Declawing is a surgery to permanently remove a cat or kitten’s claws. Many pet owners are unaware that in order for the nails not to grow back, the operation is actually 10 to 18 amputations, removing the end bone in each of the cat’s or kittens toes! If that made you think “ouch!” you already have an idea of how painful that is for a kitten or cat.
A feline’s claws are attached by powerful ligaments and tendons so they can extend and retract. Those tendons, ligaments, as well as the skin and nerves (and often the pads of the paw) are cut to remove the entire end toe bone, as the claw grows out of tissue within the end bone. The operation in veterinary terms is called an onychectomy . There is another operation called a tendonectomy, in which the vet severs the tendons that extend the cat’s claws. Both are painful, unnecessary operations, with a good chance of serious life-long medical complications. Most vets and vet associations do not recommend performing onychectomy or tendonectomy on cats. Declawing is painful enough to be considered illegal animal cruelty in many countries and a growing number of US cities.
Why would anyone want to declaw their cat?
Cats have a natural desire to scratch. Scratching exercises and stretches their body from the tips of their nails up through their shoulders and back. In nature, wild cats whose claws aren’t trimmed keep their nails from growing into the pads of their feet by scratching rough surfaces, which removes the longest layers. Scratching also creates a visual and scent territorial marker on the scratched surface.
Though humans have domesticated cats and brought them safely indoors, the desire to scratch remains. If you don’t provide your cat or kitten with enough appealing scratching posts, along with redirection training if needed (as explained in the previous chapter), your cat will still need to scratch. She will seek out materials that remind her of rough tree bark, which can include the upholstery on your couch! A frustrated pet owner might consider declawing, not realizing the dark side, and the pain-free humane alternative of scratch training, and/or applying vinyl nail caps to make her scratching destruction-free.
The dark side…
Litter box issues. When a kitten or cat is declawed, they often wake up with gauze strips in each toe’s incision. The gauze is a drain to help the deep incisions heal with a decreased chance of abscess infections. Some vets use surgical glue; others use stitches. So that the kitten won’t rip out the painful drains, stitches, or glue with their teeth, or lick the wounds (high infection risk), the kitten must wear an e-collar – a plastic cone that looks like a small lampshade, tied tightly around their neck. In addition, to avoid litter getting into and infecting the wounds, the vet will instruct the pet owner to only use shredded newspaper in the cat’s litter boxes. Because of the pain, your vet may give your cat pain medication, which can cause drowsiness, disorientation, and nausea. Since kittens are the most often declawed (the operation can be even more dangerous for adults because of hemorrhaging), the lack of cat litter and pain when they try to dig in the litter pan, often causing a strong life-long aversion to going in a litter box.
Biting. When kittens discover they can no longer use their claws for stability when jumping or climbing away from something fearful, they will use their next line of defenses – biting. Declawed kittens may become aggressive and unfriendly cats. Cats in pain will often withdraw, hide, and not want to interact with you or other pets. Since cats can’t talk, and are historically stoic or reclusive when in pain, some pet owners who have declawed their cats claim their cats are just fine. But studies have shown that declawed cats are significantly more likely to have litter box issues and biting issues. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onychectomy] That is not just fine for most cat owners!
Medical complications. Amputating all of your cat or kitten’s toes carries a risk of complications that last well beyond the day of surgery. Hemorrhage, infection, abscess, claw regrowth – often deformed growing into the pad causing more pain and abscesses, limping, permanent limping, and bladder inflammation due to the pain, stress and litter box aversion.
There is no way to know how much pain your cat or kitten will be enduring for the rest of their life if you have them declawed. Please, don’t declaw your cat! Instead, humanely train them to scratch where you want, and use vinyl kitty nail caps instead.