced every 4-6 weeks.

Arguments For Declawing

Some pet owners choose to declaw their cats to prevent damage to household items. Without claws, cats are less likely to scratch furniture, carpets, drapes and other items in the home (https://rexipets.com/blogs/the-latest/benefits-of-declawing-a-cat). Declawed cats may also be easier to contain indoors since they can’t climb or grasp as well, reducing the risk of them escaping outside (https://www.petsbest.com/blog/cat-declawing-safer-alternatives).

Additionally, some people declaw for hygienic reasons. Scratches from clawed cats can become infected if not cleaned properly. Declawing eliminates this risk, which is especially important for immunocompromised people or families with small children (https://rexipets.com/blogs/the-latest/benefits-of-declawing-a-cat).

Arguments Against Declawing

Many experts argue that declawing cats is an inhumane procedure that is unnecessary and can lead to health complications and personality changes in cats. Here are some of the main arguments against declawing:

Inhumane

Declawing a cat requires the amputation of the last bone of each toe. This is an extremely painful procedure that permanently removes the cat’s claws. Many vets and animal welfare organizations consider declawing to be an act of cruelty.[1]

Unnecessary

There are many humane alternatives to stop unwanted scratching such as regular nail trims, scratching posts, nail caps, and positive reinforcement training. Declawing is viewed as an unnecessary convenience surgery by many experts.[2]

Health Complications

Declawing increases the risk of long-term health problems for cats such as chronic back and joint pain, arthritis, and litter box avoidance. It can also cause biting and aggression issues due to pain and stress.[3]

Personality Change

The trauma of declawing combined with chronic pain can cause cats to become withdrawn, skittish, or aggressive. This permanent personality change reduces their quality of life.[2]

Expert Opinions

Many veterinarians and animal welfare organizations have spoken out against declawing cats. According to Dr. Jennifer Conrad, DVM, founder of The Paw Project, “Declawing is extremely painful – both during recovery and across the lifetime of the cat. Studies show at least 33% of cats suffer behavioral problems after being declawed, even years later.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association states that declawing “should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).”

The American Animal Hospital Association opposes elective declawing, stating “Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).”

However, some vets still support declawing. Dr. Mark Russak, DVM, argues that “For many cats, a surgical declaw procedure is no more painful than spaying or neutering and the long(er) term outcome is generally free from adverse sequelae when performed properly.”

Conclusion

In summary, declawing a cat by removing its claws surgically often does more than just take away its main defense mechanism. The surgery can cause both short-term and long-term physical effects, including pain, impaired mobility, and potential bone regrowth abnormalities. However, the psychological impact of declawing may be even more significant, as it removes a cat’s primary tools for satisfying natural behaviors like scratching and stretching. This forced change against a cat’s instincts can cause increased anxiety, stress, and frustration.

These negative emotions combined with reduced ability for physical expression can definitely lead to personality changes in a declawed cat. Some cats may become more withdrawn or skittish, while others can develop aggression redirected at humans due to a feeling of betrayal. While training and providing acceptable scratching outlets can curb unwanted scratching behavior, the price of declawing surgery in terms of physical impairment and psychological distress is considered by many to be too high. Unless medically necessary, it’s best to avoid declawing surgery so that cats can maintain their natural behaviors and personality.

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