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The Truth About Declawing Your Cat

Posted by Leah Laucher on


Pet owners who choose to declaw their cats are oftentimes unaware of the side effects and potential dangers of such a procedure. Many are under the impression that declawing simply removes the nail with an easy, minimally-invasive procedure, but this is opposite from the truth. The toe bone that the nail grows out of must also be removed, which cripples the cat and causes long-term discomfort.

While people choose to declaw their cats in order to avoid problems with scratching, they end up getting a slew of other problems in return. Read about the side effects and dangers of declawing below, and learn why there’s never a good enough reason to declaw a cat, no matter the circumstance. 

Self Protection and Climbing

Cat playing in the sunCats need their claws to protect themselves against threats like aggressive animals or, heaven forbid, ill-meaning humans. Aside from self-defense, their claws can help them evade danger, by climbing up a tree or structure, or help them escape an area where they’re stuck or stranded, such as a fenced-in area.  

A good number of pet owners who choose to declaw their cats intend to keep their cats as indoor-only pets; however, even in this circumstance, most cats will inevitably get out of the house at some point--even if only for a short period of time, which could be a death sentence. And while these pet owners may fully intend to keep their cats indoors for the extent of their lifetimes, things don’t always got to plan when a pet is rehomed.

When a pet is rehomed (and oftentimes rehomed again and again), it can end up in a situation where it’s living as a stray--even injured or deceased. If your pet somehow ended up on the streets, wouldn’t you want it to be able to defend itself or get away from a threat? Declawing a cat also severely affects its ability to catch prey. It will most likely go hungry if someone isn’t feeding it.

The psychological impact of losing this ingrained form of self-defense is an additional side effect that can cause the cat to become more aggressive, resulting in increased biting and negative behavior. 

Physical Issues and Pain

Because cats’ nails are attached to their toe bone, this bone must be removed for the procedure to be successful. With modern medical advancements, there are newer versions of declawing surgeries popping up; however, they are all just as invasive in the long run. No matter which way you go about it, the basic problems with declaring are still the same.

  1. Pain and long-term discomfort
    The procedure causes unnecessary pain for your cat. Imagine having the tips of your fingers and toes surgically removed and having to walk around them the same day to eat, drink and go to the bathroom. Even when the healing process is over, the cat will continue to have discomfort due to the changed anatomy, nerve damage, and unnatural distribution of weight.
  2. Distribution of weight
    Just like our body weight is meant to be distributed from our heels to our toes, a cat’s weight is meant to be distributed across the pads of its foot. The toe bone that is removed in the declawing process is the bone that connects to the pads. After declawing, the weight is distributed in an unnatural manner that causes painful pressure points and issues with walking and balance.
  3. Surgery complications
    Such an invasive surgery comes with a high percentage of complications. Cats can develop hypersensitive nerves in their feet, causing pain every time they stand. They can also experience phantom limb sensations. Sometimes bone chips are left in the feet, causing a great deal of pain when walking. If part of the pad is cut off, the cat will develop painful callouses, and if part of the middle bone is accidentally cut, this will make it painful for the cat to walk until the bone heals after some years.

The Need to Scratch

Scratching is an ingrained, daily behavior for cats that actually accomplishes a few important tasks. Cats scratch their nails on things to stretch and strengthen their muscles, remove dead nail bits, and mark their territory. And if your cat can’t mark its territory with its claws, then it might try to in other ways…  Like going outside the litter box.

If a cat can’t follow its instinct to mark territory with scratching, then there’s a good chance it will try with spraying around the house. It’s certainly easier to train a cat not to scratch furniture than it is to train a cat to stop spraying!

Sleeping cat

Alternatives to Declawing Your Cat

  • Provide scratching posts or scratching areas in every room.
  • Train your cat to scratch on the designated scratching areas by applying catnip to the areas or giving your cat a treat whenever it scratches there.
  • Train your cat against scratching on undesired areas by keeping a spray bottle on hand in every room. Set the nozzle to a long stream to that you can spray your cat without running up to it -- this way your cat won’t associate the spray bottle with you. Never use physical force against your pets because they don’t connect the physical punishment to their behavior. They won’t understand what you’re trying to communicate, and over time it will only result in your pet being more distant and afraid of you.
  • Trim your cat’s nails -- here’s a great article with step-by-step instructions!
  • Sticky tape:  Try putting sticky tape (for furniture or carpet) on the undesired scratching areas--cats hate the sticky sensation on their paws.
  • Nail covers:  These little plastic nail sheaths cover your cat’s nails, so when it scratches something, no damage is done. They stay on for about 2 weeks.

Once you make it a habit of implementing these scratch-deterring alternatives, you’ll find that with a little love and patience, there will be no reason or need to declaw your cat and subject them to the unnecessary suffering.