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Why You Should NEVER Declaw Cats: An Expert Perspective on Declawing Cats

by Vetic Editorial
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Often presented as a quick fix for scratching behaviour, declawing cats is, in essence, an amputation of the last digit of each toe. Let me be clear: declawing is not a simple trim or manicure; it’s a major surgery with lifelong consequences, and should never be considered a humane solution to scratching problems.

In fact, declawing cats is illegal or banned in many countries and cities around the world, such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Brazil, Denver, and New York  . These places recognize that declawing is a form of animal cruelty and a violation of animal welfare standards.

What Does it Mean to Declaw Cats?

Declawing cats involves the removal of the last bone of their paw so the “nail” or claw never grows again. 

The removal of the last bone of the “finger” of the cat can be complete or partial. It is indeed a painful surgical procedure that has lifelong consequences for the cat. 

Understanding the Feline Claw: More Than Just Sharpeners

photo of the side profile of A bengal cat scratching a vertical sisal scratch-post.

Claws are integral to a cat’s physical and emotional well-being. They serve various vital functions:

Scratching: This instinctual behaviour helps maintain claw health, stretch muscles, mark territory, and relieve stress. Depriving your cat of this natural means of expression can lead to frustration, anxiety, and behavioural problems.

Scratching is also a way for cats to communicate and express themselves. Cats have scent glands in their paws that release pheromones when they scratch, which signal to other cats that the area is occupied. Scratching can also indicate a cat’s mood and emotions, such as stress, boredom, or excitement. By declawing your cat, you are taking away their voice and their identity.

Balance and Navigation: Claws provide crucial traction for climbing, jumping, and manoeuvring. Declawed cats often experience gait abnormalities, difficulty jumping, and reduced confidence in their movement.

Self-Defense: Though primarily indoor companions, accidents happen. Without claws, your declawed cat would be defenceless if encountering other animals or escaping outdoors.

The Painful Truth of Declawing Cats: Beyond the Scratch Post

Despite misconceptions, declawing is far from painless.

Surgical Trauma: The procedure involves severing tendons, nerves, and bones, causing significant pain and discomfort during and after surgery.

Chronic Pain: Many declawed cats experience long-term pain, arthritis, and nerve damage, leading to lameness, litter box avoidance, and reluctance to be touched. A study found that 63% of declawed cats had residual bone fragments in their paws, which can cause chronic pain and infection. Declawed cats are also more likely to develop back pain, joint problems, and muscle atrophy due to the altered biomechanics of their feet.

Behavioural Issues: Deprived of their natural tool for communication and stress relief, declawed cats often resort to biting, spraying, and aggression as alternative coping mechanisms.

Quality of Life: Declawing can affect a cat’s quality of life in many ways, such as making it harder for them to use the litter box, groom themselves, play, and interact with other cats. Declawed cats may also suffer from low self-esteem, depression, and fear, as they lose their sense of security and control over their environment.

Evidence Speaks Volumes: Research Against Declawing Cats

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) strongly discourages declawing, considering it an elective surgery with serious welfare concerns.

The AVMA’s position statement on declawing states that it should only be performed as a last resort after exhausting all other alternatives, and that it should never be done for the convenience of the owner. The AVMA also recommends that veterinarians educate cat owners about the risks and consequences of declawing, and provide them with humane alternatives.

A 2017 study in the Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery found declawed cats to be twice as likely to exhibit behavioural problems like biting and litter box avoidance.

Numerous other studies link declawing to chronic pain, lameness, and long-term health issues in cats. A study found that declawed cats had higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, than clawed cats, indicating that they suffer from chronic stress. Another study found that declawed cats were more likely to be relinquished to shelters or euthanized than clawed cats.

Alternatives to Declawing Cats: Cultivating Harmony with Your Clawed Companion

the photo of two hands, one hand holding a cat nail clipper with a safety cap and the other hand holding the paw of the cat to express the nail. Declawing cats is not necessary if you can get your cat's nails trimmed timely

Before resorting to declawing, consider these effective, humane alternatives:

Scratching Post Strategies: Provide multiple scratching posts made of diverse materials (sisal, cardboard, carpet) placed in prominent locations. Encourage use with catnip, treats, and positive reinforcement.

Nail Trimming: Regularly trim your cat’s nails using blunt clippers specifically designed for cats. Consult your veterinarian for guidance.

Environmental Enrichment: Offer engaging toys, climbing structures, and interactive play sessions to redirect scratching behaviour away from furniture.

Furniture Protection: Use products that can help protect furniture and carpets from scratching, such as sticky tape, furniture covers, or deterrent sprays.

Seeking Professional Help: If scratching persists despite your efforts, consult a certified animal behaviourist for personalised training and advice.

In Conclusion: A Cat’s Worth, Claws and All

Declawing is a betrayal of your feline companion’s trust and well-being. Understanding the importance of claws and exploring positive alternatives demonstrates respect for your cat’s natural instincts and promotes a harmonious relationship. 

Remember, welcoming a cat into your life means embracing their entire being, claws and all. By choosing humane alternatives and understanding your cat’s needs, you can build a lasting bond based on love, respect, and a shared understanding.

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