Should I Declaw My Cat? Pros and Cons

by Team eLocal
A white cat paw displays its claws as the cat lies down, cat paw, paw, cat claw, claw, kitten, kitty, white cat paw

If you love your pet cat but can't stand the damage their pesky claws inflict on your sofa and curtains, you're not alone. Roughly 20% of American cat owners choose to have their cat's claws removed to combat the problem in a procedure called declawing or onychectomy. This practice is relatively common in North America because more people choose to keep their cats indoors.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Declawing a Cat?

Declawing can make your furry friend much easier to live with, but it's not without controversy. Understanding the pros and cons can help you decide if you should declaw your cat or try a less invasive alternative.

Pros

The primary benefit to declawing a cat is that it stops your pet from scratching you or your furniture. You might feel that you need to declaw your cat if it scratches excessively, especially if you have young children or your cat is damaging flooring or curtains in a rented property. In some cases, declawing could be an alternative to rehoming or euthanizing an aggressive cat.

Sometimes, a vet may recommend declawing to treat a medical condition, such as an infection or tumor in the claw bed. In this situation, the veterinarian usually leaves the healthy claws intact unless the owner requests a complete onychectomy.

Cons

Declawing can cause various problems for cats. The procedure is relatively rare in countries where keeping outdoor cats is commonplace because it prevents cats from defending themselves. Declawing can also affect a cat's balance and make it more difficult for them to climb safely.

Declawing a cat often leaves behind tiny fragments of bone, which can cause pain when walking. The procedure also changes the cat's gait, potentially leading to back pain and lameness. There's also a risk of infection and bleeding following surgery.

Sometimes, vets perform a declawing procedure that involves surgically cutting the tendons that control each claw. Therefore, the claws stay in place, but the cat can't use them to scratch or climb. Although this declawing method is somewhat less invasive, it can make the claws grow abnormally and thicker than before. This can cause the claws to curve round and pierce the paw bed or get caught on fabric and furnishings. Therefore, you'll need to commit to keeping your cat's claws well-trimmed if you opt for this declawing technique.

There's some evidence to suggest that declawing cats can lead to other problem behaviors, but the research is inconclusive. These behaviors include biting, house soiling and aggression.

What Are Some Alternatives to Declawing?

The Humane Society of the United States recommends various alternatives to declawing to stop your cat from damaging your furniture or injuring family members. These include:

  • Keeping claws trimmed
  • Providing various materials for your cat to scratch, such as carpet, cardboard and wood, attached to scratching posts
  • Encouraging your cat to use scratching posts by spraying them with catnip or attaching toys
  • Taping your furniture with special sticky tape designed to deter scratching

If you've tried the methods above and your cat still scratches your furniture, you could consider applying nail caps instead of declawing. These small plastic caps fit over your cat's claws and have a smooth edge that stops them from damaging furniture or injuring people. It's essential to apply claw caps correctly and replace them regularly to avoid irritating the claw beds. Some groomers or veterinarians can fit these.

Many cats tolerate nail caps well, but you may notice a difference in how they walk when you first apply them. Most cats will eventually learn to walk normally once they get used to them, but it's important to observe your cat for signs of stress or pain and consult a veterinarian if you're unsure.

Nail caps will prevent your cat from defending itself effectively and can make it harder to climb. Therefore, they're not a suitable solution if you allow your cat to roam outdoors.

Is Declawing Illegal?

Various organizations campaign for a ban on cat declawing in the United States because it can cause pain and stop cats from exhibiting normal behavior. The practice is already illegal across much of Europe and in seven Canadian provinces, except when medically necessary.

Declawing cats is illegal in several Californian cities, and the state prohibits declawing wild and exotic breeds. New York became the first state to ban the procedure for domestic cats in 2019. Several other states have legislation to ban cat declawing in the pipeline, including Florida, New Jersey, Massachusetts and West Virginia.

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