Declawing Cats. A Controversial Practice Under Scrutiny


Declawing cats became a common veterinary procedure in the 1970s as cats began transitioning from outdoor pets to indoor pets. With more cats being kept inside, cat owners sought solutions for cats scratching furniture and other household items. Vets began performing onychectomies, or declawing procedures, which surgically remove a cat’s claws by amputating the end bones of the cat’s toes. Although initially promoted as a harmless preventative measure, declawing later became controversial as more concerns emerged about the potential negative impacts on cats’ health and wellbeing. Today, declawing remains legal in most of the United States but is banned in some areas due to animal welfare concerns. The procedure is still performed but also widely debated in the veterinary community.


Declawing Cats: The Truth, History, & What It’s Like Today

What is Declawing?

Declawing is a surgical procedure to remove a cat’s claws. It involves amputating the end bones of a cat’s toes, including the claw and claw bed, to permanently remove the claws. According to the Ingleside Veterinary Hospital, declawing involves removing the first digit bone, which is P3, the distal most phalanx. A cat’s fingers and toe bones consist of phalanges labeled P1, P2, and P3. The P3 bone contains the claw, so removing it takes away the claw completely.

Declawing is not merely trimming or clipping the claws. As explained by the City of Albuquerque, it is the surgical removal of the claws, which are closely adhered to the bone. The procedure is typically done under general anesthesia and involves amputating the last joint of a cat’s digits.

Reasons for Declawing

One of the main reasons cat owners choose to declaw their cats is to prevent damage to furniture and other property. Cats have a natural instinct to scratch and mark their territory using their claws. This instinctual behavior can result in cats clawing furniture, carpets, drapes and other household items ([1]). Declawing removes the claws so cats cannot damage these items.

Another reason for declawing is to reduce the risk of injury from scratches, especially for immunocompromised individuals or young children. Cat scratches, even playful ones, can break the skin and cause infections. Declawing eliminates the sharp claws that can cause these scratches and injuries ([2]).

While these may seem like valid reasons, declawing has serious animal welfare concerns and is considered inhumane by many veterinary organizations. There are alternative solutions to prevent property damage that do not involve permanent surgery.



Animal Welfare Concerns

Declawing a cat poses significant animal welfare concerns due to the pain it causes and the impacts on mobility and behavior. According to the AVMA1, declawing involves amputating bone along with nail, severing tendons and nerves. This can cause acute pain after surgery that may last for several days and chronic pain from nerve damage or regrowth.

The declawing procedure can also negatively impact a cat’s mobility. Removal of their claws impacts balance and the ability to walk, climb, and jump normally2. The tendons severed during surgery may shorten over time as well, causing discomfort.

Behavioral problems may develop after declawing too. Studies show declawed cats are more likely to avoid the litter box, possibly due to associating it with pain3. Aggression may increase from stress and discomfort as well.

In summary, declawing poses welfare risks from surgical pain both short and long-term. It also impacts mobility and causes behavioral issues in many cats.

Alternatives to Declawing

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that can help redirect a cat’s scratching behavior.

Regular nail trimming is an effective alternative. Trimming the sharp tips of a cat’s claws every 1-2 weeks reduces damage to household items and people. Trimming should start when a kitten is young so they get accustomed to the process. Special claw trimmers designed for cats make the process quick and painless.

Providing adequate scratching posts and surfaces is another alternative. Scratching meets a cat’s natural instinct to stretch and mark territory. Place scratching posts in areas the cat frequents and reward them for using it. Posts can be vertical or horizontal, and different materials like sisal, cardboard, and wood appeal to different cats.

Nail caps like Soft Paws are plastic caps that adhere to the claw and prevent damage to household items. While nail caps need replacement every 4-6 weeks, they are safe and humane. Using positive reinforcement helps train the cat to accept nail caps.

Legal Status

The legal status of cat declawing varies by location. Only two U.S. states have banned the practice so far – Maryland and New York. Some cities like Denver, Austin, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Allentown have also outlawed declawing. In Europe, declawing is illegal in many countries including the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Spain and others. There are no federal laws in the U.S. banning declawing, though some states like California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have introduced proposals to prohibit it. Veterinary associations in many regions have condemned the practice as unethical and detrimental to cat welfare. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises declawing only as a last resort when alternatives have failed but notes “Severe deprivation of claw stimulus results in chronic flexor tendon contraction and bone resorption….” [1]. Overall there is growing momentum to ban declawing but it remains legal in most of the United States.


Veterinary Views

Professional veterinary associations have issued policies discouraging elective declawing but stopping short of calling for an outright ban. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that declawing should only be performed as a last resort when alternatives have failed. The AVMA “discourages the declawing of domestic cats as an elective procedure” and “encourages the use of alternatives.”

Similarly, the American Animal Hospital Association “strongly opposes the elective declawing of domestic cats” and believes veterinarians should provide cat owners with information on alternatives. However, they acknowledge declawing may be medically necessary in some cases.

While not banning the practice, leading veterinary groups recommend declawing only when medically required and after alternatives have been exhausted. They encourage veterinarians to educate cat owners on humane options.

Owner Decisions

Cat owners often struggle to balance complex factors and ethics when deciding whether to declaw their cat. Some of the key considerations include:

On the pro-declawing side, owners may want to protect furniture or property from scratch damage, address serious medical issues like infections from scratching, or prevent harm to immunocompromised people who could get infections from scratches. Declawing may seem like the best option to keep a cat in a home rather than abandoning it. Some view it as a simple preventative procedure.

However, declawing also raises major ethical concerns about subjecting cats to unnecessary harm solely for human convenience and profit motives. The procedure can cause chronic pain, arthritis, and other medical issues. Many vets view it as an inhumane mutilation. There are also effective claw trimming, scratching post training, nail caps, and other alternatives that address destructive scratching without extreme surgery.

Pet owners must weigh these complex factors. With better education and access to alternatives, perhaps more will opt for humane options that protect both their cat’s welfare and home furnishings.

The Declawing Debate

There are differing perspectives on the practice of declawing cats. Some veterinarians and cat owners view it as an acceptable procedure to prevent cats from scratching furniture or people. They believe the benefits outweigh the risks. According to the AVMA, declawing should be considered as a last resort if alternatives have failed and the cat’s owner requests it, as long as appropriate surgical procedures and pain management are provided [1].

However, many animal welfare organizations strongly oppose declawing, except for rare medical circumstances. They view it as an inhumane procedure that removes an integral means of cat communication and movement. Potential medical complications include pain, infection, and behavioral issues. PETA states that declawing results in a lifetime of pain and impaired mobility for the cat [2]. The Humane Society calls for declawing to be banned except for medical necessity [3].

Overall there is debate within the veterinary community about whether the procedure should continue to be available. Some want to end elective declawing, while others want owners to retain the choice. Further scientific research on long-term impacts could help inform this debate.


In conclusion, declawing cats remains a controversial practice that raises animal welfare concerns. While some veterinarians still offer the procedure, many advise against it due to potential negative physical and behavioral effects on cats. Alternatives like trimming nails and applying caps are available for owners struggling with destructive scratching. Ultimately, the decision lies with each owner after weighing the risks, though bans in some areas indicate shifting attitudes against routine declawing.

The key takeaways are:

  • Declawing removes the claw and end bone of each toe which can cause pain and other issues for cats.
  • Many vets argue declawing violates animal welfare and recommend against it except for medical necessity.
  • Alternatives like trimming nails and soft caps help redirect scratching without surgery.
  • Declawing bans in some regions demonstrate a move away from routine procedures.
  • Some vets still offer declawing though advise owners to consider alternatives first.
  • Owners must weigh risks vs benefits for their individual situation.
  • The debate over declawing involves ethics, alternatives, and varying policies.

In summary, while declawing remains an option, prevailing attitudes increasingly view it as an undesirable last resort.

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