Truths and Myths of Declawing Your Cat

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declawing your cat

Pulling fingernails off with a pair of tweezers is something we imagine happens in some torture chamber during wartime, in order for someone to gain important information. But according to many people, that’s exactly what we do when we declaw our cats (and heck, they never tell us anything!).

Other people swear by it. They say their cats don’t mind, and, better yet, their furniture is forever saved.

So, which is it? Is declawing your cat an act of animal abuse, or is it the only way to save your couch, bed, and arm?

What is declawing … the truth

Declawing a cat is considered major surgery. It’s when you (well, your vet) amputates the front toes at the first joint (hind paws are typically not declawed). That’s the same as you losing not just your fingernail, but your fingertip, up to the first knuckle. It’s typically done to prevent cats from scratching furniture, people, or other pets.

It doesn’t hurt … the myth

Your cat will be under anesthesia when he gets the surgery, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t feel the pain. It’ll take several weeks for your cat to fully recover, and even after that complications have been known to arise.

Cats don’t need claws, especially if they’re indoor cats … the myth

Some people believe that the only reason cats have claws is to defend themselves in the wild, but that’s not true. Claws are used for other reasons as well, including:

  • Creating a visual and scent mark for their territory

  • Kneading, which is comforting to a cat

  • To perform a full body stretch (the claws help them dig in)

 

Cats can’t be trained, so I have to declaw him … the myth

The number one reason why people declaw their cats is because of unwanted scratching. For one reason or another, pet owners have concluded that cats can’t be trained. Tell that to clicker trainers who’ve gone so far as to train their cats to use toilets (have you seen “Meet the Parents”?). The truth is, cats can be trained to use scratching posts and stop using furniture (heck, a cricket can be trained to jump through a hoop). Clicker training is a great way to shape your cat’s behavior, but there are other things you can do to make a scratching post more attractive to a cat:

  • The post should be 28-36” high, to allow the cat to fully stretch

  • Use catnip to attract your cat to the post

  • Try various types of posts. Each cat is different. One cat might prefer a rope post, while another might prefer a redwood plank

 

Laser surgery is a better alternative to the old-school methods … the half-truth

Yes, it’s true, that in recent years, the laser declaw method has proven to be a better alternative to the old school method, which used a scalpel blade. But I suppose it’s worth asking: would you prefer to be operated on with a laser or scalpel if the surgery isn’t actually necessary? Your answer will likely be: Why do I have to choose? I don’t need the surgery.

Good answer. But assuming we go through with the surgery, laser surgery does have some advantages, including:

  • Less (or no) bleeding

  • Less pain post-op

  • Less need for post-op bandages

 

Declawed cats are more likely to bite … the myth

Studies have shown that declawed cats don’t seem to realize that they have no claws, thus they will continue to paw at you (or your dog), if they’re angry. They won’t resort to biting to make up for the loss of claws.

Declawed cats won’t use a litterbox … the half-myth

If you ever had your wisdom teeth pulled (or any teeth, I suppose), you know it’s important to not get food impacted in the surgical areas. The same goes for a cat’s paws. During the time of recovery (about 2 – 3 weeks) it’s important to use something like shredded paper to avoid litter getting impacted. Some cats turn their cheek at this litterbox alternative, thus, in some cases, a declawed cat won’t use the litter box for a brief while. But they don’t lose their litterbox instinct.

A declawed cat can’t defend itself, thus should remain indoors … the truth

Yes, yes, and yes! If a cat no longer has its claws, then he can no longer defend himself and should become an indoor cat. A cat’s claws are its strongest defense mechanism. Do it, and yourself, a favor and keep him indoors. We will note, however, that a declawed cat can still:

  • Climb (some) trees, though not so well

  • Catch prey (much to your delight, I’m sure)

 

So, should you declaw your cat?

Sometimes it feels like we don’t have a choice in the decisions we make for our animals. If we live in an apartment that has no room for a scratching post, declawing may seem like the only way to go. Or perhaps your cat lets his paws fly like a conductor leading a rendition of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” In the end the decision is yours, but you should know the truths and myths behind your decision before you make it. Yes, it’ll hurt. No, it shouldn’t be completely life-altering. Yes, laser is the preferred method, but yes, it can be much more expensive. Yes, cats can be trained to use a post, and yes, it’s not necessarily quick nor easy to train a cat.

If you know anyone who has ever declawed a cat, get their opinion. Did their cat seem to be in pain? Did the cat’s demeanor completely change? Was it worth the stress and money? If you do choose to declaw your cat, remember that this is major surgery. Be patient as your cat recovers and heals from the trauma.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Actually, multiple studies show that up to 33% of cats develop a behavior problem (either biting or litterbox avoidance) after being declawed. Here’s a link to an article about the *real* science behind declawing…it’s not what vets tell you!

  2. ‘is it the only way to save your couch, bed, and arm?’
    Save them from what? We are talking about a small furry creature whose claws can easily be trimmed aren’t we and not a tiger,

    How do you think we manage in countries where declawing is banned as animal abuse? We certainly don’t look upon claws as lethal weapons, we know they are a beautiful and essential part of a cat’s anatomy! We provide scratching posts and pads. No one is forced to have a cat as a pet, don’t like claws then don’t get a cat!

    Our UK vets never declawed cats even before cosmetic surgery was banned here, they stuck to their sworn oath to cause no animal to suffer. Believe you me as a vet nurse I can tell you cats DO suffer pain and shock at the time of the amputation of their toe ends and then are forced to live a disabled life.

    Another myth is declawing keeps cats in their homes, Take a look at USA Rescue Shelters and see how many declawed cats are relinquished after the problems start and they are the ones not killed on admission as unrehomable

    Declawing needs to be banned worldwide and then we will see who are the true cat lovers!

    Ruth of The International Coalition Against Declawing

  3. The writer of this article had good intentions, but there are several innaccuracies in this article. This link covers the myth that laser surgery is better: http://www.arborridgepetclinic.com/site/view/153765_TheTruthsandMythsAboutLaserFelineDeclawSur.pml

    As to the claims that biting and litterbox issues are myths:

    A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (“Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter”, by Patronek, Glickman, Beck, et al., JAVMA, 1996:209:582-588) found that declawed cats were at an increased risk ofrelinquishment to animal shelters. Among relinquished cats, 52.4% of declawed cats were reported to exhibit litter box avoidance, compared to 29.1% of non-declawed cats.
    From CourierPostOnline.com, February 1, 2003: “Eighty percent of the cats that are surrendered that are declawed are euthanizedbecause they have a behavioral problem. . . . Declawed cats frequently become biters and also stop using litter boxes . . . one or the other.” —William Lombardi, shelter director, Gloucester County, New Jersey.
    A study published in the January 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) found that 31 percent of 39 cats that underwent onychectomy or tendonectomy developed at least one behavior change immediately after surgery, with the most common problems being litter box problems and biting.

  4. This author does a pretty good job overall-at least he stresses that the surgery is not necessary. To anyone who might be reading this and deciding whether to declaw or not, I beg you, do not declaw your cat. I rescued a declawed cat from being dumped back in a shelter after her original owners had her declawed and couldn’t deal with her behavioral problems after the fact. She still uses the litterbox, and she doesn’t bite, unless you try to touch her front paws, but I’ve never owned a cat in all my life that acts like Izzy does. She is very wary of people and of other animals, she hisses almost constantly and is never really able to stretch out and relax like my other cats, because she just feels so insecure without her claws. It’s also very common for her to fall off of things when she tries to jump onto chairs or tables. Everyone who has come to my house can immediately tell which of my 3 cats has been declawed- just by the way she acts.

    While I cannot deny that I’ve met other cats who have been declawed, and act much more normal than Izzy, I also can’t deny that many cats are forever changed for the worse by this unnecessary surgery…the problem is you don’t know how your cat will react until after the surgery, and by then it’s too late to change your mind. My question to people would be, if you do have your cat declawed and it develops behavioral problems because of it, will you keep the cat or just get rid of it? If you wouldn’t keep it, then you shouldn’t own a cat, or if you MUST have a declawed cat, just adopt one that’s already declawed- there are plenty of them in shelters! (*Hint, that should tell you something about declawed cats.) Cats aren’t humans. They walk on their toes, not the balls of their feet- so they need their toe ends to walk properly. Even if your cat doesn’t develop behavior problems they’ll end up having arthritis later or have problems walking as they age. This is not a decision to make lightly-seriously research exactly what this surgery entails before you alter your pet’s body forever, and be prepared to live with the consequences if you go through with it.

  5. I have 2 female house cats. Both non-laser declawed. Both very loving sweet tempered animals. Neither had any aftereffects or personality changes. However, my brother has a cat that is not declawed and bites at every opportunity. They treat that cat like a king and give him anything and everything a cat could possibly want. He’s a big bully.

  6. My family has ALWAYS declawed our cats, and we never had one develop behavioral problems of any kind after the fact. I have one cat that chews her paws occasionally, but that is because the “vet” we took her to butchered her poor paws. We never would have taken her there had we known, we now take our babies to a cat-only vet. Seriously though, I do not understand why people think that owners should just let cats claw whatever they want and say “Well, it’s a cat!” Declawing the front paws gets rid of this issue, and if you do it at a very young age, the cats have NO issues later. My family has had probably about 11 cats throughout the years, all but 2 declawed and none with issues related to the declawing.

    • This is my experience also. Since I was very young I was raised with a family cat and at times two. All of them were declawed as a kitten and never developed any issues. In my experience they became calmer and more loving partly do to the fact we could play with them and not get scratched up. The reason I even came across this article is because I am having my newly adopted kitten declawed tomorrow and was basically yelled at by a co worker when I told them I was getting it done. I’m taking my new kitten to the same famiky vet who has done several other declaw procedures and he obviously does something right because the pad is fully intact and the cats behavior is unchanged except for the nonexistent scratching or damaging things.

      I have to agree with you about not allowing them to just scratch and tear up what they want, sorry but I have a $3k sectional sofa and I’ll be damned if I’m letting him claw and rip it up.

      All in all I can’t say I’ve ever seen any negatives from having my cats declawed. I feel like it’s just like getting a surgical procedure done as a human there will be complications and there will be bad Dr’s and bad Veterinarians.

      • So nice to hear from someone else that shares my experience! I just want to laugh at this nonsense of cats becoming biters after getting declawed…aren’t all cats pretty much biters to some extent? I have been around plenty of clawed kitties in my life (friends of the family usually) and the ALL were biters as well. It’s a cat thing.

        • I had both of my cats fully declawed as kittens with no problems. One lived to 14 years. The other 18. I think the declawing myths being spread by cat fanatics are the problem.

          • Myths? This was a fair article that indicated several concerns with a surgical procedure, as well as dispelled myths about it. It’s not a myth that the procedure is amputating the toes to the first knuckle. It’s not a myth that cats do use those “fingertips” as indicated above. It’s not a myth that amputating part of the body will be painful and is likely to cause some measure of continued pain, whether the cat shows it or not. It’s not a myth that there could be litterbox issues, even if only temporary or even if it’s just litter getting compacted in the bandages. And it is no myth that cats are trainable. I trained mine; it’s very easy if you do it while they are young with positive and negative reinforcement.

          • Katie, not all cats respond to training as well as yours have. I am a firm proponent of training, my cats are fairly well behaved (but, being cats, they definitely have a mind of their own). However, I have never been able to train a cat not to claw up items they should not claw. Furthermore, they end up clawing things accidentally because they use their claws for balance or to help them climb. As all of us have responded (quite clearly, I might add), our cats have had NO issues, and with the amount of cats listed in between just the few of us, if problems from declawing were an actual, regular issue, percentages would show it for at least one of us. Take your cat to an experienced, well-reviewed vet for the declawing and the odds of complications become almost nil. Please stop responding to every post on here that is mentioning their positive experiences with declawing their cats. Both sides have a right to speak up, but you are almost bullying us by responding to every post. People like you are the reason that declawing cat owners get a bad rap. We LOVE our babies, and would NEVER intentionally hurt them. Please do not insinuate otherwise.

          • It was never my intent to insinuate that you (or others who declaw) don’t love your fur babies.

            You said “All of us have responded our cats have had NO issues.” One person did indicate in the comments that they had a terrible experience. Moreover, I am not saying your cats had issues (though, as animals instinctively hide pain, I am saying they MIGHT have minor pain you’re unaware of, or they may develop issues later). I’m just saying that problems are no myth. I recognize that many cat owners have had good luck for generations, but I also understand that that’s not everyone. Finally, responding to people is hardly bullying! Everyone has the right to speak up and have dialogue on this issue, myself included.

      • I mean, but there ARE negatives. They are listed above! Even if you feel the pros outweigh the cons, the negatives are: pain from surgery, blood & bandages, the cat cannot use its paws as fully as they were designed to be used, possible complications from surgery (right after or down the road), & difficulties with using litterbox/getting stuff compacted at the sites. Moreover, training is not difficult at all if started when they are young. My cats do not claw the furniture. It was as easy as negatively reinforcing bad behavior (yelling/clapping & then moving cat to the scratching post) & positively reinforcing good behavior (praise & petting). Easiest & quickest thing they learned.

      • I too have an expensive sectional and decided to declaw my cat whom I have had since infancy as a feral found in a field. He was bottle fed for a week before learning how to lap his formula on his own. At a year old, we purchased the sectional and decided to declaw his front and back feet; he healed perfectly, didn’t have litter box issues and even became calmer. I know he has no pain in his paws because he lets me massage his whole feet (paws, pads, toes and top) since he declawing in November 2018. He did realize he has no claws and has used his teeth to play bite but this month, he has actually started painfully biting us. For example, my husband came home from work today and Freddy (domestic long haired male) didn’t meet him at the door as usual but approached him while my husband was on the pot running his body around his legs and purring but after only 2 passes of petting, Freddy went to bite him so he pulled away only for Freddy to rub throughout his legs again while purring and when my husband pet his head, he bit him hard and gave him a “I’ll kill you while you sleep” look. The past week, Freddy was more aggressive to me (which never happened) to the point of penetrating skin but today was loving when I got home. I’m usually home all day most days but today I was gone all day and my husband made it home before I did. I’m curious if anyone has any ideas why he might be acting this way for he is my first cat and I’m learning new stuff about cats every day.

    • I don’t think owners should just let cats claw whatever they want. Both of my cats are fully trained not to claw anything but their posts. This was by far the easiest thing to train, as it is so easy to negatively reinforce doing the wrong place (yelling/clapping & moving cat to the post to show where they are supposed to do it instead) and so easy to positively reinforce the posts (praise & petting!). As the article said, I don’t think there’s much behavioral issues with declawing–it’s more the other concerns of potentially poor job done by vet, possible complications/pain later, & the ethical issue (of amputating).

    • Agreed:
      I have had many cats since the age of around 9-10.
      We always had them declawed with zero complications. They absolutely still used the litter box, kneaded, and used the scratching post. Maybe vets were better at it back then then they are now. Also they never came home with bandaged paws and seemed to have zero pain. They always remained happy & playful. We have a new cat now and my wife is afraid to have it done. If it were mine alone I would do it instead of having to put barriers to most rooms in the house instead of letting him be free to roam our entire home. He’s missing out on a lot of cool places to explore.

      • It’s interesting that I still get people coming across this article years later! It’s even more difficult now to find a vet that will declaw, and I think it’s a shame. I know they outlawed declawing in New York, and I’m betting we will see a larger population of homeless cats and cats being abandoned at shelters because the owners can’t handle the cats clawing stuff up. I have tried many times to train a cat not to claw things, and it has never, ever stuck! Even my declawed babies “phantom claw” the couches, chairs, bed, and other things! If they still had their claws, our furniture would be in shreds. And this is even after training them from a young age not to claw things, and providing them with scratching posts and whatnot. Cats love clawing things, it’s just in their nature. But this way, we can be free to cuddle and love on them without getting torn to shreds when they think they are “playing” with us. Hopefully your wife will come around, and you can find an awesome vet that takes great care in declawing, so that the cat suffers no negative effects.

        • Thank you
          This is exactly What I’ve been telling my wife. I posted that on another Facebook page by accident and man you should’ve seen all the haters wanting to cut my toenails off and stuff like that. I think people are very misinformed about a good vet that knows how to declaw cats. They are so much fun to play with after that and you don’t have to be yelling at them all the time about clawing you and the furniture and make them skittish.

  7. I have had many cats since the age of around 9-10.
    We always had them declawed with zero complications. They absolutely still used the litter box, kneaded, and used the scratching post. Maybe vets were better at it back then then they are now. Also they never came home with bandaged paws and seemed to have zero pain. They always remained happy & playful. We have a new cat now and my wife is afraid to have it done. If it were mine alone I would do it instead of having to put barriers to most rooms in the house instead of letting him be free to roam our entire home. He’s missing out on a lot of cool places to explore.

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