Although cat declawing has been banned in the UK, Brazil, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries, some feline parents in the US are still requesting this controversial surgery.
But cat declawing procedures carry a host of risks and the potential to cause long-term pain and discomfort for the cat. Therefore, some US states and cities have also banned it.
Read on to learn the pros and cons of declawing cats and learn about safe alternatives.
What is cat declawing?
The term declawing is misleading because declawing a cat involves more than just removing a cat’s claws. Cat declawing is a surgical amputation of the final digit or “joint” in the cat’s feet.1 The entire nail bed is removed, including the last finger of a cat’s toes. In most cases, only a cat’s front paws are declawed.
Why do cat owners consider declawing?
Declawing is often sought as a solution to prevent cats from scratching furniture, people (those who are immunocompromised or have bleeding disorders are particularly affected), or other animals.
Age for cat declawing
When declawing is done at kitten age rather than adulthood, cats can adapt better.2 Yet most organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) discourage the cat from declawing.3 To date, the only US states to ban cat declawing are New York and Maryland, while at least 13 cities have banned it.4
Cost to declaw a cat
The cost to declaw a cat varies depending on the type of declawing procedure as well as the location of your veterinary clinic, but the average price varies between $600 and $1,800.5 This amount does not include treatment for complications resulting from your cat’s declawing, which can quickly add up depending on the complication.
Types of Cat Declawing Procedures
Although there are different types of cat declawing (also known as onychectomy), all involve removing the “knuckle” or last toe from a cat’s paws.6 Here’s an overview of the three main types of declawing and an alternative surgery that some vets use.
The first and most common surgical method uses a sterile clipper that cuts off the third finger.
The second method, disarticulation, involves removing the entire third bone by disconnecting the ligaments attached to it.
A third method uses lasers instead of a scalpel to cut the third digit. This method causes almost no bleeding and possibly less pain, but it is much more expensive.
Some veterinarians perform a tendinectomy instead. They cut the tendons of each toe to prevent cats from extending their claws. However, there can be complications if you don’t trim your cat’s nails regularly for the rest of its life.
Disadvantages of Declawing Cats
The decision to declaw a cat may seem like a quick and harmless solution to an annoying and destructive problem. However, it does not take into account the effect of declawing surgery on the cat or the health risks it may introduce.
Here are some of the downsides of declawing your cat:2
- Because declawing is a type of surgery, it carries risks of infection and risks associated with anesthesia.
- Sometimes there are painful long-term complications. These can include leg pain, nerve damage, abnormal gait or chronic back pain.
- A declawed cat might stop using its litter box to minimize foot pain.
- The surgery can be expensive, including a physical exam to determine the cat’s general health, the procedure itself, anesthesia, antibiotics, and possibly an overnight stay. The cost can vary from $600 to $1,800.5 Complications will eventually drive up costs.
- Some cats can become stressed and have trouble adjusting.
- A cat that scratches to protect itself may bite more frequently after losing his claws.seven
- Cats cannot climb, catch prey or defend themselves well without claws. For this reason, declawed cats should be kept indoors.1
Cats have a natural need to scratch.
One of the difficult things about declawing is that it’s a permanent, sometimes painful, solution to something cats need to do for their physical and mental health.
Cats have a natural need to scratch. They do this for four main reasons, including:
- To remove the dead outer layer of their claws.
- Marking territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent (cats have scent glands on their paws).
- To stretch and flex its feet and claws.
- When they are delighted to see their owner or react to something happening around them.
It is often more beneficial to teach your cat to scratch properly than to completely remove the claws.
Are there any benefits to declawing cats?
Generally, the benefits of cat declawing consist of benefits for the owners rather than the cat itself. The expected benefits to understand:8
- Stops destructive scratches on furniture or carpets.
- Do not scratch people, such as children or people taking blood thinners.
- A potentially better relationship with your cat if the scratching has caused serious problems and your cat does not develop behavioral problems after surgery.
- Some cats can recover completely without complications, although this is not guaranteed.
There are rare occasions when a veterinarian may recommend declawing, such as “when a cat’s excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior poses an unacceptable risk of injury or remains destructive despite conscientious attention to behavior modification and alternatives” , according to the AVMA.3
These advantages of declawing cats are often outweighed by the disadvantages listed in the section above. This is why many cat owners prefer to look at the alternatives listed below.
Safe alternatives to declawing cats
There are several common solutions cat owners can implement instead of declawing a pet.
1. Trim your cat’s claws
Set a reminder to trim your cat’s nails every two to three weeks. It’s not too difficult if you follow the proper grooming steps.
If you don’t care how likely this is to happen, regularly take your cat to a vet or groomer to have it professionally done.
2. Use nail guards
Consider buying vinyl nail guards for your cat’s claws.3 These will not stunt the natural growth of your cat’s nails, but they should be replaced every four to six weeks as your cat’s nails grow. As with anything you present to your cat, positive reinforcement with treats and love will help your cat adjust.
3. Provide more attractive places to scratch
Sometimes all your cat needs to change unwanted behavior is a plus. attractive outlet for scratching.9 Install scratching posts around areas where he prefers to scratch. Use vertical and horizontal scratchers and different textures to find out what your cat prefers. Try sprinkling them with catnip to make them more attractive.
4. Train your cat
The best way to avoid a problem is to stop it before it starts. Proper training early in your cat’s life can teach her to use a scratching post rather than your furniture, curtains, or rugs.
Try hissing when your cat is scratching in the wrong place to show his displeasure. Some pet owners are successful in putting foil on their furniture to deter their cat, as many do not like the sound or feel of foil. There are several products available at pet stores, ranging from double-sided tape to sprays, which also serve as effective scratch deterrents.
5. Look for stressors at home
Sometimes cats resort to destructive scratching of property or humans because they are stressed or bored. If so, they may also spray inappropriately or meow excessively.
Determine what makes them feel unsafe and try to minimize the problem. If it’s another pet, you may need to slowly reintroduce it. Or maybe someone in your home needs lessons on how best to interact with your cat. It can also be something as simple as recently changed furniture or feral cats roaming outside at night.
Playing more with your cat can help him feel confident and entertained, so he scratches less. Install cat trees and interactive toys, and have your cat chase you around the house daily. Calming sprays that mimic cat pheromones can also help.
Cat owners don’t consider declawing just for fun. The topic usually comes back when scratching becomes a serious problem. However, there are plenty of positive and safe alternatives to try that will make you and your cat happy.
Discuss declawing and alternatives with your veterinarian
Undetected illnesses can also cause stress and lead to excessive scratching. Being diligent about your cat’s health with regular veterinary checkups can help her live a longer, healthier life.
Detecting symptoms and signs of disease early can provide the best health outcomes for your cat. Pets Best offers customizable cat insurance plans to help pay for unexpected accidents and illnesses so you can afford the best treatment available. Get a quote and start protecting your pet today!*
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1. Osmanski, Stephanie, “What is cat declawing? The pros, cons and what to know about declawing cats. Parade, May 22, 2021, last accessed July 17, 2022.
2. Hughes, Kate, “7 Negative Side Effects of Declawing Your Cat.” Pet MD, February 19, 2018, last accessed July 17, 2022.
3. “Alternatives to declawing.” American Veterinary Medical Association, last accessed July 17, 2022.
4. “Keep the cats claws on their paws.” Alley Cat Allies, last accessed July 17, 2022.
5. Campbell, Lisa K., DVM, “How much does it cost to declaw a cat?” LoveToKnow, last accessed July 17, 2022.
6. “Declawing and its alternatives.” Mar Vista Animal Center, updated September 3, 2021, last accessed July 17, 2022.
7. Fox, Michael, “Declawed cats may resort to biting.” Washington Post / United Feature Syndicate Inc., August 17, 2006, last accessed July 17, 2022.
8. “Declawing Cats: Considering the Pros and Cons.” Animal Health Care Center, June 25, 2021, last accessed July 17, 2022.
9. Wildman, Matt. “Cats: Destructive Scratching.” Humane Society, last accessed July 17, 2022.