The Emotional Cost of Declawing. Do Cats Grieve the Loss of Their Claws?

What is Declawing?

Declawing is a surgical procedure that removes a cat’s claws by amputating the end bones of the cat’s toes (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2021). There are two main methods of declawing:

  • Onychectomy – removal of the claw and end bone
  • Tendonectomy – removal of the tendons that control claw extension

Declawing is banned in many parts of the world, including most of Europe, Brazil, Australia and some Canadian provinces. It is legal in most of the United States, although some cities such as Denver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have banned the practice. Declawing is considered an ethically controversial procedure by many veterinarians and animal welfare organizations.

Sources:

[1] Declawing Cats: Far Worse Than a Manicure. (2021, May 10). American Veterinary Medical Association. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/declawing-cats

Reasons for Declawing

Some of the most common reasons pet owners choose to declaw their cats include preventing damage to furniture and belongings, owner preference to not have a clawed cat, and to allow for easier play time between cats and humans without risk of scratches.

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats that allows them to remove dead sheaths from their claws and stretch their bodies. When cats scratch things like furniture, carpet, and drapes, it can damage these belongings, which is a top reason owners decide to declaw their cats (Pet Health Network). Some owners view declawing as a convenient solution to prevent destruction of their home and valuables by removing the claws.

Additionally, some owners have a preference to not live with a clawed cat for various reasons, so they choose declawing. Having a clawed cat may not fit an owner’s lifestyle if they want to avoid potential scratches from play or petting (The Humane Society). Declawing is seen by some as a way to be able to interact with a cat without risk of scratches.

Lastly, declawing may be done with the intent to allow easier play between cats and humans, especially children, without the risk of scratches from claws. However, removing a cat’s claws impacts their natural defenses and abilities, so alternatives to declawing should be strongly considered.

Physical Effects of Declawing

Declawing a cat involves the amputation of the last bone of each digit. According to the Human Society of the United States, this amputation is equivalent to cutting off a person’s finger at the last knuckle joint (Source). The amputation is a major surgery performed under general anesthesia and involves substantial pain during recovery. Many cats will be reluctant to bear weight on their feet for several days after the procedure.

Complications from declawing surgery can include bleeding, infection, and nerve damage leading to chronic pain. The tendons that control toe movements can also get damaged, causing abnormal regrowth of the nails. Some cats develop back pain later in life from altered gait patterns caused by the missing digits. Overall, declawing changes the natural biomechanics of a cat’s feet and can lead to lifelong medical issues. Owners need to be prepared to monitor their cats closely post-surgery and provide pain management as needed (Source).

Behavioral Effects of Declawing

Declawing can significantly impact a cat’s behavior and personality. Studies have shown declawed cats are more likely to experience issues like depression, litter box avoidance, increased biting/aggression, and hiding.

Declawed cats may become depressed or withdrawn. According to the PAWS organization, declawed cats are often less active and playful after the procedure1. The absence of claws alters their ability to climb, exercise, and exhibit natural scratching behaviors. This can lead to lethargy, anxiety, and irritation.

Many declawed cats start avoiding the litter box after surgery. The digging motion required for litter box use can put pressure on their sensitive paws post-declaw. As a result, cats may refuse to use the litter box and develop elimination issues. One study found declawed cats were over 3 times more likely to have litter box avoidance problems compared to clawed cats2.

Aggressive biting is another common behavioral change after declawing. With their primary defense mechanism removed, declawed cats may resort to increased biting when feeling threatened or irritated. Biting is their only remaining defense. One survey found 28% of declawed cats developed new biting habits post-surgery2.

Many declawed cats start hiding more often as well. Hiding allows them to avoid situations that aggravate their paw discomfort. Their mobility limitations also make hiding feel safer. One study found declawed cats were over 3 times more likely to start hiding compared to clawed cats1.

Alternatives to Declawing

There are several more humane alternatives to declawing that can help redirect normal scratching behavior in cats.

Regular nail trimming is an effective way to blunt the sharp tips of cats’ claws so they do less damage when scratching. Nails should be trimmed every 1-2 weeks. Trimming only the sharp tip of each nail avoids hitting the quick, which would be painful for the cat.[1]

Providing sturdy scratching posts and surfaces gives cats an appropriate place to scratch and stretch their claws. Scratching is a normal behavior for cats to mark territory and remove old claw sheaths. Scratching posts should be tall and sturdy, and made of material cats like to scratch such as sisal, cardboard, or wood.

Feline pheromone sprays like Feliway can help reduce cats’ urge to scratch furniture. The synthetic pheromones give cats a sense of familiarity and security that make them less likely to act out with destructive scratching.[1]

Plastic nail caps like Soft Paws are another option to cover cats’ claws and prevent damage. The caps fit over the nails and need to be replaced every 4-6 weeks as the nails grow out.[2]

Veterinarian Perspectives

Many veterinarians are against declawing cats due to the pain it causes and the negative effects on cats’ behavior. As one veterinarian stated, “Thank you for speaking against declawing cats while so many vets stay silent. Declawing is painful and barbaric and needs to be illegal” (source). Another veterinarian explained, “To be sure, the fact that declawing cats happens to be painful is a relevant point, but for me, pain isn’t necessarily its strongest critic. In my opinion, the bigger issue is the permanent, intentional, and elective mutilation of an animal that declawing represents” (source).

However, some veterinarians still support declawing in certain situations, such as for medical reasons or if not declawing would result in the cat being abandoned or euthanized. They view it as the lesser of two evils in some cases. But most veterinarians agree declawing should only be considered as an absolute last resort if all other options have failed.

Animal Welfare Perspectives

Many animal welfare groups strongly oppose declawing cats. The ASPCA states that they are “strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their guardians.” They believe declawing should only be considered in rare cases for medical necessity, not for cosmetic reasons or owner convenience. The ASPCA goes on to say that declawing is “both painful and traumatic” and that it “can lead to physical and psychological complications.”

City the Kitty, an animal welfare blog, criticizes the ASPCA’s stance, stating: “The ASPCA’s declawing position is on the side of declawers. They say declawing should remain legal.” The blog argues that the ASPCA’s policy allows declawing to continue rather than advocating for it to be banned.

Overall, major animal welfare groups believe declawing causes unnecessary suffering and strongly discourage the practice except in very rare medical circumstances. They oppose declawing for cosmetic or convenience reasons and some advocate for legal bans. Their perspectives emphasize the negative impacts of declawing on cat welfare.

Owner Experiences

Many cat owners who have declawed their cats report noticing behavioral changes afterwards. In an interview with The Shokoshow, one owner said her declawed cat became withdrawn and less affectionate: “He was never quite the same after being declawed, almost like a light went out in him.”1 Another interview on Chirpycats with owners at no-declaw clinics found declawed cats often have trouble using the litterbox and become more likely to bite.2

Many owners report noticing increased aggression and biting from declawed cats. Without claws for defense, declawed cats may resort to biting more often. Litterbox avoidance is also common, as declawed cats associate their pain with the litterbox. Overall, interviews show declawed cats tend to become more withdrawn and stressed.

Expert Analysis

According to researchers at The Humane Society, declawing is an amputation that removes cats’ third phalanges and claws. It is a painful procedure that can lead to physical and behavioral complications. The Humane Society strongly opposes declawing except for the rare cases when it is necessary for medical reasons, such as disease or injuries.

Veterinarians like Dr. Robin Downing, director of the Paw Project, agree that declawing has serious negative effects on cats. In an article for Catster, Downing explains that declawing removes important tendons and ligaments in addition to the third phalanges bone, altering normal function and flexion of the paws. This can cause pain, infection, and other long-term issues with mobility and using the litter box.

The experts conclude that declawing compromises cat welfare and should not be performed for human convenience or to protect furniture. Alternatives like regular nail trimming, scratching posts, cat-friendly furniture, and soft paws nail caps are more humane options. Declawing may lead to pain, stress, and other behavioral issues that damage the human-animal bond.

Conclusion

In summary, declawing is an amputation surgery that removes a cat’s claws by cutting off the last bone in their toes. This permanent procedure can cause both short-term and long-term physical issues like pain, infection, and abnormal gait. Many declawed cats also exhibit behavioral changes after the surgery, including increased biting, litter box avoidance, and emotional distress.

While some veterinarians still perform declaw procedures, there is growing consensus in the animal welfare community that the potential negative impacts outweigh any benefits. Many regions have now banned the practice as inhumane. The surgery should not be done solely for owner convenience but only for medical necessity.

When looking at the research and expert opinions, it seems clear that declawing can make cats sad. The pain, discomfort, and loss of normal scratching behaviors take a psychological toll. Cats rely on their claws for balance, movement, and expression. Losing this integral part of who they are understandably impacts their mental health and emotional wellbeing. Responsible cat owners should provide appropriate scratching outlets rather than declaw and look into less invasive alternatives.

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