Should You Declaw Your Cat?

By Deb Haines

The American Animal Hospital Association strongly opposes the declawing of domestic cats and supports veterinarians’ efforts to educate cat owners and provide them with effective alternatives. The Pet Vet Corner veterinarians are not here to place judgement on you, but rather to educate cat owners through science ,facts and experience.

Declawing, also called de-knuckling, partial digital amputation, or onychectomy, is a surgical procedure in which the animal’s toes are amputated at the last joint. The term “declawing” is deceptive and inaccurate because the procedure is much more than merely removing the claw. Most people do not realize that a portion of the bone, from which the claw grows, must be removed in order to remove the nail. Declaw surgery is usually performed when the animal is young. Some felines will suffer immediate complications from the procedure, but for others the damaging effects of declawing may not become obvious until many months or years later. Permanent lameness, arthritis and other long-term complications are associated with declawing.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) strongly opposes declawing (onychectomy) as an elective procedure. It is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with alternatives to declawing. If owners are considering declawing, they must be provided with complete education about feline declawing.

The following points are the foundation of the position statement:

  • Feline declawing is an ethically controversial procedure.
  • Declawing is NOT a medically necessary procedure for cats in most instances.
  • Scratching is a normal feline behavior–both inherited and learned. Cat owners should be educated on feline scratching behaviors. Veterinarians should provide behavioral recommendations that allow cats to express these behaviors and reduce those undesirable to the client.
  • Declawing is an amputation of the third phalanx (P3).
  • It is the veterinarian’s obligation to educate cat owners and provide them with alternatives to declawing.
  • Veterinarians should counsel cat owners on alternatives for declawing such as:
    • providing cats with scratching posts/pads
    • regularly trimming the claws to prevent injury or damage to household items
    • considering temporary synthetic nail caps
    • using synthetic facial pheromone sprays and/or diffusers to help relieve anxiety or stress
    • providing appropriate feline environmental enrichment
  • There are inherent risks and complications with declawing that increase with age such as acute pain, infection, nerve trauma, as well as long term complications like lameness, behavioral problems, and chronic neuropathic pain.

Declawing is an amputation of the last bone on each toe. It is equivalent of amputation of your fingers at the first knuckle.

Cats after being declawed and front paws bandaged
The cats claw after surgery

A word from our Pet Vet Corner vets on declawing

Dr. Moats… Declawing is a cosmetic surgery, meaning that it has no positive health benefits for the cat. Cats who have been declawed are at risk of some pretty nasty post-surgical complications which can occur even years down the road. It has been proven that cats who have been declawed change the way that they walk to compensate for the shorted toes. As well, cats who have been declawed are more prone to arthritis in all joints. Some of the post-surgical complications involve excess grooming of the declaw sites (which can open them and expose the bones), this excessive licking can be stopped by giving them medications for nerve pain, which is about as “proof” as we can get, without being able to speak cat, that they experience phantom limb pain.

The most common “pro” that I see mentioned is that declawing may allow a cat to stay in a household. As in, they would otherwise be given to a shelter, and/or possibly euthanized. As a cat person, I know that I am biased, but I think this is an issue where we don’t set owners up with the right expectations that cat’s a climbing animals and that scratching is a normal behavior. There are environmental enrichments that we can provide to cats to help curb the behavior and redirect it towards human-preferred targets. Getting a cat, to me, means that you accept that they come with natural behaviors that need to be expressed and that you will give them an outlet to do so. The only “stay in the house” instance where I personally feel comfortable with declaw is for owner safety, especially with elderly or immune-compromised individuals and those who are on blood thinners. And even then I would hope to be able work out some environmental changes to allow the cat to express their natural behaviors safely (nail trimming, nail caps, or providing more appropriate play opportunities.

What about laser declawing ?

Dr Moats …..Laser declawing has a faster recovery than traditional methods, however it is no different than traditional methods in terms of the long-term pain and behavioral effects we see in declawed cats.

Are there laws on declawing ?

Dr. Gundersen... It is against the law in all countries where i have practiced, and I personally consider it cruel and would not accept doing it even if it was allowed.
It does not seem to be much of an issue in these countries that you have to provide alternatives for your cat to avoid inappropriate scratching.

Dr. Castro ….I work in the UK and Portugal so I’ve never seen a declawed cat as it’s extremely rare (and illegal). Cats need their nails to scratch (it’s a vital behavior for them), defend themselves (against predators and go up trees and other surfaces) etc. Declawing leads to behavior problems and pain secondary to arthritis.

Dr. Patink ….It is illegal in many countries (Australia, most of Europe, most of Canada) because there are many demonstrated downsides (pain for the cat, increased arthritis, worse litter box usage thought to be because digging is painful so cats go outside the box instead, increased biting/aggression from cats and so on).
There are not any benefits, and therefore should not be done unless there is a digit amputation in the case of cancer/severe trauma etc

Dr. Mac…. I am proud to say that the provinces of Nova Scotia and British Columbia (in Canada) have now completely banned declawing. It is illegal for vets to perform the surgery. I personally have had to euthanize more declawed cats for behavioural issues (aggression/biting, refusing to use the litter box due to pain from arthritis/cystitis) than I have had to euthanize cats for scratching furniture (0). If declawing cats would prevent them from being dropped off at the shelter, I believe shelters would support declawing. But they don’t (at least not in Canada).

Is there any correlation between declawing & urinary blockages?

Dr. Bisson…. There is a correlation with litter box issues in declawed cats. While I don’t think there is a direct link with an obstruction, many declawed cats are overweight due to sedentary lifestyle and obesity is a risk factor for obstruction. Also, if these cats are painful, they may tried to avoid the litter box and try to hold urine in for longe which increases crystals, stones, bacteria, etc. So not a direct relation but other factors that can play a role. I have seen plenty of males with claws come in with an obstruction and I consider all male cats at risk in general.

Please read the following links, educate yourself on declawing before making this decision.

LINK …… The American Association of Feline Practitioners

LINK…. Pawproject

LINK…. Canadian,or%20onychectomy%2C%20of%20domestic%20cats

LINK….American Animal Hospital Association

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