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Declawing Drawbacks

In this section:

Declawing is presented to cat owners as a rational choice, yet it creates often insurmountable problems for both the cat and owner. Owning a declawed cat is neither cheap nor easy. A cat needs his claws to groom, scratch, climb, exercise, “knead” and to rake cat litter in comfort. Adopting a declawed cat is different from adopting one that has all his “fingers.” Don’t expect him to be the same, feel the same, act the same, cost the same, or be as healthy as able-bodied cats.

It should come as no surprise that declawing immediately jeopardizes a cat’s entire life in many, many ways. Besides challenging the physical and mental capabilities of the cat, it challenges those of an owner who was not warned of the drawbacks of declawing.

We choose declawing because we’ve been convinced by our veterinarian that it will solve a problem. In reality, declawing causes many more problems than it solves. Peeing outside the box is just one, and it’s enough in and of itself. Cat urine can destroy your home much faster and more thoroughly than claws ever would.

The most common complaint from owners of declawed cats is litter box problems. “I did what my vet said . . . our home is still being destroyed by cat urine . . . we’ve replaced the carpet . . . we threw out the sofa . . . we clean the litter daily . . . and he still pees . . . I’m thinking of getting rid of him.”

Dealing with the urine problems of a cat that cannot learn to use a litter box requires the patience of a saint. And few of us, when it comes down to it, are saints. How would you feel if your couch was totally ruined by urine? Or your carpet, pad, and floorboards stank to the point that they had to be replaced? Owners of declawed cats report the worst home repair bills. People who own clawed cats rarely experience damage as extensive as this.

Many people simply can’t and won’t face the stench of urine, and not many cat owners will let a cat destroy an entire house. In desperation, they may try to force him to live outside. When he’s outside, he is an easy target for predators.

Cats Are Like People

You don’t have to declaw a cat just because all of your other cats are declawed. Cats, like people, recognize another’s handicap immediately. It’s perfectly okay to mix clawed and declawed cats inside the house.

Some argue that removing the front claws is of no consequence because a cat fights primarily with his hind paws. This is not the whole truth: A cat escapes by climbing trees with his front claws. Which would be better—a cat that has defenses only to fight, or one that also can get away? Too many declawed cats are rushed to emergency rooms after trying to get away from dogs. Contrary to myth, most cats don’t like to fight. Cats would rather escape.

If making the cat live outside stops “working,” and if the cat continues to pee inside the house, the cat will be given new “last resorts.” Owners will start to use alternatives that the veterinarian didn’t mention at the time of declawing. The owners may squirt or spank the cat, or imprison him in one room or in the basement. They may give away or abandon the cat, not knowing that declawing was what started their mess. Others will have the cat destroyed. Many cat owners are unconsciously made aware that declawing is nowhere near the “last resort.” Death is.

Even if the cat is allowed to stay indoors, he won’t have much of a life. He’ll be clumsy, more prone to infections, more moody (probably from phantom limb pain), and more trouble than a clawed cat. And he won’t be able to exercise and use carpeted cat trees the way clawed cats do.

Cats and dogs exercise in very different ways: Cats stalk, dogs hunt. Cats evolved to sleep and scratch, not run and pant. It’s very difficult to get a cat to run at all, let alone on sore feet. Some declawed cats have sore feet their entire lives (not just the two weeks some veterinarians may claim). And every cat scratches, whether his mother taught him when he was born or not. Declawing does not change a cat’s internal need to scratch and exercise. It does, however, make it more painful and challenging.

Did You Know?

The declawing procedure involves anesthesia and cutting off the cat’s toes to the first knuckle. Many veterinarians use a tool similar to pruning shears. Others use a “fine scalpel” technique, or laser. They claim these are cleaner procedures—which they probably are—but no matter how you cut it, declawing is crippling the cat.

The operation takes about 10 minutes. The cost of the operation varies. But the costs and pain don’t stop there. For some cats and owners, the problems are just beginning.

If the cat comes down with an infection or develops behavioral problems as a result of declawing, the follow-up care and repairs can be very expensive.

Mayo Clinic Family Health Book author and editor-in-chief David E. Larson, MD, illustrates how some people are affected by amputa­tion:

“The surgical removal of a body part also can be an emotionally demanding event. There may be pain in the stump or the sensation, sometimes painful, that the limb or part of the limb is still present, so called phantom limb pain. In addition, your self image, self confidence and self worth may be affected. . . . In addition to drawing on the body’s healing capacity, an amputation also requires a significant psychological adjustment.” [emphasis added].

There is no doubt that confidence is diminished in the declawed cat, and many cat owners report that their cat’s personality changed drastically after being declawed. Many owners of declawed cats are disappointed, and most say they would never have it done again.

True Story

One cat owner spent hundreds of dollars to have her cat’s feet fixed after the cat had been declawed. Loose bones caused some claws to become infected. A couple of claws even tried to grow back, and required more surgery. This veterinarian bill cost much more than the price of her sofa and bed, both of which had been damaged by cat urine.

Still Considering Declawing?

If you really think declawing will save you time and money, ask your veterinarian for answers to these questions before you sign up for the operation:

  • Will she guarantee that your declawed cat won’t start peeing? Will she pay for the urine tests, neutralizers, or damage? Will she guarantee that your cat’s personality won’t change? Or that he won’t become a biter?
  • Is there risk of infection, a second operation, or diabetes? How much will that cost? (Sometimes pieces of loose bone can cause infection, requiring subsequent operations.
  • How will you exercise a declawed cat? How much time was spent in veterinarian school discussing ways to exercise cats? Were considerations taken into account for the cat being handicapped?
  • How many declawed cats has she euthanatized for a litter box problem?
  • If your cat is being declawed because the veterinarian claims it will make the cat less “dangerous,” ask how dangerous it could be if he pees all over the place. Declawing will not make a cat less dangerous. Besides, if the cat is so “dangerous” that surgery is necessary, remember that there are millions of cats being euthanized every year due to lack of homes that are not dangerous and won’t require expensive and dangerous surgery.
Did You Know?

  • Declawing is the removal of bones, tendons, ligaments, and claws to the first knuckle of each toe.
  • Declawing undermines the health, and consequently the behavior, of the cat.
  • Declawing can lead to worse problems.
  • Declawing is illegal or considered inhumane in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom (Britain), Wales, and Yugoslavia—and the list keeps growing. (See

Declawing Isn’t the Only Bad Idea

  • A tendonectomy is a relatively new surgical procedure that severs the tendon in each toe. The cat will not be able to control or extend his claws. You still will have to trim his claws. He’ll be unable to perform his much-needed scratching, pulling, and tugging exercise. He could face years with painful feet and bear the same litter box or biting problems as his amputee brothers. Do not choose this option. Even though no amputation takes place, torn or cut tendons are very painful. In people, a torn tendon in the foot can take years to heal.
Afraid of Getting Scratched?

Avoid adopting a declawed cat. If you are so afraid of claws, cats—as well as dogs, birds, and many other pets—are not for you.

Declawing Resources

Books on Declawing

The Shocking Truth About Declawing Cats (That Most Veterinarians Don’t Acknowledge or Tell) by Harriet Baker (The Cat Catalyst, Inc., 2000.)

Web Sites on Declawing (lists veterinarians who don’t declaw) (articles about declawing) (Article: Veterinarians Spread False Information Nationwide to Justify Their Cruel Surgeries that Cripple Millions of Cats)

For information about things you can do to help end declawing, see “Help Stop Declawing” in How You Can Help Cats.

Expert Opinions on Declawing

What others say about declawing:

“Climbing is another part of the cat’s normal behavior repertoire. Some cats climb up the curtains, e.g. to reach an elevated resting place, to escape, or in the course of hunting insects and playing. The operative removal of the claws, as is sometimes practiced to protect furniture and curtains, is an act of abuse and should be forbidden by law in all, not just a few countries.”—authors Dennis C.Turner & Patrick Bateson in The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior

“I, for one, would like to see declawing or “claw modification” banned as an inhumane and unnecessary mutilation. . . . words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war.”—Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, MRCVSm DACVB, Professor, Section Head and Program Director, Animal Behavior, Department of Clinical Sciences, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, author of The Cat Who Cried for Help

“I’m tired of all the calls I get telling me that they need to get rid of their cat because all of a sudden it won’t use the litter box or it is biting. My first question is always, “When did you declaw your cat?” Rene Knapp, president of Helping Paws, a local rescue organization based in Cholchester, Connecticut (visit

“The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) regards the procedure as an unethical mutilation.”—C J Laurence, QVRM TD BVSc MRCVS, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

“I wouldn’t declaw a cat if you paid me $1,000 per nail!” and “The request itself [declawing] is an indication that the household is not suitable for a cat.” —Dr. Louis J. Camuti, DVM (a practicing veterinarian for fifty-eight years)

“Declawing is a truly barbaric, disabling mutilation and should not even be thought of as a means of control for this problem. . . .This barbaric, unnecessary operation has become common in the United States. This mutilation of millions of cats is a real cost that needs considering when policy statements are made by welfare groups about captive cats. Fortunately, the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons are firmly against declawing, and consequently it is not allowed in Britain.”—author Roger Tabor in Understanding Cats: Their History, Nature, and Behavior

“Some say it’s minor surgery. Others say X rays of the bone structure of Kitty’s legs before and after declawing show a marked difference that’s caused by his having to balance himself unnaturally. Without the nails, physical stress is placed on the legs, where it wasn’t intended to be.”—authors Warren Eckstein and Fay Eckstein in How to Get Your Cat to Do What You Want

“Declawing is a cruel practice, deplored by animal welfare organizations and caring veterinarians.”—author Chris Madsen in Natural Cats

“A recently published translation of a German book says that declawing is punishable under German animal protective law, and concludes, ‘A cat without its natural weapons is like every other creature enslaved by man—it is no longer itself!’” —author Roz Riddle in The City Cat: How to Live Healthily and Happily with Your Indoor Pet

“Many veterinarians refuse to mutilate cats in this way. Undoubtedly, these veterinarians have learned through experience what can happen if their four-footed patients slip outside after being declawed. No longer able to escape or defend themselves, the cats are brought back to the veterinarians to be sewn up or euthanized after being attacked by other animals.” —author Terry Jester in Train Your Cat

“A declawed cat’s emotional reaction to the surgery can trigger various chronic physical ailments, such as cystitis, skin disorders, and asthma.”—author Carole C. Wilbourn in Cats on the Couch: The Complete Guide for Loving and Caring for Your Cat

“The physical effect of declawing is gradual weakening of the muscles of the legs, shoulders, and back. Balance is impaired. The cat is 75 percent defenseless.”—authors Anitra Frazier with Norma Eckroate in The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners

“The practice of [declawing] is not only cruel and painful, but it also prevents the important feline exercise pattern of kneading and stretching, which benefits the muscles of the forelegs, backbone and shoulders. A cat that can’t perform this ritual can become weaker and thus more susceptible to illness and degeneration. It can impair a cat’s balance, weaken it (from muscular disuse) and cause it to feel nervous and defenseless. The resulting stress can lower its immunity to disease and make it more likely to be a biter.”—authors Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn in Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats

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