To Declaw or Not to Declaw. The Controversy Over Feline Claw Removal

What is declawing?

Declawing is a surgical procedure that involves the amputation of a cat’s claw and third phalanx bone, also known as onychectomy. Most declawing procedures remove the claw, bone and ligaments on the front paws to prevent a cat from scratching furniture and other items (Source 1).

The procedure is done under anesthesia and involves the vet using a scalpel, guillotine trimmer or laser to remove the last section of each toe on the cat’s front paws. The wound is closed with surgical glue or bandages. Most cats recover fully within a few days to weeks.

Declawing is an alternative to trimming a cat’s claws regularly, using scratching posts, or nail caps, but permanently removes the claws. Many vets and animal welfare organizations do not recommend routine declawing due to the potential negative long-term effects.

Pros of declawing

Some cat owners choose to declaw their cats to prevent damage to furniture and belongings. Declawed cats are less likely to scratch furniture, carpeting, doors, and more. This can prevent costly repairs or replacements.

Declawing may also prevent scratches to humans, especially children or elderly family members. With their front claws removed, cats are less likely to scratch accidentally when playing or being petted. Some see this as a way to protect people in the home from painful scratches.

However, declawing has serious drawbacks. Many experts view it as an inhumane procedure that should be avoided if at all possible. There are safer alternatives that address undesirable scratching behavior but allow cats to keep their claws.

Cons of declawing

Declawing a cat is a very painful surgery with risks of complications. The surgery amputates the end bones of a cat’s toes which contain nerves and blood vessels. This can cause long-term pain and discomfort in a cat’s paws (Source).

Complications from declawing surgery include bleeding, infection, tissue necrosis, lameness, and back pain. The surgery is so painful that many vets recommend pain medication before and after the procedure (Source).

Declawing also negatively impacts a cat’s behavior. It can cause litter box avoidance, biting, and increased skittishness. By removing a cat’s main defense mechanism, declawing creates stress, anxiety, and frustration (Source).

Long-term effects

Declawing can lead to several long-term physical and behavioral effects in cats. According to the Human Society of the United States[1], declawing increases the risk of long-term pain and arthritis. Cats rely on their claws for balance and movement. When the last bone of each toe is removed, it changes the way cats distribute their weight and walk, increasing stress on their leg joints and spine and potentially leading to early onset arthritis. Declawed cats may also experience chronic back and joint pain from altered gait and weight bearing.

Another long-term effect is increased litter box avoidance. According to PetMD[2], declawed cats are more likely to develop litter box avoidance issues and urinate or defecate outside of the litter box. This may be caused by lingering pain in their paws when standing on the litter. Declawed cats may associate the litter with this discomfort and seek out softer surfaces.

Declawed cats are also more prone to biting. Without their main defense mechanism, declawed cats may become more frustrated and resort to biting as an alternative when feeling threatened. Cats use their claws for self-defense, so declawing can cause them to feel emotionally vulnerable and induce greater anxiety. This can exacerbate biting and aggression in some cats.

Overall, declawing appears to take an emotional toll by removing a key method cats use to interact with their environment. It can induce chronic pain, change natural behaviors, and diminish wellbeing. Cat owners should strongly consider these potential long-term effects before deciding on the procedure.

Alternatives to declawing

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that can help prevent damage to furniture while allowing cats to keep their natural claws. These include:

Trimming cats’ claws regularly helps blunt the sharp nail points and minimizes scratches. Using clippers designed for cat claws, trim just the sharp, curved tip, taking care not to hit the quick or cut into the pink part of the nail which would be painful. Trimming every 1-2 weeks is ideal.

Using soft plastic caps or covers called nail caps that fit over claws helps prevent scratching damage. Brands like Soft Paws apply like nail polish but last 4-6 weeks. They don’t interfere with normal extension and retraction of claws.

Providing appropriate scratching posts and boards around the house gives cats an outlet for their natural scratching instinct. Vertical and horizontal scratchers of different materials like sisal, cardboard, and wood allow them to stretch and scratch. Using catnip spray on posts can attract them.

Training cats not to scratch furniture starts with positive reinforcement. Reward and praise them when they use scratching posts. Use deterrents like double-sided sticky tape on furniture. Place scratchers near furniture to redirect scratching there. Frustrated scratching can result from stress so environmental enrichment with toys, climbing spaces and playtime helps.

Veterinarian perspectives

Many veterinarians are against routine declawing. The American Veterinary Medical Association states, “The AVMA recommends scratching posts, nail trims and nail caps as an alternative to onychectomy for feline owners…Because of the strong opposition to elective declawing by many veterinarians and other animal welfare advocates, some state and local governments have considered banning the practice.”

However, some vets believe declawing can be an option in certain cases. One vet said, “I’m not an advocate of routine declawing by any means, but there are certain situations where the procedure is warranted if you’re going to keep the cat. Older people with fragile skin are often good candidates because they are really susceptible to serious injury from even playful scratching” (AVMA, 2019).

Sources:

https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/resources/declawing_bgnd.pdf

Animal welfare perspectives

Many animal welfare organizations strongly oppose declawing cats. The ASPCA’s official position statement argues that declawing is “both painful and stressful” and “has both psychological and physical effects.” The ASPCA believes declawing can lead to behavioral issues stemming from chronic pain and stresses the importance of keeping claws intact for cats to properly stretch and scratch.

Similarly, the Humane Society opposes declawing except for rare cases of medical necessity. Their position is that declawing causes unnecessary pain, involves the amputation of important digits, and is ethically questionable unless medically vital. The Humane Society promotes alternatives like regular nail trims, scratching posts, nail caps, and positive reinforcement training.

Legal status

Declawing cats is illegal in some places and trending toward bans more broadly. New York was the first state to ban cat declawing in 2019, followed by Maryland in 2020 (https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/cat-declawing-legality-by-state). Several other states including California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have proposed legislation to ban the practice but have not yet passed laws. At the city level, declawing is banned in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Pittsburgh, and other major metropolitan areas (https://www.peta.org/blog/where-declawing-is-illegal/).

Internationally, declawing is illegal across much of Europe, Australia, and Brazil. Canada banned the surgery nationally in 2022 except for medical necessity. The trend is moving toward banning elective declawing, with more legislation proposed each year (https://aldf.org/issue/declawing-cats/).

Making the decision

If you are considering whether or not to declaw your cat, it’s important to carefully weigh the pros and cons of the procedure. According to the Human Society, declawing can cause long-term pain and physical issues for cats like back pain, infection, tissue death, and lameness (source). However, some vets argue declawing may prevent scratches, especially for owners with sensitive skin or babies in the home (source).

Before making a decision, try less invasive alternatives first like regular nail trims, scratching posts, or plastic caps for your cat’s claws. Declawing should only be a last resort if your cat would otherwise face abandonment or euthanasia. Work closely with your vet to make the most informed decision for you and your cat’s unique situation.

Conclusion

In summary, declawing a cat should not be taken lightly. While it may solve some problems like furniture scratching, it has many drawbacks. Declawing is amputation and permanently removes a cat’s claws by cutting through bone and tendons. This can cause long-term pain, behavioral issues, and trouble using the litter box. There are alternatives like regular nail trims, scratching posts, nail caps, and training that should be attempted first.

Veterinarians agree declawing should only be a last resort for health or safety reasons. Animal welfare groups strongly recommend against it as an elective procedure since it removes a natural defense mechanism. Many countries have banned declawing as cruel and unnecessary.

The evidence shows declawing has serious downsides that outweigh any benefits in most situations. It should only be considered in extreme circumstances after all other options fail. For a regular indoor cat, it is recommended to avoid declawing and instead try more humane alternatives.

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