The Truth About Cat Declawing

There are many myths, misunderstandings, and misinformation concerning declawing. If you are considering having this surgery done on your cat, or if your veterinarian has suggested it, please take a few minutes to learn about this major surgical procedure before you make a decision. 
Some veterinarians in the U.S. have become accustomed to performing the declawing procedure without thinking about—or recognizing—the consequences. However, top veterinary behaviorists and the American Veterinary Medical Association agree that declawing should not be considered as routine or preventive procedures. Your veterinarian has an obligation to educate you as to the nature of the procedure, the risks of anesthesia and surgery, and the potential for complications.

Declawing is not a manicure, the cat's claw is not a toenail, it is adhered to the bone.  Declawing is actually amputating the last joint on the cat's toe.  It would be like having your finger cut off at the last joint.  It is an extremely painful surgery and recovery period for the cat.  No wonder it is illegal in most European countries and even in several U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco and Beverly Hills!    

So what happens after the recovery?  Okay, so your cat can no longer scratch the furniture.  There are other side effects of the procedure.  The cat can have permanent discomfort in the paws which leads to eliminating outside the litterbox.   Many declawed cats turn to biting since they no longer have their claws as a defense.   What happens after that?  The cat is usually turned over to Animal Control where it ends up being euthanized.

The following links contain more detailed information about declawing and the declawing procedure; please take a minute to read this valuable information before making a decision that will impact the rest of your pet's life.

FAQs on Declawing and Feline Scratching Behavior

The Facts About Declawing (Feline Digital Amputation - "Onychectomy")

There are alternatives to declawing.  Trimming the cat's nails, scratching posts, scratching toys or even Soft Paws nail caps are all very good options.  The following site contains good information about cat scratching behavior and solutions.


Moral, Ethical and Humane Considerations

The veterinary justification for declawing is that the owner may otherwise dispose of the cat, perhaps cruelly.  It is ethically inappropriate, in the long term, for veterinarians to submit to this form of moral blackmail from their clients.

"The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights is opposed to cosmetic surgeries and to those performed to correct 'vices.' Declawing generally is unacceptable because the suffering and disfigurement it causes is not offset by any benefits to the cat. Declawing is done strictly to provide convenience for people."    

"Some veterinarians have argued that some people would have their cats killed if declawing was not an option. We should not, however, allow ourselves to be taken 'emotional hostage' like this. If a person really would kill her or his cat in this case, it is reasonable to question the suitability of that person as a feline guardian, especially when there are millions of non-declawed cats living in harmony with people."
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR)

Most people are vehemently opposed to declawing due to a combination of reasons:

  1. Because the end (owner convenience) doesn't justify the means (causing unnecessary pain to the cat);
  2. Because other, less harmful alternatives to declawing exist and
  3. Because claws are part of the nature or "catness" of cats.
Overall, the view is that it is ethically inappropriate to remove parts of an animal's anatomy, thereby causing the animal pain, merely to fit the owner's lifestyle, aesthetics, or convenience without any benefit to the cat. It should be emphasized that "most people" includes virtually the entire adult population of Europe and many other countries around the world.

 Many countries are particularly concerned about animal welfare and have banned declawing as abusive and causing unnecessary pain and suffering with no benefit to the cat.. One highly regarded veterinary textbook by Turner and Bateson on the biology of cat behavior concludes a short section on scratching behavior with the following statement: "The operative removal of the claws, as is sometimes practiced to protect furniture and curtains, is an act of abuse and should be forbidden by law in all, not just a few countries."

The following is a partial list of countries in which declawing cats is either illegal or considered extremely inhumane and only performed under extreme medical circumstances:

England - Scotland - Wales - Northern Ireland - Germany - Austria - Switzerland - Norway - Sweden - Netherlands - Denmark - Finland - Brazil - Australia - New Zealand


Cat Fanciers Association

Declawing of Cats - CFA Guidance Statement: Approved by the CFA Board of Directors - October 1996 by Joan Miller, CFA Health Committee

"CFA's Health Committee proposed the following guidance statement on the declawing of cats after review of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's (CVMA) position concerning declawing, and after research of scientific articles and information from the Cornell Feline Health Center, from Joan Miller's files of Cat Fancy and animal shelter materials and by talking with veterinarians, feline behavioral specialists, The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the President of the American College of Behaviorists and the Director of Ethical Studies at the San Francisco SPCA. At the October 1996 meeting, the CFA Board unanimously approved this guidance statement on the declawing of cats:

CFA perceives the declawing of cats (onychectomy) and the severing of digital tendons (tendonectomy) to be elective surgical procedures which are without benefit to the cat. Because of post operative discomfort or pain, and potential future behavioral or physical effects, CFA disapproves of declawing or tendonectomy surgery."



The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (previously AVAR now known as HSVMA Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association) position on declawing cats:

"A major concern that the AVAR has about declawing is the attitude that is evident in this situation. The cat is treated as if he or she is an inanimate object who can be modified, even to the point of surgical mutilation, to suit a person's perception of what a cat should be. It would seem more ethical and humane to accept that claws and scratching are inherent feline attributes, and to adjust one's life accordingly if a cat is desired as a companion. If this is unacceptable, then perhaps a different companion would be in order."

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor of Behavioral Pharmacology and Director of the Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and internationally known specialist in domestic animal behavioral research, explains declawing:

"The inhumanity of the procedure is clearly demonstrated by the nature of cats' recovery from anesthesia following the surgery. Unlike routine recoveries, including recovery from neutering surgeries, which are fairly peaceful, declawing surgery results in cats bouncing off the walls of the recovery cage because of excruciating pain. Cats that are more stoic huddle in the corner of the recovery cage, immobilized in a state of helplessness, presumably by overwhelming pain. Declawing fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war, and in veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as model of severe pain for testing the efficacy of analgesic drugs. Even though analgesic drugs can be used postoperatively, they rarely are, and their effects are incomplete and transient anyway, so sooner or later the pain will emerge."  (Excerpted from The Cat Who Cried For Help, Dodman N, Bantam Books, New York).

Declawing robs a cat of an integral means of movement and defense. Because they cannot defend themselves adequately against attacks by other animals, declawed cats who are allowed outdoors may be at increased risk of injury or death. Scratching is a natural instinct for cats and declawing causes a significant degree of privation with respect to satisfying the instinctive impulses to climb, chase, exercise, and to mark territory by scratching. Cats simply enjoy scratching. The sensible and humane solution to undesirable scratching is to modify the cat's conduct by making changes in the environment and direct the cat’s natural scratching behavior to an appropriate area (e.g., scratching post) rather than surgically altering the cat, thereby causing the animal pain, merely to fit the owner's lifestyle, aesthetics, or convenience.

The fact that many cats recover from the hideous experience of declawing without untoward effects, and even though they may not hold grudges, that doesn't seem sufficient justification for putting a family member through such a repugnant experience. In short, a declawed cat is a maimed, mutilated cat, and no excuse can justify the operation. Your cat should trust you, and depend upon you for protection. Don't betray that trust by declawing your cat.

Psychological & Behavioral Complications

Some cats are so shocked by declawing that their personalities change. Cats who were lively and friendly have become withdrawn and introverted after being declawed. Others, deprived of their primary means of defense, become nervous, fearful, and/or aggressive, often resorting to their only remaining means of defense, their teeth. In some cases, when declawed cats use the litterbox after surgery, their feet are so tender they associate their new pain with the box...permanently, resulting in a life-long adversion to using the litter box. Other declawed cats that can no longer mark with their claws, they mark with urine instead resulting in inappropriate elimination problems, which in many cases, results in relinquishment of the cats to shelters and ultimately euthanasia. Many of the cats surrendered to shelters are surrendered because of  behavioral problems which developed after the cats were declawed. 

Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter:

"Among 218 cats relinquished to a shelter, more (52.4%) declawed cats than non-declawed cats (29.1%) were reported by owners to have inappropriate elimination problems."

Source: World Small Animal Veterinary Association - 2001

The incidence of behavior problems following onychectomy in cats;  two months to five years (median 11.5 months) after surgery:

  • "(33%) developed at least one behavior problem.
  • "(17.9%) had an increase in biting habits or intensity."
  • "(15.4%) would not use the litter box"

Source: World Small Animal Veterinary Association - 2001

Many declawed cats become so traumatized by this painful mutilation that they end up spending their maladjusted lives perched on top of doors and refrigerators, out of reach of real and imaginary predators against whom they no longer have any adequate defense.
A cat relies on its claws as its primary means of defense. Removing the claws makes a cat feel defenseless. The constant state of stress caused by a feeling of defenselessness may make some declawed cats more prone to disease.  Stress leads to a myriad of physical and psychological disorders including supression of  the immune system, cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)....

"The consequences of declawing are often pathetic. Changes in behavior can occur. A declawed cat frequently resorts to biting when confronted with even minor threats. Biting becomes an overcompensation for the insecurity of having no claws. Bungled surgery can result in the regrowth of deformed claws or in an infection leading to gangrene. Balance is affected by the inability to grasp with their claws. Chronic physical ailments such as cystitis or skin disorders can be manifestations of a declawed cat's frustration and stress."      -David E. Hammett, DVM

Compliments of: Max’s House & S.T.A.R.T. II (Save The Animals Rescue Team)