If you’re a cat lover, I’m certain you have an opinion about the declawing controversy. Although I don’t own a cat, I have many friends who do. And we’ve talked about it.
I’ve heard opinions on both sides. I imagine you have too. So let’s talk about why declawing is so hotly debated.
What is declawing?
Declawing is an amputation of all or part of the end bones (distal phalanges) of the cat’s toes to permanently remove the claws.
They don’t just remove the claw. The little piece of bone that the claw grows from has to be removed too. This prevents the claw from growing back. It’s NOT simply a cat manicure. Declawing is major surgery.
Usually, only the front paws are declawed and there are a few different methods that vets use.
There’s the guillotine method that cuts a straight line through the joint between the little end bone and the next piece of bigger bone.
With the guillotine method, the pad gets cut in half too because it’s right below that joint. That’s where a lot of the pain comes in. Cutting the pad is like cutting the tip of your finger off. With this method, it can take weeks for your cat to fully recover and walk comfortably.
Then there’s cosmetic declawing, which uses a tiny curved blade. The vet goes inside with the blade and cuts away the bone keeping the pad intact.
This method is not as easy as the guillotine method. Because it’s time consuming, few vets use the cosmetic method. But the recovery is easier. The cat can walk right away. And cosmetic declawing takes only about a week to recover from.
Either way, declawing is a painful procedure and pain management is an important part of the after care.
If a cat owner declaws their cat, the vet will suggest doing it when the cat is young. Often they’ll do it during the spay/neuter procedure to avoid anesthesia twice.
Why do people declaw their cats?
Unfortunately, most people who declaw their cats opt for this procedure because of destructive scratching. It ruins furniture.
However, legitimate reasons to declaw your cat do exist. If a claw is severely damaged and can’t be repaired, it may need to come out.
If there’s a tumor in the claw, that’s a legitimate reason too. In both cases, only the affected claw would need to be removed.
Also, a person who is immune compromised but would like to own a cat may have concerns about getting scratched. The bacteria on the cat’s claws could be dangerous. And elderly people on blood thinners could be at risk of bleeding if they were scratched.
Some might say in these instances that the cat owner can avoid behavior that might provoke scratching. But only a person in this situation can decide with their doctors, what’s an acceptable level of risk.
What’s the downside of declawing?
The consensus is that declawing is inhumane. It’s painful and takes away a cat’s ability to do what comes naturally to them. Cats have claws for a reason. They should be able to use them to scratch and stretch.
In fact, 22 countries ban the procedure and many more have said declawing can only be done if a vet deems it medically necessary.
Remember too, that declawing is surgery. With surgery, comes risk…like infection. They can’t sterilize the paw so declawing is not a sterile procedure. Infection is a real possibility.
Also, if the declawing isn’t done right the claw can grow back. And it won’t grow back the way it’s supposed to. This can lead to abscesses and other serious paw problems.
Another downside of declawing is the cat’s inability to defend itself without claws. Once a cat is declawed, it must be kept indoors for the rest of its life.
It’s not a bad thing for a cat to be an indoor cat because indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats. But sometimes cats get out by mistake. And that can be deadly for a declawed cat.
Are there alternatives to declawing?
Scratching is a natural behavior for a cat. They do it to remove the dead husk from their claws, to keep them sharp and to mark territory—visually and with scent. Cats also scratch to stretch their muscles.
They need to be allowed to scratch. So what’s the alternative to declawing?
Ideally, someone who wants a cat would get a young one and train it to scratch appropriately. Most cats start scratching at 8 weeks old. That’s the time to teach them how to use a scratching post. An adult cat will have a harder time learning this.
As part of the training process, the kitten is given several proper scratching vehicles like pieces of fabric or carpet attached to a stationery object that’s an acceptable item to scratch. The cat is and praised for using these items for scratching.
A cat that’s 8 weeks old can be trained to tolerate nail trimming. Trimming every week can help if scratching people is a concern.
Unfortunately, trimming won’t preserve your furniture. Cats scratch to sharpen their claws. If their claws are trimmed they’ll just want to sharpen them more…probably on your couch.
Vinyl nail caps called Soft Claws can be applied to the claw with surgical adhesive. But these must be glued on correctly for them to be effective. You have to trim the cat’s claws before you use the vinyl caps. If your cat doesn’t tolerate nail trimming, this may not work for you.
Soft Claws last about a month and then have to be reapplied. These work well for outdoor cats that need to be inside for a short time, maybe to recover from an illness or a weather emergency.
There’s a special tape called Sticky Paws that can be attached to your furniture to deter your cat from scratching. But this could be impractical. If your cat is determined you’ll end up taping your whole house.
If your cat has a favorite chair for scratching, you might be successful using the tape on that one chair.
So, should you or shouldn’t you?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats that have destructive scratching behavior are more likely to be euthanized, relinquished, released or abandoned. No one wants to see more homeless cats.
Declawing is better than giving up your cat. And it’s better than making the cat live outside because it won’t live as long.
It seems to be the consensus that if all other attempts to get the cat to stop using its claws destructively have failed, or if scratching is an above normal health risk for its owner, declawing is better than euthanizing or abandoning the cat.
What’s your opinion about declawing? Share your thoughts in the comment section at the top.