Declawing Cats. Is Amputating Kitties’ Toes Really Necessary?

What is declawing?

Declawing, also known as onychectomy, is the surgical amputation of a cat’s third phalanges (toe bones) and claws. The procedure typically removes the entire claw, including both the nail and end bone (distal phalanx), of each front toe on the cat’s paws. It is comparable to having the ends of a person’s fingers cut off at the last knuckle joint.

There are two primary methods for performing the declawing procedure [1]. The first involves using a scalpel or surgical scissors to remove the claw and end bone. This is considered the most painful option. The second method uses a laser to destroy and weaken the claw so it easily detaches from the toe. While laser declawing is less invasive, it still results in the same anatomical changes as scalpel declawing.

Declawing originated in the U.S. in the 1950s when more cat owners sought to prevent their pets from destroying furniture and other household items. By the 1970s, declawing became a routine and widely available elective procedure at many veterinary clinics. Today, declawing remains a controversial practice that has been banned in many parts of the world due to animal cruelty concerns.

Reasons for declawing

Some of the most common reasons cats are declawed are to prevent scratching furniture and other household belongings, owner preference to not have a cat with claws, and to allow for easier play between cats and young children. According to one source, “The most common reason to declaw a cat is to keep him from being destructive (scratching furniture, woodwork, doors, etc.)” (source). Many cat owners view declawing as a simple solution to stop cats from scratching up carpets, furniture, and other belongings. Additionally, some owners simply prefer the look and feel of a cat without claws. Lastly, cats with claws may accidentally scratch a small child while playing, so declawing is sometimes done to allow young children to more safely play with the cat.

Potential complications

Declawing a cat can lead to several potential complications, both in the short and long term. Some of the most concerning complications include:

Pain and discomfort

Declawing removes the last bone of each toe, so it is an amputation procedure. According to the PetMD, this can cause both acute and chronic pain. Cats rely on their claws for balance, climbing, scratching, and stretching. Without claws, normal cat behavior can become uncomfortable or even painful.


As with any surgery, infection is a risk after declawing. The feet contain many small bones, tendons, ligaments and joints that are at risk according to the Humane Society. Signs of infection include swelling, redness, discharge, and fever.


Some cats develop a limp or become lame after being declawed. The unnatural position of their feet after amputation can cause stress on joints and tendons leading to arthritis or other issues, Anicira explains. This lameness can be temporary or permanent.

Behavior issues

Removing a cat’s claws impacts natural behaviors like scratching and hinders their ability to stretch fully. This can frustrate the cat and lead to issues like litter box avoidance, aggression, or biting according to the Humane Society.

Alternatives to declawing

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that can help redirect a cat’s scratching instincts. Some of the top options include:

Trimming nails – Regularly trimming a cat’s nails can minimize damage from scratching. Use clippers designed specifically for cats and avoid cutting too short, which can cause pain and bleeding.

Scratching posts – Providing sturdy scratching posts and cat trees allows cats to satisfy their natural scratching instinct. Place posts near furniture or areas the cat tries to scratch.

Pheromone sprays/plugins – Synthetic pheromones like Feliway can help reduce stress and anxiety in cats which may cut back on destructive scratching behaviors. Pheromone diffusers can be plugged into outlets.

Nail caps – Plastic nail caps like Soft Paws can be applied to cover claws with a smooth surface. Caps need to be replaced periodically as nails grow out. They prevent damage while allowing cats to still enjoy scratching.

Animal welfare perspectives

The Humane Society of the United States firmly opposes declawing cats, except for rare medical circumstances.[1] They view declawing as an act of convenience for guardians and believe it often leads to pain, lameness, and psychological issues for cats. The Humane Society advocates strongly for guardians to try alternatives to declawing first.

Similarly, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) strongly opposes declawing except when deemed medically necessary.[2] The ASPCA views declawing as an inhumane procedure that can lead to physical and psychological complications. They believe guardians should exhaust all other options before considering declawing.

Many veterinarians agree declawing should only be a last resort for medical reasons like untreatable pain or illness.[3] Most view the procedure as unethical when done solely for owner convenience without medical justification. However, some still support declawing if all behavioral modification options have failed.

Legal status

Declawing cats is currently illegal in New York, Maryland, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and many cities around the world including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Austin, and Saint Louis (

Other states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have active legislation in process to ban cat declawing statewide ( Oregon allows declawing only under certain medical conditions approved by a veterinarian.

Currently there is no nationwide ban on declawing cats in the United States, though the procedure is opposed by most animal welfare organizations. Some veterinarians refuse to perform the surgery due to ethical concerns.

Owner testimonials

There are a range of owner experiences when it comes to declawing cats. On forums like TheCatSite, some owners report positive experiences, saying their cats recovered well and had no lasting issues from the surgery. However, many more owners regret declawing and share negative experiences.

For example, one owner said “I regret declawing my cat. She became withdrawn and developed litter box issues after the surgery. I wish I had tried other options first.” Others report their cats experienced chronic pain, arthritis, and behavior changes after being declawed.

While some owners may not notice negative effects, others feel immense regret and guilt for putting their cat through an unnecessary amputation surgery. There is a range of owner perspectives, but overall declawing seems to cause more harm than good in many cats.

Expert opinions

Many experts, including veterinarians and animal behaviorists, have expressed strong opposition to the practice of declawing cats. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that declawing should only be considered as a last resort when alternatives have failed, such as scratching posts, nail trims, and soft plastic caps for the nails [1]. The procedure should never be done solely for owner convenience or to protect furniture. According to the AVMA, declawing can lead to behavioral and physical effects for the cat, including lameness, chronic pain, and aversion to litter boxes [2].

Many animal behaviorists view declawing as inhumane and believe it negatively impacts a cat’s physical and psychological well-being. Claws are an integral means of defense and exercise for cats. Removing them inhibits natural scratching behaviors and leads to frustration. Behaviorists advocate for environmental changes to accommodate natural scratching urges rather than permanently declawing cats [3].

Ethical considerations

Many animal welfare organizations consider declawing unethical due to concerns about animal cruelty and negative impacts on cat behavior. Declawing removes a cat’s claws by amputating the end bones of the cat’s toes. This can cause pain both during recovery and long-term from nerve damage and arthritis. Without claws for defense, some declawed cats become withdrawn or aggressive. Some people view declawing as mutilation and inhumane.

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association states that declawing “should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively”. They recommend training and nail trims as alternatives.

Some philosophers argue declawing prioritizes human property over the cat’s welfare. Declawing may stop furniture scratching but creates new behavior problems. They contend declawing should only be a last resort for aggressive cats.


In summary, declawing a cat is a complex issue with reasonable arguments on both sides. While some see it as an acceptable practice to protect furniture and avoid scratches, others view it as an inhumane mutilation of an animal. Key arguments against declawing include the potential medical complications like pain, infection and behavioral issues. There are also alternatives like regular nail trims, scratching posts and vinyl nail caps that make declawing unnecessary in most cases. From an ethical standpoint, declawing alters a cat’s natural state solely for human convenience, which many find unacceptable.

However, some argue declawing may be warranted as a last resort if the cat faces abandonment or euthanasia otherwise. There are also ways to minimize risks through proper surgical techniques and pain management. Overall, while declawing should not be taken lightly, it does not appear conclusively cruel if done correctly and only after exhausting other options. The best approach seems to be reserving declawing for rare cases of destructive scratching that pose safety hazards or seriously threaten the human-cat bond. This balances the welfare of both animals and owners in difficult situations. But for routine protection of furniture, declawing cannot be easily justified.

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