Declawing A Cat | Pros, Cons & Safer Alternatives

A cat’s claws are like fingers on our hands and are what help give cats their incredible mobility and balance. Think of declawing a cat as the equivalent of chopping our fingers off at the last knuckle. 

Cats will also use their claws as defensive weapons against predators and to catch prey or in the case of domestic cats toys and scratching posts. 

Because cats like to keep their claws sharp and ready for any occasion it can lead them to scratch our furniture and carpet. 

Sadly, this has unfortunately led to many cat owners declawing their cats. Declawing a cat is an incredibly painful operation that takes an immense amount of time to recover from both physically and mentally. 

In fact, declawing a cat can lead to behavioral problems. If you have a kitty that won’t stop scratching there are plenty of alternatives to declawing. 

Keep reading below to find out everything you need to know about declawing a cat and what your alternatives are. 

cat stretch

What Is Declawing?

Declawing a cat is the removal of a cat’s claws and in medical terms is called an Onychectomy. This is an operation in which the cat’s claws are surgically removed by amputating all or part of the distal phalanges or end bones of the animal’s toes.

Because a cat’s claw develops from germinal tissue within the third phalanx, amputation of the bone is necessary to remove the claw completely. 

Without amputating the third phalanx, a cat’s claw will continue to grow back as it was. 

The removal of claws is considered animal cruelty in many countries, as it causes physical and psychological suffering to the feline.

Although claw removal used to be common in North America, thankfully it’s no longer popular and has been banned in several states, starting with New York in 2019.

How Is A Cat Declawed?

Cat declawing is done by a veterinarian performing what’s known as an Onychectomy. This procedure will not remove the claw but the entire third phalanx. 

declawing a cat

There’s no way to sugarcoat this but they perform a partial digit amputation

As I mentioned before, If humans were to undergo an onychectomy, it would be the equivalent of amputating each finger at the first knuckle.

Just picture that for a second! Also, imagine how important the ends of our fingers are to our everyday lives. The same goes for cats. 

Procedure Methods

The term sounds straight-forward, but 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.

Below are the three methods commonly used for declawing a cat.

Blade Declawing

Surgical blades are used to cut between the ‘finger’ joints, which removes the claw bed. This is the most common and invasive option. 

A stitch or surgical glue is used to close the wounds after surgery, and the feet are bandaged. Recovery time is long and painful for your cat. 

Laser Onychectomy 

Used to sever/cut through the tissue and third bone of the cat’s paw. This method is more expensive but slightly less painful with a reduced recovery time.

Tendonectomy Or Deep Digital Flexor Tenectomy

A small curved blade separates the claw from the bone to which it is attached. As the soft tissue and paw pads remain intact, the recovery time is shorter and there is less discomfort after surgery. 

Read more about the procedure here

When compared to blade claw removal, this is a more precise and time-consuming process.

This means they are unable to extend them to scratch. An abnormally thick claw can develop as a result of this procedure. 

Consequently, cats’ nails must be trimmed frequently and with great care to prevent their claws from snagging on people, carpets, furniture, and drapes for example. 

Although tendon removal is not an amputation, a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association concluded that the incidence of hemorrhage, lameness and infection with tendon removal is similar to that with claw removal.

The Humane Society provides further information on these procedures.

cat scratching

Why Would You Declaw A Cat?

A cat may be declawed to prevent it from scratching its owner, other pets, or furniture but honestly, you should try to avoid it at all costs. 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, declawing cats may be considered when: 

“A cat’s excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior poses an unacceptable risk of injury or remains destructive despite diligent attention to behavior modification and alternatives.”

Ultimately, the decision to declaw a cat is up to the pet owner in consultation with their vet (assuming it’s legal where you live). 

Some vets are open to claw removal if it means the cat does not end up back in the shelter, on the street, or euthanized.

Things To Consider

There are many mixed and divided opinions when it comes to declawing cats even among vets.

Check out some excerpts from the experts below. 

Dr. Canup, a DVM, from Washington, Georgia says she recommends the procedure, “if it means the cat will have a forever home. It’s better than being a street cat at risk of trauma or disease.” 

This doesn’t mean it’s for every cat. If you are going to declaw your cat you need to commit to having them inside permanently because they no longer can defend themselves. 

If you can’t satisfy this need then it’s not recommended. Finding homes for declawed cats is extremely difficult and the last thing you want is for them to end up in a shelter. 

Dr. Carnup does make a strong emphasis that it’s not for every cat and urges owners who choose this option “to commit to having the pet indoors for the 

Removing their claws takes away their ability to climb trees, jump fences and evade predators. They would be very vulnerable if left outside.

Dr. Richardson, a veterinarian in New York City, whereas you know, declawing is illegal, says it should be done only if medically necessary

For example, the cat has an infection of the bone or toe that cannot be resolved medically or cancer.

Dr. Richardson quotes: “In the vast majority of such cases, only one or two digits would require amputation, rather than all of the toes.” 

Finally, it’s worth noting that 2 cats were observed to experience Bilateral flexor tendon contracture following Onychectomy by Cooper MA, Laverty PH, Soiderer EE. 

Is Declawing A Cat Painful For Them?

Yes, declawing a cat is very painful for them. Regardless of how well any of the procedures go, your cat will be in excruciating pain following its operation. 

Onychectomy can result in short-term and possibly long-term pain from neuropathic pain, residual inflammation, infection, or remaining bone fragments.

When cats have their claws removed, they can suffer from chronic pain as they age

Since cats are excellent at hiding signs of pain and discomfort, they can be uncomfortable for years without you noticing. 

You should monitor mobility for a change in gait or obvious signs of discomfort.

They will find it difficult to walk because removing the claws changes their natural gait and the way they walk. If they continue to walk like this it can lead to joint pain and arthritis

Declawed cats may no longer want to walk on cat litter as the texture could be causing them pain. 

Moreover, your cat might not be able to stretch her muscles and tendons properly without the ability to scratch. 

How A Cats Claw Works

Cat claws work similarly to our own hands. We flex our fingers to extend or retract around objects, to encase and secure them. Cat’s 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.

Declawing A Cat Can Affect Their Personality

So now we know that declawing your cat is painful, can affect the way they walk, and can cause long term health effects but what about their personality? 

Surely they become depressed right? 

So, does the declawing of cats cause unwanted behavior?

Well, 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.

This could be because of the changes in their physical being or environment, and the adjustments they must now make as a result of the surgery.

It could affect your cat’s natural behavior traits and it’s not uncommon to see adverse behavior during the recovery period. 

Unfortunately, there is no conclusive answer. 

It’s a gamble whether your cat’s personality will remain the same or if it will change in some way. 

No one can tell you for sure. 

cats claws

How To Stop Your Cat From Scratching Your Furniture

The best thing you can do to stop your cat from scratching your furniture is to buy them a dedicated scratching post or cat tree

Whenever you see your cat eyeing up the sofa for a scratch session, don’t yell at them. Instead, calmly approach them and relocate them to the scratching post.

You can then encourage them to scratch the post by running their paws over it a few times. If that doesn’t seem to work you could spray some catnip/pheromones on. 

Another tip is to… well, take a little off the top. No, I’m not talking about a bris, I mean the claws. Give them a small nip, a trim using cat nail clippers

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.

Alternative To Declawing A Cat

Many veterinarians consider declawing to be unethical and unnecessary for cats. 

They encourage their clients to choose safer alternatives that prevent cats from scratching undesirable surfaces. 

You should consider the following alternatives before declawing your cat. 

Nail Trimming

It’s simple, keeping their nails trimmed is one of the easiest ways to stop a cat from clawing your furniture. 

You should trim your cat’s nails every two to three weeks. You can take your cat to a clinic or groomer if it’s too difficult for you to do it yourself.

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Using nail caps is not only a safe and effective way to stop cats from scratching, but it’s also incredibly cute and inexpensive. 

You’ll need to replace the caps every 5 weeks on average as their nails grow out. 

Once again, if you are struggling to apply the caps a groomer can help, or just get a family member to lend a helping hand. 

Training

Believe it or not, cats can be trained. There is this common misconception that cats are born trained and unlike dogs don’t need any behavior training. 

That’s not entirely true. Of course, momma cat does most of the disciplining when they’re young but, ultimately it’s up to you to discipline them the right way when they act out. 

You need to begin training your kitten as early as possible. Cats respond better to rewards than discipline, so make sure when they use their scratching posts without being told, give them a treat. 

Scratching Posts Are A Must

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I touched on this previously but scratching posts are an essential piece of the puzzle in order to stop your cat from scratching your furniture. 

No cat home is complete without one plus, there are plenty to choose from.  

Most cat trees will include some sort of scratching post in their design if that’s more your thing. 

Just make sure the post or tree you’re buying is large enough so your cat can fully extend up on its hind legs and scratch as high as possible. 

Look for posts or trees that are wrapped in sisal rope. Cats love it and it’s very durable allowing tons of scratch sessions. 

cat scratching post

Finally, the location of the scratching post is important. Make sure it’s put in a space that your cat can claim. Scratching is a way of marking their territory so this is really important. 

If your cat has already scratched your furniture, move the post nearby and when you see them going for the couch, direct them to the post. 

Once they get the point you can then move the post to your desired location. 

Finally, if your cat loves to climb, you should look at getting a floor-to-ceiling cat tree

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Spraying certain areas with a pheromone can encourage your cat to scratch a particular area. 

Cats release pheromones when they scratch through their paw pads. Once they have scratched an area they won’t need to scratch there again for some time as their scent remains. 

By spraying a similar pheromone on your couch you are basically indicating to your cat that this area has already been scratched and there is no need for them to mark their territory or scratch. 

Safeguard Surfaces To Discourage Scratching

Cats need a surface they can grip onto in order to scratch and claw at. 

By “safeguarding” these areas your cat shouldn’t be able to pull and scratch at them. 

Check out these methods of safeguarding you can easily implement in your home below. 

Tin Foil 

Flat aluminum foil seems to be a pet peeve of cats who love to scratch. Because it has a smooth texture, your cat won’t be able to sink its claws into it. 

To teach them a lesson, you might want to consider covering the area you’re trying to protect with foil for a while. 

Citrus 

Citrus scents like oranges and lemons are not particularly liked by cats. The next time you’re cooking with lemon or lime, let your cat have a smell and watch for their reaction.

If it seems they hate then you may be in luck. 

Lemon juice can be made by blending it with water and spraying it on surfaces you want to guard.

Cat Sprays 

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Sprays can be quite the deterrent.

They have a strong pungent smell that is unpleasant to cats and to be honest, humans too at times.  

You could spray this near expensive furniture you want them to stay away from to deter them from scratching. 

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Panther Armor offers an anti-scratch cat training tape that teaches your cat to never step anywhere near the desired area.

It’s a simple long-term solution to cat claw damage.

You can put these wherever your cat scratches. The 100% clear repellent sheets are designed to be applied to almost everything.

They will be suitable to stick to any upholstered couch, sofa corners, chair, carpet, door, etc.

Before you go nuts sticking these things every, it’s a good idea to try a test piece first.

Common Reasons People Think About Declawing A Cat

Let’s take a look at some of the most common arguments people make when they are thinking about declawing their cat. 

Family Protection

Even though you may be willing to tolerate the occasional slash, you are unlikely to tolerate it when your children are the victims.

After noticing their cat draw blood from their toddler or another small child, many people decide to opt for the procedure. 

While I agree it’s hard to argue against protecting your children, there are other solutions.

You Can Protect Your Family With Alternative Means

As long as you keep your pet’s nails trimmed, you can avoid most injuries.

Your child should also learn how to interact with cats from an early age. Teaching them how to pet and touch a cat correctly or just telling them to leave him alone could be one way to accomplish this.

It Can Save Some Cats’ Lives

If your cat refuses to stop scratching and you’ve tried everything you may find yourself thinking about putting the cat in a shelter. 

Aggressive cats stand little chance of adoption and will ultimately meet their fate if they go unadopted. 

It Can Also Cost Cats Their Life

A cat’s claws serve a purpose: they’re a means of self-defense. Taking it away from them leaves them much more vulnerable to attack.

If you are keeping your pet indoors all the time, this might not matter, but if your cat lives outside, declawing them could be life-threatening. 

In an ironic twist, taking away their primary weapon could also make them more likely to act out, so you may be trading a scratch for a bite.

Normal Function Remains

Okay so just because they don’t have claws doesn’t mean they can’t walk right? Well, yes that’s true but there is far more to it than that. 

They can no longer climb, make agile movements and perform instinctive stretches and scratches. 

This May Cause Behavior Issues

After being declawed, some cats develop behavioral problems, including not using the litter box. Some may do this out of spite, while others may be in pain. 

The outcome is no good either way. 

It Can Protect Your Furniture

Probably the second most common argument I hear towards declawing. 

Your cat isn’t going to be able to sharpen its claws on your new couch if there is nothing to sharpen, right?

There Are Better Ways To Protect Your Furniture

Seriously? You don’t need to amputate your cat’s nails off just to protect your couch. Sounds crazy I know but hear me out. 

Sorry for my sarcasm, I just don’t get this argument at all.  

There is a really simple solution to your furniture scratching problem. 

Cover your cat’s claws with nail caps or provide plenty of scratching posts. Keep their nails trimmed and dull or attach special covers to your furniture (like the ones above) to prevent them from doing damage.

I’ll admit, none of these options is 100% guaranteed to save your new living room set, but they come close. 

Don’t you think you should give these a shot before deciding to amputate your kitty’s bones? 

It May Stop My Cats Aggression

Unfortunately, it’s not guaranteed to lower your cat’s aggression. In fact, you might find it’s the opposite.  

Let’s assume it does solve your cat’s aggression problems and you’re finally able to pet your cat. 

Ask yourself, will your cat feel that it’s worth it? 

Declawing Won’t Solve A Cat’s Aggression Issues

Even after his claws are cut off, an angry cat will still be angry (in fact, it’s likely he’ll be even angrier, and that’s understandable).

It’s unrealistic to assume that his behavior will completely change just because your cat has had a declawing procedure. If he didn’t like being petted before the surgery, he won’t be able to tolerate it afterward.

And are you forgetting your cat still has razor-sharp teeth? 

Cons Of Declawing Your Cat

There are some well-known cons to declawing cats that should be addressed. 

Possibility Of Postoperative Complications

Generally, declawing is a safe procedure, but there are no guarantees. Even if the surgery goes smoothly, your cat might develop an infection, which could result in an abscess or other complications.

In some cases, there has been evidence that retained P3 fragments could impact the likelihood of chronic pain. Declawed cats with radiographic evidence of retained P3 fragments were at an increased risk of back pain.

It cannot be avoided that declawing a cat is a surgical procedure, and any surgery is potentially deadly.

It May Cause Health Issues Later In Their Life

The procedure of declawing causes tendons to be traumatized, making declawed cats more likely to develop arthritis with age.

I’m sure your cat wouldn’t appreciate suddenly not being able to run and jump as they please as a result of declawing.

It Causes Unnecessary Pain

Unless your cat has a medical emergency or has developed cancerous tumors there’s really no need to declaw your cat. 

Do you really think it’s necessary to cause your cat any unwanted pain both physically and psychologically?

Countries That Have Made Declawing Illegal

Thankfully, declawing is already banned in the following countries: 

  • Sweden 
  • Netherlands 
  • Northern Ireland 
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Slovenia 
  • Portugal 
  • Belgium 
  • Spain
  • Brazil
  • England
  • Scotland 
  • Wales 
  • Italy
  • France
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

What’s The Verdict?

I think I’ve made myself pretty clear where I stand on declawing. By banning this outdated procedure, we can ensure felines are no longer subjected to these unnecessary procedures.

If you don’t take your pets’ well-being into account before any procedure, I’m not sure raising pets is for you.

Luckily most people are generally against the practice of declawing cats including The Humane Society, American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

With that said, I understand there can on occasion be a good reason to perform the procedure. 

It should, however, be the absolute last resort that still needs careful consideration. 

I get it though, cat scratching can be damaging and irritating, but it is a natural behavior for your feline companion.

Instead of surgery, consider training or other non-surgical alternatives to try to resolve any negative behaviors. 

Your cat and you will both benefit from this solution over the long run.

Last update on 2022-11-28 at 07:03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API