For many cat guardians, their pet’s natural impulse to scratch can become a problem, and declawing may seem a logical solution. However, declawing creates more problems than it solves.

What is the procedure?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, declawing is the surgical amputation of all or part of a cat’s toe bones and the attached claws, and it is a painful procedure. It is not a simple trimming of the nails.

Immediate physical complications can include:

  • An adverse reaction to the general anesthetic, and this can include death.
  • If bandages are wrapped too tightly, the foot may become gangrenous and necessitate amputation of the leg.
  • When bandages are removed, many cats continue to profusely bleed and require rebandaging.

Later physical complications can include:

  • In instances in which the entire nail bed was not removed, one or more claws can grow back misshapen and useless.
  • If a surgical nail cutter was dull, and because cats’ nails are brittle, many cats experience shattered bones in their feet which can become seriously infected. This can be corrected only with a second general anesthetic and surgical procedure.

Behavioral problems

Scratching is a natural feline behavior that meets cat’s many needs. That’s why declawing has long-lasting effects on cats. Once their claws have been removed, they can no longer perform their natural stretching and kneading rituals. They become weaker as they age and may experience debilitating arthritis in their backs and shoulders.

Furthermore, cats without claws have lost their first line of defense, and because of this, can live in a state of stress. They cannot fight off other animals, or escape quickly from a dangerous situation. They may also become biters because they no longer can use their claws as a warning. Groomers, veterinarians, and people who care for declawed cats in shelters find many of them to be nervous, irritable, and difficult to handle.

Finally, declawed cats often stop using their litter boxes. They may associate the pain they feel in their paws when trying to cover their waste with the litter box itself. They seek a less painful place for elimination, such as the carpet or bathtub or even the bed or piles of laundry. Even though there are effective ways to modify a cat’s litter box behavior, it is a particularly difficult challenge because a declawed cat’s aversion results from pain.

Is your cat’s scratching driving you crazy?

There are ways to train your cat or kitten to scratch in the appropriate place. Read tips on redirecting your cat’s scratching in the fact sheet about destructive scratching.