The Clawless Conundrum. Will Kitty Hold a Grudge After Declawing?

The effects of declawing

Declawing a cat is a surgical procedure to amputate the end of each toe, removing bone, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. This is not a simple nail removal, it is a full toe amputation, removing the final segment of each digit of the cat’s claw. Removing this portion of the toe causes both immediate and long-term physical effects.

Declawing is extremely painful for cats. The surgery removes sensitive nerve endings and causes acute pain while healing. The feet contain many nerves and blood vessels, so declawing often leads to profuse bleeding. There can be complications like infections, abscesses, and tissue necrosis from improper healing. The procedure essentially leaves open wounds on the paws which can be very painful as they heal over several weeks. Even after healing, cats may suffer chronic pain or sensitivity in the feet from nerve damage.

Since declawing removes vital tendons and muscles, it can affect balance and mobility. Cats rely on their claws for grasping, so removing them alters the way they walk and bear weight. This can lead to stress on joints and muscles, causing lameness or back pain over time. Declawed cats may avoid jumping and other normal cat activities due to discomfort. There are risks of regrowth or bone spurs if the surgery was not done properly. Overall declawing causes maiming of the feet, frequently leading to pain and impairment.

Behavioral changes after declawing

Declawing can unfortunately lead to some problematic behavioral changes in cats. According to research from the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, declawed cats are more likely to show signs of aggression and refuse to use the litter box compared to cats with claws. This may be because declawing removes a cat’s primary defense mechanism, leaving them feeling vulnerable and stressed. As a result, declawed cats may bite or act out more frequently as a means of protection.

Additionally, scratching is a natural behavior for cats that allows them to stretch their muscles and mark their territory. When this outlet is taken away by declawing, some cats start eliminating outside of the litterbox to establish ownership over their surroundings. Declawed cats may also avoid the litterbox because digging in the litter can be painful on their tender paws post-surgery.

Beyond aggression and litter box issues, declawing can damage the bond of trust between an owner and their cat. Cats often feel confused and betrayed after this permanent alteration to their bodies, which they did not consent to. Rebuilding a loving relationship with a declawed cat takes time, patience, and dedicated effort from the owner.

Alternatives to Declawing

Before deciding to declaw your cat, it’s important to explore more humane alternatives that can prevent unwanted scratching. Trimming your cat’s nails regularly is an easy alternative that blunts the claws so they do less damage when scratching. Investing in scratching posts and cardboard scratchers can redirect your cat’s natural scratching instinct to appropriate surfaces. Another option is applying soft vinyl nail caps that cover the claws so they can’t scratch furniture. Additionally, synthetic pheromone sprays like Feliway help reduce scratching behaviors.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, declawing “should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively.” Examining the underlying causes of scratching, like stress or anxiety, is also recommended. With patience and positive reinforcement, destructive scratching can often be resolved without resorting to permanent surgical procedures like declawing that alter a cat’s natural behaviors.[1] Always explore humane alternatives before considering declawing.

When declawing may be considered

In very rare cases, declawing may be considered for medical reasons as an absolute last resort. According to the AVMA, declawing should only be considered after medical or behavioral alternatives have failed to resolve the cat’s severe medical issue [1]. For example, declawing may only be medically necessary in cases of severe onychopathy, severe untreatable pain, or severe recurrent infections that do not respond to antibiotics or other treatment.

Declawing should never be considered for minor medical issues or for human convenience. It should only be considered after consulting with a veterinarian and exhausting all other medical and behavioral options. The procedure should be limited to the affected digits only. If declawing is deemed medically necessary, laser declawing is less invasive than traditional declawing and may help reduce complications. However, the effects on the cat’s mobility and behavior should still be carefully considered before proceeding.

Preparing for the procedure

If you decide to move forward with declawing your cat, preparation is key for a successful procedure and recovery. The first step is finding an experienced veterinarian to perform the declaw surgery. Look for one familiar with the specific declawing procedure you want performed. Discuss the risks and benefits with your vet beforehand. According to Fampetvet, declawing surgery typically costs between $100-$500 depending on the procedure and your location.

Before surgery, your vet will likely recommend a pre-op exam and bloodwork to identify any potential complications. Follow your vet’s instructions for withholding food and water before the procedure. You may need to buy an e-collar and prepare an area at home for your cat to recover comfortably post-surgery. Understand the typical recovery time to prepare to monitor and care for your cat afterwards.

Caring for a cat after declawing

After a cat is declawed, it’s crucial to closely monitor them and provide proper care to manage pain and prevent complications. Following a declaw procedure, acute pain usually lasts 3-4 days. However, a cat can experience chronic pain for weeks or months if proper care is not provided (Devitt). To manage pain after declawing, your veterinarian will likely prescribe pain medication. It’s important to give pain medication on the schedule prescribed and monitor for signs that the dose needs adjustment, such as decreased appetite or ongoing signs of pain like crying or licking the paws excessively. Preventing infection is also key after surgery with proper wound care. Keep the incision clean and dry. Look for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge, or foul odor from the paws. Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these signs (Howard County Vet). Restrict activity to allow proper healing, but encourage gentle use of the litter box to help relearn normal paw function. Place litter boxes in easy to access areas during recovery. During recuperation, provide a soft recovery bedding and monitor appetite and litter box use closely (GSVH). With attentive aftercare and pain management, cats can recover well after declawing.

Sources:

Devitt, C. (2016). Cats and chronic pain – It’s not all in their heads. dvm360. https://www.dvm360.com/view/cats-and-chronic-pain-its-not-all-their-heads

GSVH. (n.d.). Post declaw home care instructions. https://gsveterinaryhospital.com/wp-content/uploads/Declewa-Discharge.pdf

Howard County Vet. (n.d.). Declaw discharge instructions. https://howardcountyvet.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/213/2015/03/4.pdf

Reintroducing your cat after declawing

After returning home from the declawing procedure, cats will need some time to recover and adjust. It’s important to reintroduce the environment to them slowly and patiently. Be prepared for some changes in behavior as cats adapt to their new situation.

Experts recommend taking things slowly when reintroducing a newly declawed cat to their home surroundings. Let the cat explore at their own pace and don’t force too much interaction right away. Give them space to acclimate.

Using treats or play can help form positive associations as the cat gets comfortable again. Toss treats gently for the cat to approach and eat. Introduce favorite toys, but avoid anything too energetic until healing allows. The goal is to create happy experiences in the cat’s normal environment after a stressful change.

Be patient and understanding if the cat seems hesitant about their surroundings. It may take time for them to adjust behaviorally after the declawing procedure. Work on rebuilding trust and confidence through a gradual reintroduction full of affection, treats and gentle play.

Signs your cat is unhappy after declawing

After a cat has been declawed, there are some common signs that may indicate they are unhappy or experiencing pain and discomfort. These signs include:

Not using the litter box: Declawed cats may avoid the litter box because digging in the litter can be painful on their tender paws. A cat that stops using the litter box after being declawed may be doing so out of aversion to the pain. This can lead to urinating or defecating outside the box. According to the Humane Society, inappropriate elimination is the number one reported behavioral problem in declawed cats. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/why-declawing-bad-your-cat

Hiding: Cats in pain tend to withdraw and hide. A normally social cat that begins hiding after being declawed may be doing so because the procedure left them feeling vulnerable or in pain. Hiding is a way for them to avoid activities that put pressure on their paws and may aggravate pain. According to PetMD, declawed cats may hide more due to pain in the paws or legs after the procedure. https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/negative-side-effects-of-declawing-cats

Increased aggression: Research shows that declawed cats are more likely to bite than cats with intact claws. This may stem from chronic pain that causes the cat to feel more irritable or defensive. Aggression is a common sign of pain in declawed cats, per PAWS. The claws are also a cat’s primary defense mechanism, so removing them can increase biting behavior. https://www.paws.org/resources/problems-with-declawing/

Rebuilding trust after declawing

Rebuilding a cat’s trust after a traumatic event like declawing takes time and patience. Cats rely heavily on routine, so sticking to regular feeding times, play times, and maintaining their space can provide security. Avoid cornering or forcing interaction, which can cause more stress. Let your cat approach you first.

Focus on meeting your cat’s needs reliably. Make sure she has easy access to food, water, litter boxes, scratching posts, hiding spots, and high perches. Providing puzzle toys or play can help reduce stress. Speak softly and move slowly around her.

Some cats never fully regain the trust lost after declawing. But rebuilding a bond is possible with time. Allow at least several weeks for your cat to adjust after returning home, avoiding scolding or punishment. With routine care and respect for her space, she may eventually feel safe and confident with you again.1

Give declawing careful consideration

Declawing is a permanent procedure that cannot be reversed. The majority of declawed cats will experience at least some negative side effects. Studies show that declawing leads to an increased incidence of back pain and impaired ability to walk, jump, and play normally in cats (1). Before deciding to declaw, be sure to thoroughly research the potential risks and complications.

Declawing is highly controversial among veterinarians and animal welfare organizations. Many view it as an unethical practice that offers convenience for guardians at the expense of the cat’s physical and psychological well-being. According to the Humane Society of the United States, declawing provides no medical benefit to cats and should be considered only after trying all other alternatives (2).

There are many options aside from declawing that can protect furniture while allowing cats to retain their natural behaviors. Provide scratching posts around the home and use rewards to encourage your cat to use them. Cover furniture or apply double-sided sticky tape to deter clawing. Consider trimming claws regularly or using vinyl nail caps. As a last resort, tendonectomy is a less invasive procedure that severs the tendon to prevent extension of the claw.

While some guardians view declawing as a simple solution, its permanent impacts on cats should give any caring owner pause. Do your research, consult with your vet, and exhaust all alternatives first.

(1) https://www.reddit.com/r/askphilosophy/comments/2808d9/ethics_of_declawing_cats/

(2) https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/why-declawing-bad-your-cat

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