To Declaw or Not?

I’m frequently asked how much it costs to declaw a cat. I think the better question is: how much will it cost my cat to be declawed? Because declawing is not a benign procedure, and it can cause serious long-term consequences. So, let’s unwrap the declawing issue…

Why do cats scratch on stuff?

Scratching is a normal behavior of cats:

  • It conditions the claws by removing the fine sheath covering.
  • It serves as a territorial maker. When cats scratch they deposit scent from special glands in their paws on to the object. Too, scratch marks left behind are a sign of confidence.
  • It creates healthy muscles through stretching.
  • Claws are used as a defense.

In many cases a cat can be trained to scratch only on appropriate surfaces. However, some cats’ inappropriate scratching behavior can become destructive or injure people. When this happens an owner often turns to declawing in an effort to stop the damage.

What is declawing?

Declawing is a major orthopedic surgery that involves the amputation of a cat’s third toe bone and the associated claw. Generally this procedure is done on the ten toes of the two front feet. Declawing requires general anesthesia and proper pain management. It also requires an experienced veterinarian as leaving any bone fragments behind can cause chronic, debilitating pain.

What are the downsides of declawing?

  • Amputation is a painful surgery.
  • Bone pain or numbness can result.
  • In their later years cats can develop debilitating arthritis in their feet and/or chronic back pain.
  • Some cats develop bad behaviors after the procedure, including biting people, avoiding the litter box, and excessive licking or chewing of fur.
  • Declawed cats have a difficult time defending themselves and are less likely to climb trees--another defensive tactic.

What are alternatives to declawing?

  • Provide scratching surfaces such as boards, tall posts, or other enticements throughout the home. Especially place them near furniture or other inappropriate scratching surfaces in order to redirect the behavior. Scent the scratch surface with catnip—I prefer dried over liquid catnip. Too, I’m not a fan of scratch pads infused with catnip as cats will often eat the cardboard.
  • Trim nails every 1 to 2 weeks. Human nail clippers work great for this.
  • Or apply nail caps every 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Use positive reinforcement training as punishment is not effective--cats see no link between the punishment and their bad behavior.
  • Discourage scratching of inappropriate surfaces by attaching double-sided tape or aluminum foil to the area.

The bottom-line is that declawing should be considered only as an absolute last resort when all other strategies are unsuccessful, and only in cases in which a cat’s scratching would necessitate removal from the home.

At Spring Creek Animal Hospital, we will declaw cats and kittens in some instances, but in all cases we ask the owner to make a careful and thoughtful choice before proceeding with this surgical procedure…because declawing is a “forever” decision.

Give us a call if you have questions about declawing!

We really do “love ‘em like you!”