What was once a common practice in pet care is now receiving backlash from animal welfare groups and vets alike. Declawing is becoming an increasingly controversial procedure in the pet healthcare space. What is it, why should you avoid it, and what more humane alternatives can be considered when attempting to keep your couches intact?
What is cat declawing?
Declawing is the surgical removal of the end portion of a cat's claw - sometimes referred to as a "knuckle". It is performed on cats to prevent them from scratching furniture, humans, or other animals. The procedure is usually performed by a veterinarian with a scalpel, laser, or clipper.
The surgery, which involves the removal of the last bone of each digit, is called onychectomy or unguicular amputation. Some people have attempted to perform the procedure at home, with varying degrees of success - which we would not recommend in any situation for the health and safety of your cat.
In recent years, declawing has been met with opposition by animal rights activists and veterinarians. They claim that declawing a cat can cause behavioral problems and unnecessary pain for the cat.
In addition, critics claim the procedure can lead to long-term health problems health such as chronic pain, arthritis, and even behavioral problems. Many pet parents are unaware of the consequences of declawing their cats, and therefore, they consider it an acceptable option.
Why do pet parents consider declawing?
There are many reasons owners consider declawing their cats. We all know the pain of bringing home a new couch or chair and shortly after discovering a fresh scratch from our feline roomie. In fact, the most common reason for declawing is to protect furniture and other people from being scratched.
Additionally, some cats may come in conflict with other pets in the home, which may prompt pet parents to consider declawing. This becomes a particularly attractive option if the cat is at risk of being rehomed otherwise.
Why should you decide against declawing?
Declawing a cat isn’t the most humane decision for many reasons. Above all, it can cause many problems for your curious copilot down the road.
Declawing is the amputation of claw and bone from the animal’s paws, but cats have their claws for a reason! Vets and animal welfare groups cite the following issues as reasons to avoid declawing your cat:
Painful recovery process
The recovery process can be painful, and it can take days or weeks for the wounds to heal. Infections are common and often lead to a more painful recovery. Injured tendons can make walking uncomfortable or impossible even if the surgery is performed correctly.
Risk of infection
There's no way around it - our pets have evolved to be on their feet most of the day. That means that any surgical procedures that affect those body parts are susceptible to environmental contaminants and bacteria. Even if the paws are well-bandaged post-surgery, getting your cat to stay off their feet or leave the bandages alone is a challenge in itself. Consequently, paw infections are not uncommon.
Our feline friends use their claws for many things like kneading and climbing. Without claws, cats can’t climb or exercise their hind legs appropriately which may lead to muscle atrophy. It can also leave them more susceptible to injury as they may not be able to grip surfaces when jumping or prevent slipping.
Outdoor cats are at particular risk as they need their claws to protect from predators. If they are ambushed by a stray dog or another cat, they may be unable to properly defend themselves and may become injured or worse. Of course, indoor cats lead safer lives all around, but if by chance your house-dwelling kitten escapes, this can even become an issue for them too.
Additionally, due to the complexity of the procedure, it can cause tendons and ligaments to heal in a way that is somewhat different from what a feline’s natural bodily constitution is. In the end, this improper healing can cause long-term issues with ligaments, which can, again, call for another expensive surgical procedure.
Can you imagine a worse feeling than getting kitty litter in an open wound? That's the situation many cats find themselves in when they attempt to use their litter box post declawing surgery. Their natural instinct is to dig around when they're finished relieving themselves, so if the process causes them pain, they may end up learning to avoid their litter box altogether.
Some pet parents swap traditional litter for paper in these instances, but sadly this only further teaches the cat to avoid their standard box and can lead to potty-training issues down the line.
Ok, that all sounds bad. So what are the alternatives to declawing?
Scratching is an instinctual cat behavior and it can be encouraged in a way that is non-destructive. We recommend you redirect your cat's scratching to the right places and teach them to scratch when it’s appropriate.
If your cat is scratching your furniture, for example, you can try a deterrent such as wrapping certain spots in tin foil or double-sided tape.
Ensure their environment is enriched with a variety of scratching posts, cat trees, toys, etc., and reward them for redirecting their scratching behavior to those items.
Cats need to have their nails trimmed so they don't become overgrown. If you are nervous about cutting your cat's nails, ask your veterinarian or have them groomed.
A great idea is to buy a cat nail trimmer. These trimmers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and with different types of blades and can help keep claws dull enough so they don't damage furniture.
Another viable solution to look into are nail caps. Although they are relatively new on the market, they offer solid results. Manufactured in various sizes and colors, these plastic claw covers can keep your cat from damaging furniture or injuring themselves or others.
Luckily, these caps don’t interfere with the cat’s nail growth and they naturally shed as nails grow. You can also combine them with other methods such as trimming and scratching. One big advantage is that they do not require any training on your part, which can be difficult if you have a particularly stubborn feline friend.
Synthetic pheromones are available that you can get in the form of a spray or as a plug-in. They are used to help calm cats, which has been found to decrease their natural scratching behavior. One popular product, Feliway, contains synthetic copies of the feline facial pheromones that are used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure.
Keep in mind, pheromones are not fully effective for treating medical conditions such as separation anxiety or noise phobias.
How to choose the best solution?
It is important to understand the reasons why cats scratch. This will help you find the best solution for your cat and avoid declawing.
Your cat may be bored, stressed, or just need to sharpen their claws. No matter the reason, the best solution for your cat's sake is to avoid declawing and instead provide them with plenty of opportunities to explore different surfaces in the house, employ synthetic pheromones, maintain regular nail trims, or give nail caps a try. Depending on your cat’s personality, we recommend consulting with your vet to figure out the best solution.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.