Should You Declaw Your Cat?

Somewhere in the first year to 18 months of a cat’s development, cat owners will face the dreaded decision: to declaw or not to declaw? And a look behind the history and reasoning for this procedure does not make the question less agonizing.

Celebrated animal writer Roger Caras wrote in his bestselling book Cats of Thistle Hill that declawing is an acceptable alternative to euthanization, since it gives the cat owner a viable choice when faced with the prospect of allowing a cat to tear away at the furniture for the whole of its life. Opponents of the procedure have condemned this theory, arguing that there are more than two alternatives and that the declawing option is a lengthy and traumatic experience for the cat.Declawing, or onychectomy, required a 36-hour veterinary hospital stay and involves the removal of the terminal bone of the cat’s toe (opponents have correctly pointed out the equivalence of this removal to the amputation of human fingers at the first knuckle joint). In exchange for the assurance that the cat will sharpen its now-nonexistent claws in the domicile, the cat sustains an impairment of balance, loss of the use of scent glands in the front paws, cessation of all climbing abilities and a gradual weakening of leg muscles, with all effects accelerated in indoor-only cats.

Moreover, the procedure will usually confine an outdoor cat to permanent indoor living because it renders them defenseless to threats from aggressive animals. However, the reasoning behind the declawing process is not limited to cat-owner convenience. A cat’s paw can be affected by a variety of inflammatory conditions and infections, prompting a declawing process in order to save the animals’ life.

Opponents of the procedure are in favour of declawing only in these severe cases of illness.Studies conducted on declawed cats have revealed additional negative symptoms to the aftermath of the declawing procedure. In almost all test cases, cats were hyper-aware of their situation and made steps to compensate for the loss, often leading to aggressive episodes. Several cats searched out any exposed metal in the house and continually sharpened their teeth, followed by more frequent biting episodes, while others continued to venture outside to become involved in confrontations resulting in injury. One positive sign was that several cats were observed to adjust their own stalking and hunting procedures for such common prey as birds and mice, pointing up their resilience following injury and trauma.Declawing opponents have had a strong effect on legislation around the world: today the procedure is illegal or tightly regulated in much of Western Europe, including the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland, as well as most of Australasia. It remains prevalent only in North America, where approximately 25% of household cats undergo the procedure. The opponent lobby continues to grow in the US, and as a result many municipalities have begun to outlaw the procedure.If you’re a cat owner struggling with a declawing dilemma, you may wish to invest on scratching posts and place them strategically around the house until you make a final decision.