The Cat Declawing Procedure Explained

The cat declawing procedure is more extensive than mere removal of a cat’s claws, as is commonly believed. Declawing is a medical procedure in which doctors amputate a part of each toe that includes the last bone and claw. The surgery is meant to prevent self-injury through scratching, injury to people and other animals, and damage to property.

However, declawing is one of the most controversial elective surgeries performed on cats. Many people believe cat declawing is rarely, if ever, necessary, and prefer alternative ways to manage scratching behaviors. Others believe cat declawing is necessary, as alternative methods may not work.

Rationale for Cat Declawing

Scratching is a normal behavior among cats, beginning at about eight weeks of age. However, scratching can become an aggressive habit, too. Cats may scratch adults, children or other pets in the household, causing injury or illness. In addition, cats often use their claws to mark their territory; scratch marks on surfaces, like furniture and drapes, let other cats know such areas are “taken.” Such behaviors may erode the bond between cats and their families. These reasons prompt owners to consider declawing their cats.

Three Types of Medical Procedures for Cat Declawing

Here are the three types of cat declawing procedures used by the vet:

  • Using a scalpel or guillotine clipper to remove a cat’s claws, closing wounds with stitches or glue, and bandaging the paws;
  • Using laser technology to vaporize claws;
  • Severing the tendons attached to claws, called tendonectomy, thus preserving the claws but eliminating a cat’s ability to extend their altered claws to scratch. However, such claws may still snag or scratch accidentally.

The Case against Cat Declawing

Opponents consider cat declawing unacceptable for these reasons:

  • It amounts to mutilation—for the most part, an unnecessary procedure that does more harm than good. It should be reserved only for treatment of serious medical conditions, like cancer of the nail beds.
  • It may cause severe physical after-effects, such as pain, infection tissue death, lameness and back pain. Secondly, stepping may become painful. Finally, claws may return, causing nerve damage and bone spurs.
  • It may cause severe behavioral consequences, too. For instance, if recovery in the litter box has been painful, a declawed cat may avoid the litter box thereafter. Over the long-term, cats, absent their claws, may resort to biting for self-defense.

The Case for Cat Declawing

Proponents consider cat declawing desirable for these reasons:

  • It prevents injury to household members, especially those whose immune systems or clotting mechanisms, are compromised, from cat scratches;
  • It prevents the spread of diseases to household members from cat scratches;
  • Training cats to scratch a post rather than people and pets takes comparatively greater time and effort than declawing.

Proponents of declawing also counter that current research shows that a majority of cat owners say that interactions with their cats improve after the procedure. Proponents contend that cats can still hunt and climb after declawing, though not as well. Finally, proponents argue that studies indicate cats do not exhibit an increased urge to bite after declawing.

Non-Surgical Methods to Reducing Scratching

Opponents and proponents alike agree that owners do have another of options to try, short of cat declawing:

  • Provide a scratching post as early as possible in a kitten’s life
  • Cover scratching posts with upholstery with a vertical grain, rather than carpet
  • “Manicure” your cat’s nails with acrylic caps, to be replaced every six weeks
  • Positioning double-sided sticky tape, a deterrent, strategically
  • Covering parts of furniture with foil or plastic
  • Spraying antiperspirant on furniture as a deterrent