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If you live in Australia, you may be wondering what declawing is; because the practice of removing a cat’s claws is illegal here and considered both cruel and inhumane. However, there are places in the world (including the United States) where declawing cats, is legal and even commonplace.
We discuss the controversial practice of declawing cats, the risks and how it hurts cats, and other ways to manage a cat’s natural behaviour to scratch.
Declawing is a surgical procedure
It’s a common misconception that declawing is similar to a cat manicure. Have you ever trimmed your cat’s claws and cut too far down and nicked the quick? If so, you’ll know that it’s painful for your cat and causes bleeding. That’s because the quick is full of nerves and blood vessels.
Declawing is a surgery known as ‘onychectomy’ and is done under anaesthetic. The procedure involves removing the cat’s claws and each front toe from the last joint or knuckle. The usual method of declawing involves using a scalpel, guillotine clipper or laser surgery. The wounds are closed with surgical stitches or glue and bandaged.
Now take a moment and look at your own hands. Imagine how you’d feel if your fingers were amputated at the first joint. When you declaw a cat, it hurts them – it is certainly not just a manicure!
How declawing hurts cats
Declawing involves amputating part of the cat’s toes. To start with, there are risks with any anaesthesia or surgery, including bleeding and infection.
Removing a cat’s claws can be very painful after surgery. It doesn’t just hurt for a few months, declawing can lead to chronic pain and life-long medical and behavioural issues.
Balance and walking
Cats naturally walk on their toes. So, when you declaw a cat, they are forced to adopt a different way of walking. This is not only painful, but can impact their balance and lead to lameness, back pain and even arthritis in later years. Think how you’d walk if you had your toes amputated from the first knuckle! It would be like wearing an ill-fitting and very uncomfortable pair of shoes.
Declawed cats may also suffer from nerve or tendon damage, abscesses, and extremely sensitive or painful paw pads as a result of claw regrowth. That would be like walking with a small stone permanently stuck in your shoe.
Movement and defending themselves
Declawed cats also have no way to defend and protect themselves. If they are let outside and attacked by a dog, cat or larger predator, they simply can’t fight back. Without claws, cats are unable to escape by climbing a tree or may not be able to out run their attacker.
If your cat has been declawed, they must be kept indoors at all times for their own safety.
Pain related behavioural issues
Cats scratch for many reasons including stretching, playing, hunting and marking their territory. When you remove a cat’s claws you take this natural behaviour away from them. This can cause immense stress and psychological problems, leading to behavioural problems such as aggression, refusal to eat or inappropriate toileting.
- Litter tray problems – can be caused by the pain and discomfort of digging certain types of litter when they’ve had the end of their toes amputated.
- Biting issues – if a cat can’t use their claws, (not just to attack/defend, but to hold onto things), they’ll often compensate by biting more often.
Declawing cats is cruel, so why do people do it?
Although there is a growing movement to end the practice of declawing in the United States, it’s still permitted in many states. New York became the first state to outlaw it in 2019, and the state of Maryland made cat declawing illegal in 2022. There are also a number of US cities that have now banned declawing.
The most common reason for people declawing their cat is, sadly, to stop them from scratching the furniture – a behaviour that’s very fixable.
Other reasons people put their cat through the amputation is to stop fighting in multi-cat households. Cat owners with suppressed immune systems due to certain illnesses also opt for declawing to prevent any risk associated with contracting cat scratch disease.
Alternatives to declawing cats
In over 40 countries including Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – declawing cats is illegal. It is classified as animal cruelty. Cat parents are required to look at solutions that involve training and changing the cat’s environment rather than an unnecessary elective surgery.
Scratching the furniture is the most common reason cat owners seek to declaw their cats. But, there are effective options to curb this behaviour without having to resort to declawing.
Try these humane alternatives to declawing:
- Trim your cat’s nails regularly.
- Provide lots of scratching posts, and use training (eg. with a catnip spray) to encourage your cat to use them instead of the furniture.
- Purchase vinyl nail caps to cover your cat’s sharp claws and prevent them from damaging the furniture.
- You can also use natural deterrents like double sided tape, and spray deterrents. You can make your own spray with citrus or eucalyptus oil diluted with water which is usually effective.
Declawing cats is cruel, painful and unnecessary. If declawing is not yet illegal where you live and you want to help stop this inhumane practice, please share this article to help raise awareness. You can also join your local animal protection group and advocate to change the laws to ban declawing in your community.