Declawing is a hotly debated topic in the United States. Animal wealfare groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S. and the ASPCA take a strong stance against declawing saying it should never be performed unless it is medically necessary for the cat. On the other hand many American cat owners and veterinary groups like the American Veterinary Medicial Association (AVMA) feel that even cosmetic declawing can be beneficial. What are the facts?

The Declawing Procedure

The medical term for declawing is onychectomy. Don’t mistake this for a fancy pedicure. This is a serious orthopedic surgery that involves amputating the last bone of each toe from a cat’s foot. It is analogous to having the tips of your fingers removed from the last knuckle. The procedure not only removes the claw and the bone, but severs the nerve, collateral ligaments, extensor tendons/flexor tendons, and joint capsule.

There are a few different methods used during an onychectomy. The traditional method uses either a scalpel or a guillotine clipper to amputate the last bone of the toe. Once the bone is removed, the wound is closed either with glue or stitches and the foot is bandaged. The newer laser technique uses a laser to heat and evaporate the tissue, thus amputating the last bone of the toe. Bandaging of the wounds is not needed in this method because the laser cauterizes the wound. In any method, aggressive pain management is necessary and the cat will need to stay at the hospital for a short time to recover.

Tendonectomies also exist, but they are no longer a recommended way of declawing. In this method the cat keeps its claws, but the tendons which control the claws are severed. This keeps the cat from scratching because they no longer have the ability to extend their claws. A complication of this is that the cat’s claws tend to grow thicker and require more frequent trimming. Many cats who get tendonecotomies end up needing to get an onychectomy in the end.

The video below is of an actual onychectomy done with guillotine clippers.

The Argument FOR Declawing

For the cat owners who choose to declaw their cat, it is a matter of helping their pet to fit their lifestyle. Even the most well behaved cats can destroy furniture and other possessions with their claws. There are also fears about cats scratching people – especially children and people with compromised immune systems.

The AVMA and other veterinary associations feel that declawing is a necessary evil to keep cats from being abused, neglected, euthanized or abandoned. They state that 15 – 42% of complaints about behavior in cats has to do with destructive scratching. In one of their studies 50% of the people studied said they would no longer own their cat if it hadn’t been declawed. The AVMA recommends that declawing be a last resort for dealing with a cat’s behavior.

The Argument AGAINST Declawing

Animal welfare organizations and cat owners who are against declawing feel that declawing is an inhumane procedure. There are 27 countries that have outlawed declawing including most of Europe and Australia. They argue that there is absolutely no benefit for the cat in the procedure; the pain and side effects from the surgery are too high a price for a cat to pay for human convenience.

The potential side effects of declawing are listed as:

  • Pain – Removing the last bone in the toe changes the way the cat’s foot sits on the ground and forces them to change the way they walk. It would be like wearing really uncomfortable shoes.
  • Infections
  • Back pain
  • Lameness
  • Arthritis
  • Regrowth of improperly removed claws
  • Nerve damage
  • Bone spurs
  • Tissue death
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Neuralgia

Another argument is that declawing does not actually fulfill its purpose. Sure, the cat can no longer claw things up. However, according to the anti-declawing advocates, removal of the claws results in the development of other behavioral issues like biting and refusing to use the litterbox in about a third of cats who are declawed. They site studies that say that more of the cats reliquished to animal rescues for behavioral issues are declawed (double the amount of cats that are not declawed). The AVMA maintains that there is no scientific evidence to back up claims of behavioral changes in declawed cats.

Non-Surgical Methods to Control Scratching

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There are a few things you can do to curb destructive scratching without an expensive surgery. First of all, your cat is going to scratch something, so give it something it is allowed to scratch. Just having alternatives like scratching posts and trees may save your furniture. If you get a young kitten, start training it to use a scratching post right away and to let you clip their nails. Cats begin scratching at about 8 months old and they are still very trainable at this age. Training is much more difficult for older cats. Using catnip will help to get most cats using a scratcher.

The next solution is to keep those nails trimmed up. This won’t stop your cat from scratching, but it will minimize the damage. It may also curb your kitty’s craving to sharpen its claws.

Thirdly, you could ask your veterinarian about Soft Paws. These are

little plastic tips that are glued over the nail. When the nails grow out, the tips break off, so you will need to redo them every month or so. The plastic over the nail helps to prevent the nail from cutting into things.

Finally there are many other products available to protect furniture. For example, there are sticky clear strips that can be placed on areas of the couch that are frequently scratched. Cats don’t like the sticky feeling and so they are deterred from scratching.