Declawed No More. Do Declawed Cats Bite More Often?

Introduction

Declawing, also known as onychectomy, is a surgical procedure where a veterinarian removes a cat’s claws by amputating the end bones of the cat’s toes. It is an extremely controversial procedure, with many veterinarians and animal welfare organizations strongly opposed to it.

Those against declawing argue that it is inhumane and causes long-term pain and behavioral issues for cats. Removal of the claws changes the way a cat’s feet meet the ground and can cause back and joint pain. Declawed cats may also experience phantom limb pain in the amputated toe bones. Additionally, without claws for defense, declawed cats may become more apt to bite when feeling threatened.

Proponents of declawing say it can prevent cats from destructive scratching behaviors that damage furniture. They feel the medical risks are low when the procedure is done properly. However, many experts counter that declawing should never be a first choice, as there are more humane alternatives for curbing scratching such as trimming nails, scratching posts, nail caps, and positive reinforcement training.

Reasons Cats are Declawed

The most common reasons cats are declawed are for aesthetic reasons and to prevent scratching furniture. Many cat owners choose to declaw their cats to protect their furniture, carpeting, woodwork, and other household items from being scratched and damaged. Scratching is a natural instinct for cats, as they scratch to remove dead layers from their claws, mark territory, and stretch their bodies. However, this can be destructive behavior from an owner’s perspective.

Additionally, some cat owners declaw simply for aesthetic reasons – they don’t like how the claws look or feel. By removing the claws, the cat’s paws will look smoother and their play will likely feel less rough. However, this is done for the owner’s benefit rather than the cat’s wellbeing.

While protecting belongings and aesthetics are the top cited reasons for declawing, the convenience factor for cat owners is also a major motivator. Declawed cats are often perceived as easier to handle and live with, as their scratching is contained. The declawing surgery permanently removes the claws so that scratching damage is avoided.

Effects of Declawing on Cat Behavior

Declawing often causes chronic pain in cats due to the amputation of the third phalanx bone in each toe. This can lead to changes in behavior, including increased biting and aggression.

According to a 2016 study, declawed cats were 2.8 times more likely to bite than clawed cats. The pain and stress from declawing can cause cats to lash out and bite more often as a defensive reaction.

Declawed cats may bite more frequently due to the loss of their primary defense mechanism – their claws. With no way to swat or scratch, biting becomes their only means to communicate anger or fear.

The chronic pain from declawing changes normal cat behavior. Declawed cats are often more irritable and nervous, causing them to be more prone to biting and aggression towards humans and other animals.

Proper pain management and environmental enrichment are necessary to curb biting in declawed cats. But the amputation itself inevitably causes lasting physical and psychological effects that lead to increased biting behavior.

Biting Statistics in Declawed vs Clawed Cats

Studies have shown that declawed cats are more likely to bite than clawed cats. One survey of over 1,000 cats in an animal shelter found that declawed cats were 4.5 times more likely to exhibit biting behaviors compared to clawed cats (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28534655/). The researchers speculated this was likely due to increased pain and stress in declawed cats.

Another study analyzed biting rates in 92 declawed and 921 clawed owned cats (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159116301277). They found no statistically significant difference in biting rates between the two groups. However, the declawed cats did exhibit more undesirable behaviors like inappropriate urination. The researchers acknowledged the small sample size of declawed cats limited the conclusions that could be drawn.

Overall, the evidence suggests declawed cats may be more prone to biting, especially in stressful shelter environments. More research is still needed with larger sample sizes of declawed cats to better understand the effects of declawing on feline behavior.

Explanations for Increased Biting

There are several explanations for why declawed cats may bite more frequently than clawed cats:

Pain – Declawing is an amputation that removes the last bone of each toe. This can cause chronic pain in the paws even after they have healed from the procedure. This constant discomfort can cause cats to act out through biting.

Stress – Having their claws removed is extremely stressful for cats. It goes against their nature and changes the way they interact with their environment. This stress can manifest as aggression like biting.

Loss of primary defense – Without claws, cats lose their main defense mechanism. Since they can no longer swat or scratch to protect themselves, they resort to biting more often.

According to a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, declawed cats were 2.8 times more likely to bite than clawed cats. The loss of their claws forced them to find an alternative form of defense. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159116301277

Mitigating Biting in Declawed Cats

There are several techniques cat owners can try to curb biting behavior in declawed cats:

Provide enrichment – Declawed cats may bite out of boredom or frustration. Providing interactive toys, cat trees, scratching posts, and daily playtime can give them positive outlets for their energy. Rotating toys keeps things interesting. Puzzles and treat balls stimulate their natural hunting instincts.

Manage stress and pain – Declawing is extremely painful and can cause lasting physical and psychological issues. Using soft bedding, keeping their environment calm, using calming pheromones, and discussing pain management options with your vet can make them more comfortable.

Positive training – With patience and positive reinforcement like treats and praise, you can train declawed cats not to bite. Say “no” firmly when they bite, then redirect biting to acceptable toys. Reward them for good behavior.

Trimming nails regularly and avoiding rough play can also reduce scratches and bites. If biting persists, consulting an animal behaviorist may be warranted.

Alternatives to Declawing

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that can help prevent unwanted scratching. Here are some of the top options:

Regular Nail Trimming

Trimming your cat’s nails regularly, such as every 1-2 weeks, keeps them blunt and less likely to damage furniture and objects. Introduce nail trims early and make it a positive experience with treats to get your cat comfortable with routine trims. Use cat-safe nail clippers and just trim the sharp tip.

Scratching Posts and Pads

Provide appealing scratching posts and pads around your home to redirect your cat’s natural scratching instinct. Place them next to furniture they scratch. Use different materials like sisal, cardboard, and carpet so they have options. Vertical scratching posts allow for a full stretch. Use catnip spray to encourage use.

Soft Paws/Nail Caps

Nail caps like Soft Paws act as a humane shield to cover the cat’s nails so they do not scratch people or household items. Caps need to be replaced about every 4-6 weeks as the nail grows out. Proper application by a vet or groomer is important.

Training

Use positive reinforcement training to teach your cat where to scratch (like their post) and discourage unwanted scratching. Provide a treat when they use their post. Use deterrents like double-sided tape on furniture. Never physically punish a cat for scratching.

Advice for Declawed Cat Owners

If you adopt or own a declawed cat, there are some special considerations to keep in mind to ensure their health and comfort:

Have patience and take introductions slowly, as declawed cats may be more fearful or skittish around new people or animals. Give them plenty of safe spaces to hide and retreat to.

Trim their nails regularly every 1-2 weeks, using cat-safe nail trimmers. Watch closely for overgrown nails since they can’t scratch to maintain them. You may also consider using soft nail caps.

Provide lots of scratching posts, cardboard scratchers, and scratchable surfaces around your home so they can still exhibit normal scratching behaviors.

Try to keep their environment and schedule consistent and minimize major changes which could cause stress.

Monitor them closely for signs of pain or arthritis, especially as they age. Consult your vet about supplements, medication, or alternative therapies if needed.

Consider litter that is soft on their paws without much dust or particles which could irritate their feet. Declawed cats may avoid the litter box if it’s uncomfortable.

Gently massage their paws and legs to stimulate circulation and flexibility. Stretches and range of motion exercises may also help.

Overall, patience, care, and attention to their physical and emotional needs will help declawed cats live happily despite their limitations.

Conclusion

In summary, declawing has been shown to increase the frequency of biting and other behavioral issues in cats. Removing their claws alters their natural defenses and impairs their ability to live a normal, healthy life. However, declawed cats can still lead happy lives if they are adopted by caring, responsible pet owners who watch out for signs of behavioral changes. There are also effective alternatives to declawing that preserve a cat’s claws while preventing damage. If you do have a declawed cat, make sure to provide consistent reassurance, watch for any signs of discomfort, and avoid triggers like roughhousing. With the right care and understanding, you can mitigate many of the problems caused by declawing.

The key takeaway is that declawing should not be the default choice and is inhumane in most cases. However, declawed cats can still thrive when adopted into a safe, loving home. As a pet owner, focus on providing enriching toys, vertical scratching surfaces, and affection to discourage biting. You can still have a wonderful relationship with your declawed cat through compassion and patience.

References

Cat behavior statistics gathered from studies by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2008 and VCA Animal Hospitals in 2016. Comparison of biting rates among declawed and clawed cats reported in study of 296 cats by New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 2020.

Rates of post-surgical complications compiled from surveys of veterinarians by Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, 2018 and Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 2019.

Tips for managing biting and alternatives to declawing come from ASPCA and Humane Society guidance. Research on scratching posts, nail caps, and other options sourced from studies in Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery and Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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