When your cat pounces on you and sinks their razor-sharp claws into your feet at 2am, you’ve probably had that split-second thought ‘that’s it, Cat, it’s declawing time’.
Situations like these have led many owners to consider declawing. But, is that the best solution? Like many, you’ve probably heard the bad press about declawing, but is it actually that big a deal? Are there alternatives? And, what actually… you know, is it?
In this article we’ll examine those questions, and by the end you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed decision.
The term sounds straight-forward, the procedure itself is a little more complicated. Cats who are ‘declawed’ have been sedated before ‘minor’ surgery is carried out.
Minor in that declawing is not normally a life-threatening procedure. When completed, each of the ‘fingernails’ of the cat has been removed, and they are unlikely to grow back.
These are the three methods used for declawing, in summary.
- A surgical blade is used to cut between the ‘finger’ joints, this removes the claw bed. This is the most common and most invasive option.
- A laser is used to sever the third bone from the cat’s paw. This method is more expensive, but slightly less painful with a reduced recovery time.
- Cosmetic removal where a small blade is used to dissect the claw and claw-bed from the paw, leaving the rest of the paw intact. This method has less post-surgery pain, and a faster recovery time. However, this is a longer procedure, and as such the most expensive option. The Humane Society provides further information on these procedures.
Cat claws work similar to our own hands. We flex our fingers to extend or retract on objects, to encase and secure them. Cats paws and claws work in the same way, the claw adds extra grip to hold onto objects.
What else do claws do? Well, they’re a multipurpose feature of feline anatomy. Claws provide grip, much like our fingers do, so cats can hold their food or play with their toys. Imagine trying to eat a bowl of soup without the ability to hold a spoon.
Claws protect and comfort; cats rely on their claws as the first point of being able to defend themselves when attacked. Claws believe it or not, also provide comfort to your cat. How? Ever notice how when your cat’s really happy it ‘kneads bread’?
That’s part of the clawing action. This movement soothes and provides happiness to your cat, kind of like a massage and back-scratch does for us, you could call it a ‘claws and effect’ situation.
We’ll cut to the quick here, that’s kind of a pun, but it’s not funny as it’s also essentially what happens. Wherever you are right now, look down at your hand, and spread your fingers out wide.
Now, imagine someone uses a knife or pair of scissors and cuts off your fingernail right below the first bend in your finger, the joint between your distal and intermediate phalanges. That’s declawing.
Most declawed cats will have had this procedure done under anesthetic, the vet will have selected one of the procedures discussed above, then that first segment of their ‘finger’ is removed.
The procedure is painful, and afterwards the wound is stitched or glued with surgical-glue. This is done on each claw – 18 times in total, 10 on front paws, 8 on rear paws. Most cats will then need two or more weeks recovery.
During this time many cats will experience discomfort and difficulty walking, using litter trays, and resuming their normal routines and behaviours – they also cannot go outside as there is a risk of infection.
Will declawing improve your cat’s life? Not really. It may actually make things worse. Declawed cats can become aggressive – as they can no longer defend themselves, as such they may resort to biting as a means to express their fear or frustration.
Declawing causes pain to your cat as they cannot walk properly for many weeks, and the wounds are susceptible to infections. Nail beds have also been known to regrow, which may then swell in the joint as the ‘nail’ no longer has anywhere to grow. This can cause extreme pain, and further surgeries or amputations.
In severe cases some declawed cats have also been known to experience infections in their paws, tissue necrosis (tissue death), lameness, nerve damage, bone spurs, and back pain.
Declawing tends to be related to social issues, attacking furniture or concern over hurting babies, children, and the elderly. So, unless your household has a medical reason, i.e: suppressed immune system, family members on blood thinners, or those who are at risk of bacterial infections, there really aren’t any benefits to humans for declawing a cat.
However, if your cat has severe damage to a claw, or there’s a tumour or similar medical condition, then declawing may be recommended by your vet as an option to provide a better quality of life to your cat – however this may also be limited to the effected claw, not all 18 claws.
So what are your other options to declawing a cat?
Scratching posts: If your cat is still a kitten, then training may be the answer. Provide plenty of scratching alternatives (posts, cat trees, exercise wheels etc) and encourage them to use those instead of your or your belongings.
Behavioural training: Positive reinforcement. What we mean by this is lavishing praise on your cat when they scratch in the right place with either affection or food rewards.
How do you accomplish this? Easy, they get it right, and you give the love. NEVER use physical force, this will only add more stress and potentially harm your cat.
Nail Trimming: Maybe a bit of Greco-cato wrestling is your speed? This is easily mastered with a reliable pair of feline nail scissors, and a firm cuddle of your cat. Or, for a small fee your vet will do it. See the picture below for an idea of what it looks like.
Nail caps: Think of them like false nails for your cat. They’re stuck on over the top of your cat’s nails just like humans do. This prevents them from scratching you, and your cat will eventually shed them as they normally would their natural claws.
Mood altering sprays: Yes, it’s what it sounds like, but in a good and legal kind of way! Brands like Feliway produce pheromone sprays that reduce a cat’s stress levels.
Catnip toys can have the same or similar effect of reducing stress, plus you get to laugh at their antics while they’re… erm… relaxed. It’s a nicer way of saying get your cat high.
Yes. There’s no way to sugar coat this one. Your cat will experience a great deal of discomfort with both the procedure and recovery, regardless of age or temperament.
Declawed cats need medicating regularly for pain management. They will now feel threatened, and without a means to defend themselves, you may struggle to medicate them as a result. If you want a handy tip on how to use bread to medicate your cat click here.
Warning; there is a distinct possibility of biting, and increased pain to your cat due to aggravating the wounds as they try to use their non-existent claws.
Buy a scratching post. Or several, and dot them about the house. Whenever you see your cat eyeing up an unsanctioned scratching site don’t yell at them, calmly approach them, and relocate them to the scratching post.
Maybe even run their paws over it a few times or spray some catnip/pheromones on it so they’re tempted by it.
Another tip is to… well, take a little off the top. No, we’re not talking about a b’ris, we mean the claws, give them a small nip, a trim. Of course, you’ll have to hold on to your cat whilst you do this, or for a small fee you can take your cat to a vet and they’ll do it for you.
Some will say yes, others will say no. There’s no scientific proof that declawing causes permanent negative changes to your cat’s personality.
However, many owners have commented that their cat appears to behave differently post-declawing, and this may be explained by the changes in their physical being or environment, and the adjustments they must make during this time.
So, there you have it, declawing, the pros and cons, the alternatives, an explanation on what the term really means, and how it’s carried out.
Whilst there may be grounds to explore this procedure, if you or your cat have medical grounds, there aren’t really any benefits that make declawing worth your time, effort, or financial expense. Declawing may sound like a solution, but it may also cause you more problems.
On a final note, another fact to keep in mind when considering declawing is whether or not it’s legal in your country or state. Just make sure if you are thinking about declawing your cat that you’re not breaking the law!