The Lowdown and Dirty on Declawing


Declawing, a.k.a. onychectomy, is a very heated and controversial topic. In honor of Declaw Awareness Day (March 29th), I want to do just that – raise awareness about what declawing is and its harmful effects on cats. I can only assume that the majority of cat owners who have the elective procedure performed on their cats simply don’t understand what is actually involved with the surgery, hence Declaw Awareness Day!

Problems with declawing

Here are some snippets I’ve grabbed from the wonderful worldwide web. I hope, hope, hope that someone considering declawing does their own thorough research and then realizes why they should not declaw their cat. (Full source info listed at the bottom of the post.)

  • Declawing is amputation: “What most people do not realize is that declawing the cat requires amputation of the last digit. In a human, this would be the same as cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.” Source
  • Regarding complications with the declawing procedure: “Complications occur in 50% of patients and include pain, bleeding, damage to the foot pads, lameness, swelling, infection, and regrowth of the claw.” Source
  • Declawing can cause litter box issues: “For several days after surgery, shredded newspaper is typically used in the litter box to prevent litter from irritating declawed feet. This unfamiliar litter substitute, accompanied by pain when scratching in the box, may lead cats to stop using the litter box.” Source
  • Declawed cats may have painful, physical problems: “Once their claws have been removed, they can no longer perform their natural stretching and kneading rituals. They become weaker as they age and may experience debilitating arthritis in their backs and shoulders.” Source
  • Walking becomes unnatural for a declawed cat: “Cats walk on their toes, and declawing leads to changes in gait due to weight now being placed on the second phalanx. Furthermore, over time, the severed tendons may shrink, resulting in the bone curling down, giving a clawed appearance to the foot.  Immediately after declawing, more weight is shifted to the back feet, altering the cat’s gait. Over time, the weight is re-distributed between the four feet, however the second phalanx was not designed to be a weight bearing bone, resulting in an altered gait and the possible development of arthritis in later years.” Source
  • Declawed cats can develop behavioral issues: “Cats without claws have lost their first line of defense, and because of this, can live in a state of stress. They cannot fight off other animals, or escape quickly from a dangerous situation. They may also become biters because they no longer can use their claws as a warning.” Source
  • Declawing is a regional thing: “While declawing is a popular and lucrative practice in the United States, it is not practiced in European countries.” Source
    • U.S. cities that have banned declawingBerkeley, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica. Malibu condemned the practice in a resolution, but did not legally ban the practice. Source
    • Countries that have banned declawing: England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand. Source
    • Look how seriously Israel takes declawing: “Israel’s legislature passed a bill that outlaws the practice of declawing cats, a move that is a win for animal activists, but devastating to fancy couches and rugs across the country. And the letter of law comes with a hefty pricetag — a $20,000 fine and up to one year in jail.” Source

Olive
Olive shows off her lovely paw, claws included!

Thoughts on declawing

Here are some quotes that I have gathered on declawing and the “no-declaw” movement.

South Orange County Animal Hospital is one of only two clinics in Orange County, California (that I could find) that does not perform declawing. When I asked them why they do not declaw, they provided the below statement:

“South Orange County Animal Hospital does not offer declawing. This decision is a combination of anecdotal experience of its staff members, as well as peer reviewed journal articles regarding the medical consequences of declawing cats. Our staff members collectively have a wide variety of experiences, some including performing declaw in cats and others with extensive experience in animal shelters seeing relinquished declawed cats with behavioral problems including biting and inappropriate urination. As we discussed this as a team, as a hospital, all staff members were educated of the consequences that can occur with declawing a cat. Subsequently, our position has been and will be that declawing will not be performed in our facility.”

Visit their website to learn more.

When contacted by Three Chatty Cats for a quote as to why she got involved in the “no-declaw” movement, Lori at City the Kitty said:

“I got involved in the no-declaw movement a couple years ago after I had read all about the cause on the PawProject.org website and saw how many cats are having that inhumane procedure done to them. After more research, I realized how many cats are unnecessarily suffering and going through such a cruel and disabling surgery. It really broke my heart seeing that millions of cats had to go through such a painful thing and all for the sake of a piece of furniture. I jumped head first into the cause with City the Kitty and now work 16 hr days, 7 days a week as a volunteer to help end it.”

Visit City the Kitty to learn more.

Susan Whittred, DVM and New York co-director for The Paw Project, who we interviewed for a profile on our site earlier, supports a bill that would make New York the first state to ban declawing. She was recently quoted at ArtVoice.com saying:

“A relatively high percentage of cats are still being declawed despite all the recommendations against it. Targeting this problem through legislation is necessary and overdue. This bill is not an infringement on the veterinarian’s role at all. In fact, veterinarians are helping lead the efforts to see it pass.”

Sophie
Sophie shows how she ferociously attacks two scratchers at once. Dexter is unimpressed.

After all that, why do we declaw in the United States?

Apparently money talks. From what I can gather, that is the only reason to do an elective declaw surgery. Why else would veterinarians do that to a cat? In an article I’ve provided below as suggested reading, it is mentioned about one Southern Californian vet that “he declaws every cat that comes in the door because it makes him between $75,000 and $80,000 a year.” Source

But there are people with compromised immune systems. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is a group that “strongly opposes the declawing of domestic cats and supports veterinarians’ efforts to educate cat owners and provide them with effective alternatives.” And their website states: “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not list declawing as a means of preventing disease in either healthy or immunocompromised individuals.” Source

Is declawing ever okay? Elective declawing – no. But there may be times when it is medically necessary for a cat to have its claw removed, perhaps because of cancer or non-healing fractures. With these rare cases, it would usually just be one toe declawed, not the entire paw.

Dexter
Dexter introduces you to his paw.

Alternatives to declawing

Now that we know that declawing is not the way to go, what can you do if you are worried about your furniture?

  • Scratching Posts – They come in a variety of styles, heights and materials. It’s probably best to have an assortment throughout the house as well to encourage your cat to use the post and not your furniture.
  • Soft Paw Nail CapsLearn more here about these vinyl nail caps that cover your cat’s claws.
  • Routine Nail Trimming – If you adopt your cat as a kitten, it’s best to start nail trimming when they are young so they get used to it. Or if it’s a struggle, stop by your vet’s office for a trim. Your vet can also show you tips and offer suggestions on how to do it yourself.
  • Animal Behaviorist  – Look for a cat behavior consultant and see what training and insights they can offer you.
  • Last Resort – If you truly, truly feel that you just must have a declawed cat, please consider adopting one that is already declawed and do not put another cat through the declaw surgery. Sadly, there are many declawed cats already in shelters and with rescues that need forever homes. (But why do you think they most likely ended up in a shelter? Because their previous owner declawed them.)
Olive
Olive shows you her wonderful claws.

Full disclosure – I am not a veterinarian, nor do I have any medical background. I am simply someone who loves cats and wants to see them treated humanely. What I’ve stated above is generally widespread information and can be Googled and found at multiple sources. I have listed additional articles and sites here as suggested reading, along with the sourced bullet points above.

Suggested articles and webpages

Sourced materials

It’s about awareness, folks! Please help spread the word for Declaw Awareness Day on March 29th. Do you have anything to add about declawing?

Sophie loves her scratcher because she has claws!


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55 thoughts on “The Lowdown and Dirty on Declawing

  1. I love the vid of Sophie using the scratcher. Sophie is adorable!
    You talk about an important subject- a lot of people simply do not realise what they are putting their cat through when they go in for declawing. I hope many more people will read your blog and do their own research and decide against declawing.

  2. I think your BEST sentence sums it up, “[T]he majority of cat owners who have the elective procedure performed on their cats simply don’t understand what is actually involved with the surgery.”

    I declawed one of my cats after he was 10+ years old. I used to clip his claws, but then took a job that had left me away from home for 3-4 days at a time. He ripped my couch to shreds despite having a scratching post. I decided to get him declawed (fronts paws only). He was an indoor-outdoor cat. The vet NEVER explained what the declaw procedure actually entailed — I thought it was simple nail removal, and then sewn shut. I had no idea there was removal of bones or anything like that (before your post, I later learned about this horrifying surgery).

    The day I brought my cat home, after the declaw, with his two front paws bandaged, the thing that troubled me most was how he was effected by anesthesia. Anesthesia and cats kidneys are a delicate mix. Not only does declawing traumatize the paws, but also the effects of anesthesia can potentially damage or worsen cats renal function. When he was safely home after surgery, he stumbled around with glossy full-blown pupils, uninterested in either grooming or eating. He wouldn’t sleep in his bed but stayed on the floor — and that is where I slept that night to watch him and give him my full attention. It’s heartbreaking to see your cat in this condition!

    He recovered well. He was still able to climb trees, catch lizards & birds, and fight off other cats — there seemed to be no change in his physical or emotional behavior. He still ran like an olympic champ and used his scratching post regularly despite having no claws. He had no limp or strange walk and cleaned his paws with vigor. There was never a litter box issue with him. BUT with the knowledge of the declaw surgery, I will never do that to any of my cats again. It was MY fault that he scratched up the couch — I wasn’t there for him!

    I would have never forgiven myself if my old cat had had problems with the declaw process, like a lame paw, problems walking or infection … or worse yet, irreversible brain damage due to anesthesia. I also don’t want to expose any of my cats to unnecessary anesthesia due to the side effects and cats delicate kidneys. My old cat developed chronic renal failure, as many cats can and do, and I still think there were cumulative effects of anesthesia that may have contributed to his failing kidneys.

    The two newest cats I have (since 2013), one from a humane society HIGHLY discouraged declawing and gave detailed written information about the process, the second cat came from an adoption agency where there was a clause in the contract that I was not to declaw the cat. I now clip both my kitties claws despite their squirms and meows of protest.

    <3 Thank you for your post! This is an important message for cat owners and potential cat owners as well! :)

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m glad your cat was one of the lucky ones who didn’t experience the problems that seem to plague so many others. I had always heard that declawing was bad, but I never knew what it was either! Over the past few years, as I’ve become more immersed in the “cat world,” I’ve learned what it’s about. But only until a couple months ago did I actually see the horrific pictures of some of the botched surgeries. So I think it truly is about raising awareness. Again, thank you for sharing your story!

        1. I think you made a good point, too, that your vet never explained what the surgery is! That’s one of the key problems. If more vets actually cared, they would explain what is involved and try and give other options.

    1. Thank you, please by all means link to it! I know that most (current) readers would already be against it, but if just one is not and then learns more… well, that would be wonderful!

  3. This post was so thoroughly researched and well-written. Thank you. My husband I declawed (front paws only) our very first cat in 1984. We didn’t know any better at the time. Once I learned more about it, I always regretted doing it. Seventeen cats later…we never did it again. Our house is chock full of scratching posts and other scratchers. Occasionally, we still have some improper scratching of items we’d prefer the kitties didn’t scratch, but if you have cats, you make sacrifices for the good of the cat. It always hearts my heart when I see a cat on pet finder that has been declawed.

  4. When I was much younger I had my cats declawed – but when I learned what it was – I swore I never would declaw again. I do my best to talk everybody out of it!! It is a cruel practice that needs to be outlawed. Thank you for the post!!

  5. Excellent post! We’ve never declawed – we encourage our cats to use their clawing post… Purrseidon was a problem this winter, because she was frustrated at being kept inside, so we put caps on her front claws – they were temporary. Don’t know if there was a better option, do know that it seemed to be the best one we could find.

      1. She wiggled some when the caps were put on the first couple times (supposedly they should stay on a month – more like 2-3 weeks). By the 3rd replacement, she simply acted resigned. We only put caps on her middle 3 front claws – mainly to protect the leather sofa. Now that it’s spring and she’ll be outdoors, more, the plan is not to replace them when they fall off, so she can climb trees, while on nature hikes…. and we hope the sofa lives in peace.

  6. I’m not sure if it’s still on Netflix but probably. The Pawproject.org has a very informative video on declawing. If people see the effects on video of declawing on big cats ( tigers, etc.) as well as domestic cats hopefully they will think twice before declawing. At least it will bring awareness. I think there is a lot of misconceptions about declawing. Most don’t understand its literally breaking a bone and severing tendons to remove the claw. This is a great post as usual! 😻

  7. You did an excellent job writing this post – thank you for sharing such important information. Not everybody understands why the procedure is inhumane and the key is education. Purrs from Deb and the Zee/Zoey gang

  8. Thank you for a such a well-researched post. Sadly, declawing is still legal in Canada, though we’re working on it. More and more vets are electing to not do it, fortunately, though we still get plenty of cats through our rescue that are declawed. Our adoption counsellors steer people looking to declaw towards these cats. We are fortunate; if we feel an adopter is going to declaw, we can refuse to adopt them a cat. Apparently, the city-run shelters do not have that option. They just try to educate and hope for the best.

    1. That’s great that more vets are choosing not to declaw! Fellow blogger ChirpyCats.com is in Canada and wrote two posts about declawing – you may want to check that out. I think it’s also nice that your group won’t adopt to someone who is going to declaw. I think a lot of groups do that too. I was horrified to learn that a group I was with actually declawed three cats so they COULD be adopted. Needless to say, I no longer volunteer for them. (Not sure what happened, but two of your comments ended up in my spam, which I’ve never checked until now, so I only now just saw this.)

  9. An amazing post. When TW’s family got their first cat when TW was a kid, they knew nothing about caring for one. They relied on friends and co-workers since there was no internet. They were told to have the cat declawed at the same time as she was spayed. When she came home all bandaged up, Gramma took one look at her and said “never again. I will never do this to a cat again.” and she never did. Faith had no behavioral problems. I will share this far and wide.

      1. I think the internet has proved to be a great tool for campaigns against evil. In the past I’d heard of declawing but, living in the UK where we have never declawed, I thought it was just a nail trim (something not very often done here) even though it’s harmless). When I learned the truth I was more than horrified, I was truly sickened because I could not comprehend even contemplating doing that to a cat. I think I can safely say it is the same for all cat lovers in non-declaw countries. I saw the campaigns and worried I had no business joining in, being in another country. However, after seeing the spurious and ridiculous comments in support of declawing, I realised that those of us who live in non-declaw countries do indeed have an important role in aiding these campaigns and countering the pro-declaw brigade because in our counter arguments, we speak from experience. I am very proud that the UK veterinary governing body has never allowed this vile mutilation. Ditto cropping dogs’ ears (WTF is that about?) and now docking dogs’ tails, a procedure which pre-dated veterinary governing bodies and was required by Kennel Club breed standards, but thankfully is now also banned.

        1. I appreciate that you’re an advocate for not declawing, even though you’re in a country that already realizes how wrong it is. We need all the support we can get! And coming from a country where it’s banned, I think that lends credibility and supports the reason to ban it in the U.S. (and Canada) even more – just like you said!

  10. I have never understood why anyone would declaw a kitty and have always shuddered at the thought. Your article is so nicely balanced and recognizes that it must be a lack of knowledge. I thank you for reminding me that knowledge is better than rage .

  11. Here in the UK we have NEVER declawed cats even though, technically, it only became outlawed in 2006 when the Animal Welfare Act banned ALL non-medical mutilation of animals and tail-docking digs except by special license for some working dogs. Prior to that, it was against the ethics of the UK veterinary governing body. Our shelters are NOT full of cats abandoned because they scratched furniture, in fact ‘destructiveness in the home’ is rarely given as the reason for surrender. The truth is, past kittenhood, most cats do NOT habitually scratch furniture if they have been discouraged from so doing and provided with alternatives. My three cats (aged 15, 4 and 3 ) occasionally anchor their claws in the sofa for a good stretch so it does have a few pits – so what? It is only furniture, it doesn’t greet me, comfort me, make me laugh or snuggle up on my arms and purr at me, and if the pits in the sofa ever got too unsightly, I’d buy a throw to cover them.

    1. Exactly – so what – it’s only furniture! I really hope the U.S. (and Canada) gets on board with other countries and bans declawing. Unfortunately, I think we have a ways to go before then. Hopefully New York will start us in the right direction. Thank you for the background on the UK, too!

  12. It’s a good thing when people from other countries, where it is illegal, help to spread the word. I think the fact that we are ‘outsiders’ so to speak, gives the message more impact. In countries where it is illegal, there just is no option to removes cats’ toes, so cat owners deal with it. My home country is South Africa, and while it is not illegal there, it is just not practiced there, as no-one asks for it. If enough people in the U.S. and Canada know about what it actually is, hopefully veterinarians will be forced to stop practicing it. In Quebec, Canada, where I live now, dog tail docking and ear cropping has been recently outlawed. Why not ban declawing in cats?
    Thanks Rachel for presenting all the facts in your post!

  13. What a lovely and comprehensive look at this horrific proceedure.

    when I worked at a vet office, i saw the cats that came out of surgery and it broke my heart. Fortunately they didn’t do many of them, but the few they did were enough to turn my stomach.

    While I worked there I tried to organize the files, and marked all of the declawed cat’s charts as ‘declawed’ so we wouldn’t offer them a nail trim. then I thought it smart to mark the files as ‘caution’ so the vets would know which cat or dog would be likely to need extra slow care brought to the exam. through this, I found that while not all of the declawed cats needed caution taken, all the caution cats were declawed. It was eye opening.

    1. Oh, I can’t imagine having to see that firsthand! That’s a very good point about the filing notes and an interesting finding on the “caution cats” all being the declawed ones.

  14. WOW!!! What a great post! We are so thankful for the work that the Paw Project is doing to help end this cruel and barbaric practice, and so grateful for the wonderful veterinarians who have taking a pledge to never declaw cats. We hope that many, many more vets will join their rank. Sadly, however it is a huge money maker for these practitioners. The profit margin is outrageous. What is very, very sad are many of these vets don’t educate their clients about what the procedure really entails. Some don’t even provide sufficient pain management for these kittie after they amputate the first joints on the cats’ paws.

    The Paw Project has an amazing DVD about declawing. It makes a great gift. We gave several copies to our vet to share with their clients making it very clear to them why she will not declaw. This DVD has saved a huge number of claws! I highly recommend checking it out on the Paw Project’s web page http://www.pawproject.org/.

    Thanks again for this outstanding post!!

  15. I’m soooo against declawing! for the peeps who have the “but they ruin my furniture” attitude, my thought is, “hey – they’re in the house more than me so it’s really THEIR furniture more than mine. Also, it totally justifies redecorating!!”

    1. Ha, that’s the perfect way of looking at it! I would definitely say that our furniture gets used more by our cats than us humans. They need a variety of places to snooze, after all. And none of mine claw or scratch at the furniture anyway. We have scratchers all over the house.

      1. all of my furniture is “the scratchers”. one of my old posts was even turned into an LOL Cats about the wrecked furniture (no one has ever admitted to being the person who did it).

        Came home to a sofa full of cat barf and am currently putting of the search for the source of poop smell coming from a room without a litterbox.

Any thoughts to share?