Fed up with your cat scratching the furniture, or leaving holes in the carpet? Maybe they’re using your legs as a scratching post? We get it. Scratching can be a frustrating problem in cats. You might even be wondering whether declawing could be the answer.
But the truth is, cats need their claws. Declawing is a serious surgical procedure that can lead to ongoing pain and significant behavioral problems. Many cat experts consider declawing to be an unnecessary and unethical procedure. In fact, declawing is banned in many countries.
As a cat owner, it is important to understand what actually happens during declawing, and how it could affect your cat long term. But we also know how frustrating scratching behavior can be to manage!
So, we have compiled a list of alternatives to declawing – because we believe that cats need their claws.
Declawing In Cats
Declawing in cats (technically called “onychectomy”) is not simply removing your cat’s nails.
Performed under general anesthetic, declawing actually involves surgically amputating the last joint of each toe. This is the equivalent of removing the end of each of your fingers and toes at the level of your top knuckle.
The Problems With Declawing In Cats
Declawing Causes Pain
Declawing cats is painful. While cats receive pain relief during and after the surgery, most cats will still be uncomfortable. Up to 50% of cats experience complications such as pain, lameness, infections, and behavior changes. Some cats also go on to suffer from chronic pain as a result of declawing. This can be due to complications (such as bony fragments left behind) or arthritis that commonly develops in the amputated joints.
Removing the end of the toe also changes how a cat’s paw hits the ground when they walk. This permanently alters their gait and means the pressure is distributed in places of the foot that it shouldn’t be. Which, as you can probably guess, leads to more pain.
Also Read: How Often To Trim Cat Nails: A Vet Explains
Declawing Can Lead To Behavior Problems
People often turn to declawing their cat to reduce undesirable behavior. What many cat owners don’t realize, is that it can actually create more behavior problems!
As cats who have been declawed often live with chronic pain, they often show significant changes in their behavior. Cats who used to be friendly and sociable can become aggressive. This can lead to behaviors such as hissing and biting.
Also Read: How To Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture
Declawing Can Lead To Chronic Stress And Anxiety
Cats use their claws to express natural behaviors. Scratching allows them to stretch their muscles, scent mark their territory, and keep their claws in good condition. When they’re unable to express this natural behavior, they can become stressed.
Also Read: Best Cat Grooming And Deshedding Gloves
Declawing Is An Unnecessary Procedure
We all know that every anesthetic, and every surgical procedure, carries a risk. If the procedure is important for our cat’s health or welfare, that risk is often worth taking.
When the procedure can actually be detrimental to our cat’s health and welfare and has no benefits for them at all – such as with declawing – that risk is not worth taking. In fact, many cat experts consider declawing to be unethical.
Alternatives To Declawing
Once they understand what declawing involves, and the issues it can cause, most cat owners decide against declawing. But don’t worry, there are lots of alternatives that can help protect your furniture – without putting your cat through an unnecessary surgery.
1. Nail Caps
Nail caps (such as Soft Paws) are a great alternative to declawing. They are soft covers that are applied over the top of your cat’s claws using glue. They aren’t permanent but can stay in place for weeks to months at a time. Nail caps help protect against damage from scratching while still allowing your cat to display their natural behaviors.
Also Read: Why Do Cats Chew On Their Nails
2. Trim Your Cat’s Nails
Trimming your cat’s nails regularly will reduce the damage they can cause in the house from scratching. Just make sure to only trim the ends, to avoid the blood vessel in the nail. If your cat is too feisty to do this at home, or you aren’t sure about the procedure, a groomer or veterinarian will be happy to help!
Also Read: The 5 Best Cat Scratch Deterrents
3. Provide Attractive Scratching Areas
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, and as cat owners, it is important we provide them with the opportunity to scratch. But, of course, we’d rather this wasn’t on our brand new sofa!
Instead, we can provide plenty of attractive and appropriate scratching surfaces to redirect cats from the sofa to a scratching pad or post. Finding the right location is key. Keep an eye on where your cat likes to scratch and position your scratching post next to the item you want them to stop scratching.
It can also help to offer your cat a few different surfaces for them to try – corrugated cardboard, sisal rope and carpet are popular choices! Spray the area with a pheromone spray (such as Feliscratch) or catnip to help entice them.
Also Read: How To Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture
Positive reinforcement always works better than telling cats off. Every time your cat using the designated scratching area, give them plenty of positive reinforcement with praise and treats. If you do see them scratching somewhere you don’t want them to, calmly move them back to their scratching pad or post.
Also Read: Can You Discipline A Cat?
5. Ensure Your Cat’s Needs Are Being Met
While scratching is a natural behavior for cats, destructive scratching is most likely to occur if their needs are not being met. Making sure they have appropriate environmental enrichment (particularly if they are kept indoors) helps to reduce boredom and encourage exercise. This too will help reduce undesirable scratching.
6. Seek Help From A Behaviorist
If you have tried alternatives to declawing and are still struggling with destructive scratching behavior in your cat, it might be time to seek help from a cat behaviorist. They will assess your cat’s temperament and environment and give you the support you need to tackle the problem gently.
Declawing is a surgical procedure that can result in lifelong pain or behavior problems for cats. Thankfully there are lots of good alternatives to declawing that can help reduce destructive scratching (and preserve your furniture!) without resorting to a painful surgical procedure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can declawing be done humanely?
Declawing in cats is a controversial topic. When carried out properly, by a qualified veterinarian, it is performed under anesthetic with pain relief during and after the procedure. However, even when performed correctly, it has been associated with chronic pain and behavioral issues such as aggression.
Many cat experts consider the procedure inhumane and unethical, and it is actually banned in many parts of the world. Thankfully there are lots of good alternatives to declawing that are much more humane.
Is it considered cruel to declaw a cat?
Removing a cat's claws prevents them from performing the natural behavior of scratching. The ability to perform natural behaviors is vital to our pet's health and well-being. Declawing can also cause long-term pain and behavioral changes in cats, and therefore many cat experts consider it to be a cruel and unnecessary procedure.
Are there different ways to declaw a cat?
There are several methods of declawing cats. It must always be carried out by a veterinarian, under general anesthetic. The procedure involves using a scalpel, a laser or a nail trimmer (known as the guillotine method) to amputate the third digit of each toe at either between the joint, or by cutting through the bone. This is the equivalent of removing the end of each of your fingers and toes at the level of your top knuckle.
Is it OK to declaw an indoor cat?
Indoor cats possess the same natural behaviors and instincts as outdoor cats, including scratching. Since declawing is widely considered unethical, and there are several easy alternatives to declawing that will not hurt your cat and still keep them from scratching your furniture up, it is best to seek out these alternatives.