The Pros and Cons of Declawing Cats

The history and rationale behind declawing

Declawing, also known as onychectomy, has been practiced on cats for over 50 years (Catster). It first emerged in the late 1950s as more cats were being kept indoors and owners wanted to protect their furniture. Vets claimed the procedure was harmless and quick; indeed, some compared declawing to humans getting a manicure. They suggested it prevented unwanted scratching with no negative effects. The surgery continued to gain in popularity through the 1960s and 70s. However, some vets expressed ethical concerns even in the early years about removing cats’ claws solely for human convenience. Overall though, declawing was generally accepted as a routine procedure without major consequences for feline health or behavior. Scratching was seen as a destructive nuisance behavior that needed “fixing,” rather than understanding scratching as a natural feline instinct. Thus, declawing initially emerged from a desire to address destructive scratching in a way thought to be harmless at the time.

Medical implications of declawing

Declawing a cat involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe. This is an invasive surgical procedure that alters the anatomy of the cat’s feet. According to the Human Society, removing the claw also removes tendons, ligaments, and nerves that allow for normal function of the paw. This can lead to both short-term and long-term medical complications.

Potential short-term risks from the surgery itself include pain, infection, and tissue death. Cats may avoid bearing weight on their feet or show signs of lameness as they recover. There may also be bleeding, swelling, and discharge from the surgery site.

Long-term risks include chronic back and joint pain since declawing changes the way a cat’s feet meet the ground. Some cats shift their weight back onto their hindlegs to avoid pressure on their sore front feet. Improper walking can lead to muscle strains or joint diseases like arthritis. Declawed cats may also experience phantom limb pain from the amputation of their toes.

Declawing may also lead to litter box issues. According to the Anicira Veterinary Center, around 50% of declawed cats develop behaviors like urinating outside the litter box due to associated pain. Litter granules may irritate their sore feet.

Behavioral and psychological impacts

Declawing can have significant negative behavioral and psychological impacts on cats. According to the SPCA, declawed cats often feel vulnerable without their primary defense mechanism, affecting their self-confidence and potentially making them anxious, fearful, or even aggressive (SPCA). Idyllic Paws reports that declawing is linked to increased biting behavior in cats as they resort to using their teeth for defense instead (Idyllic Paws). Declawed cats may also avoid the litter box due to pain in their paws, contributing to inappropriate elimination outside the box (SPCA). The declawing surgery and resulting physical impairments are highly stressful for cats, subjecting them to both acute and chronic pain. Ultimately, declawing takes away a cat’s natural defenses, leaving lasting psychological impacts of vulnerability, fear, and anxiety.

Ethical considerations

Many animal welfare organizations argue that declawing cats is unethical because it diminishes cats’ quality of life. Declawing a cat involves amputating the last joint of each toe, which is equivalent to removing a human’s finger at the last knuckle joint. According to the ASPCA, this amputation is “both painful and unnecessary” and can cause long-term physical and psychological complications (ASPCA).

The Humane Society points out that scratching is a natural behavior for cats that allows them to stretch their muscles and mark their territory. By taking away this innate ability, declawing can cause stress, anxiety, and other behavioral issues in cats. As the Humane Society states, “Declawing results in the loss of an important means for cats to cope with stress” (Humane Society).

Many vets and animal welfare groups view declawing as an act of cruelty. PETA argues that declawing subjects cats to “a lifetime of pain and disability” just for human convenience. They view declawing as “maiming” and believe it should be outlawed except for rare medical circumstances (PETA).

Alternatives to Declawing

There are several humane alternatives to declawing that can help redirect a cat’s scratching behavior. Some popular options include:


Regularly trimming your cat’s claws can help minimize damage to furniture. Clipping just the sharp tips of their nails every 1-2 weeks is a simple solution. It’s best to start clipping as kittens so they get used to the routine. Always be careful not to trim too short and avoid the quick of the nail, where there are blood vessels.

Scratching Posts

Providing sturdy scratching posts and boards around the house gives cats an appropriate place to scratch and stretch their claws. These should be tall or long enough for cats to fully stretch. Covering posts with sisal rope or cardboard appeals to their natural scratching instinct. Placing posts near furniture they scratch can help redirect the behavior.

Soft Paws

Applying plastic caps like Soft Paws covers claws so they cannot damage furniture and belongings. The caps attach to claws with non-toxic glue and last 4-6 weeks before needing replacement as the nail grows out. This is a temporary solution that may discourage scratching behaviors.


With positive reinforcement training, most cats can learn where and what to scratch. Use treats and praise to reward desired scratching on posts. If they scratch furniture, calmly move them to the scratching post and reward with a treat when they scratch there instead. Consistency is key for training cats.

Professional opinions

Top veterinary organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) strongly discourage routine declawing and recommend alternative treatments first. According to the AVMA’s official policy, “The AVMA discourages the declawing (onychectomy) of cats as an elective procedure and supports non-surgical alternatives to the procedure.” The AVMA states that declawing “should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively.”

Similarly, the AAHA’s position is that declawing cats should be “a last resort” and “only when all behavioral and environmental alternatives have failed.” Their official position statement says: “The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) strongly opposes the elective declawing of domestic cats and believes it is veterinarians’ obligation to provide cat owners with alternatives to onychectomy and education about both proper scratching behavior, as well as alternatives to declawing.”

These leading veterinary groups agree declawing should not be routine and acknowledge it has negative impacts, so alternative solutions should be explored first. Their guidance can inform vets and owners considering declawing procedures.

Legal Status of Declawing Cats

Declawing cats is banned or restricted in many parts of the United States and the world. New York became the first state to prohibit the declawing of cats in 2019, except for medical necessity. This was followed by Maryland, which banned declawing cats for cosmetic reasons in 2020. Declawing is also banned in many cities across the US, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. Internationally, declawing is illegal in England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.

Some states have proposed legislation to ban declawing but have not yet passed laws. These include Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey, and California. The American Veterinary Medical Association discourages declawing as an elective procedure but stops short of recommending a ban. Overall, the tide is turning against declawing due to animal welfare concerns, with more places moving to prohibit or restrict the practice each year.

Owner decisions

When deciding whether to declaw a cat, owners must carefully weigh the medical, behavioral, and ethical factors involved. Declawing is an elective procedure, so the decision lies fully with the owner.

On the medical side, declawing requires anesthesia and amputation of the cat’s digits, which carries risks of complications. The surgery is painful during recovery. Some cats may experience chronic pain or other long-term effects like lameness. Owners must determine if these risks are worthwhile.

Behaviorally, declawed cats may experience increased biting, litterbox avoidance, stress, or anxiety after surgery. However, declawing may prevent damage to furniture for owners concerned about scratching. Owners must decide if curbing scratching outweighs potential negative behaviors.

Ethically, declawing is considered an unnecessary mutilation by many veterinarians and animal welfare advocates. But some view it as an acceptable last resort if rehoming is not possible. Owners must examine if declawing aligns with their personal values.

With all these factors involved, the declawing decision is complex. Owners must thoroughly research the procedure and alternatives, ask questions, and decide what is right for their situation and moral compass.


While some owners may pursue declawing as an option to avoid unwanted scratching behaviors, it is important to carefully consider the medical and ethical implications.

Declawing comes with tangible risks and side effects: it requires amputating a cat’s toes down to the first knuckle, and can lead to chronic pain, changes in litter box habits, and other behavioral issues. The procedure is banned in many countries as animal cruelty.

Before considering declawing, pet owners should explore safer alternatives like regular nail trims, scratching posts, soft paws/nail caps, and training. While declawing may seen convenient in the short term, the potential lifelong side effects make it an inadvisable choice for both cat health and welfare.

In summary, declawing poses more risks than benefits. Owners wanting to avoid destructive scratching should pursue humane alternatives that address the root cause of the behavior, not permanently damage a cat’s paws. With compassion and patience, owners can train cats to use acceptable outlets for their natural scratching instinct.

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