To declaw, or not to declaw a cat, that is the question. This is a topic many new cat owners inquire about at the vet’s office. People are often confused about the procedure and unaware of the behavioral and physical issues that may arise after the procedure. Before we talk about declawing, we must first understand why cats scratch, and what they gain from using their claws.

Why do cats scratch?

Just like sneezing, scratching is a very natural behavior in cats. As the nails grow longer and thicker, cats need to scratch to remove the dead outer layer and to sharpen the existing nail. They also use scratching to mark their territory and leave their scent. They claim their favorite scratching place, which is why it is important to have one scratching post or pad for each cat in the household.

What is declawing?

Veterinarians amputate the first digit on each toe with a scalpel, guillotine, or laser. The procedure is done under anesthesia and has a recovery time of 3-4 days. The cat’s legs are completely bandaged and pain medication is administered twice a day. While the cat is healing, they are only allowed to use newspaper litter to prevent the small pieces of litter from getting into the wounds.

Some risks of declawing a cat include: lameness, nerve damage, death of the tissue, and infection. Cats may have a hard time going in and out of the litter box during the first couple of weeks and may stop using the box altogether.

The claws are also one of the cat’s main defense mechanisms so it could lead to aggression.

declaw a cat
Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

Alternatives to declawing a cat

It is important to introduce these alternatives early on in the cat’s life, but don’t lose hope if you have an older cat. The most obvious way to decrease damage to the skin is to trim the nails. Treats and lots of love can serve as good distractions when first getting your cat used to this important grooming ritual. If you are worried about damage to your furniture or curtains, they do make covers for cats nails.

Another option is to train your cat to scratch on a post or pad. Sprinkling a little catnip can entice a cat to learn to scratch those areas, rather than your new couch. You could also strategically place some treats nearby too. If there is a certain place that the cat scratches, you can put up some aluminum foil or sticky tape, designed to keep cats away until they learn.

You may want to make your life easier by declawing your cat, but the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) states that declawing is not necessary. But, many veterinarians will make an exception for owners with medical conditions that require the use of blood thinners or compromise the immune system. Declawing a cat is banned in 28 countries but is also becoming outlawed in some US cities. So, if you are thinking about removing your cat’s claws, make sure you take everything into consideration!

Author

Caitlin is originally from Vermont and has been working with animals since she can remember. She studied Behavioral Neuroscience and is now Mastering in Animal Shelter Management in Colorado. Her hobbies include horseback riding, fostering animals, and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. She has volunteered at five different animal shelters and worked in three different vet hospitals. Her passions include animal health, behavior, and enrichment. Caitlin lives with her Chihuahua-Terrier mix, Norman, and currently works for a non-profit helping the pets of elderly and disabled: Pets Forever.

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