Should You Declaw Your Cat?
Updated: Jan 6
Declawing has been a hot topic for more than the past decade. Many rentals still require cats to be declawed before allowing them, and many owners still believe declawing is the best way to curb “problem” behaviors. But, is declawing the best option? Learn what a declaw actually is, and humane alternate ways to stop destructive behaviors instead of resorting to painful surgery.
What Is Declawing?
A declaw is more than just removing your cat’s nails. Declawing involves amputating the toe to the first knuckle in order to completely remove the tissue that allows for the growth of nails. While it is most commonly done on only the front feet, declawing can also be done to all four paws. As this is a major surgical procedure and amputation, healing often can take weeks, and involves a slow recovery with pain medications and antibiotics.
Cats that are declawed also need to be kept strictly indoors, and often need special litter as traditional clay and clumping litter can be incredibly painful to use. Many cats will stop using this type of litter and may start to have accidents as it is uncomfortable for them to scratch. It can also be harder for cats to jump onto and off of furniture due to the pressure put upon the amputated part of the toe.
Should I Declaw My Cat?
Most veterinary clinics, and almost every veterinary organization now recommends against declawing procedures except in the case where it is medically necessary, such as a severe burn or injury, or in some cases where the cat would otherwise be euthanized if the procedure is not performed. Declawing is seen as an invasive and unethical procedure, especially when there are many alternatives available that can prevent problem scratching and destruction of property.
How Can I Change These Behaviors Instead?
There are several ways you can help keep your cat from scratching you or your furniture. Claw caps are a very popular product, along with pheromone diffusers, and adding in enrichment activities to direct your cat’s energies into more productive pursuits.
Claw caps are special plastic caps that are placed over your cat’s claws. They help to blunt the sharpness of the nail while still allowing your cat to retract the nail comfortably and still allow for scratching or pawing at items during play. Claw caps are usually replaced once every month or so, so the nails can be trimmed and shed.
Regular nail trimming can help keep your cat’s nails short and blunt to avoid injury if they attempt to scratch. Providing a scratching post made from sisal or other shreddable materials can also help your cat naturally remove the outer layer of nail and get out excess energy without scratching furniture. It is best to avoid scratching posts that are a similar material to any furniture to prevent confusion.
Pheromone diffusers and other calming products can help reduce problem behaviors in anxious cats that can lead to scratching and biting. They can be provided as a treat, spray, plug-in in shared rooms, or collar for individual cats. These diffusers are great for stressful situations such as new pets or people in the house. Making sure to provide your cat with places to hide, eat, drink, and go potty without interference can also reduce stress.
Enrichment activities such as toys that can be batted around, feathers or laser pointers to chase, things to bite and paw at, and other fun activities can help your cat get out excess energy and have fun without resorting to destruction. A cat that is tired out and content from play sessions is less likely to scratch furniture.
What If I Adopted My Cat Already Declawed?
If you adopt a cat that is already declawed, you’ll want to make sure to keep things comfortable to avoid discomfort and pain. Making sure to use a paper pellet or shredded paper litter can reduce problems in the litter box that may lead to accidents if it's too painful for your cat to use regular clumping litters. Providing soft surfaces to hop onto or land on can make it easier for your cat to get around, and keeping them indoors with plenty of enriching activities such as soft toys to bat or windows to look out of can help.
Declawing should never be a first or even second option when dealing with destructive behaviors. If the above tips and techniques aren’t helping, speaking with your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist is a great next step. They can work with you on a specific plan of behavior modification or medication to help your cat relax and to change “problem” behaviors into positive ones.