I know someone, a big time cat lover with multiple cats, including a new rescue. The rescue cat had been abanonded, then brought to a kill shelter, a big, handsome older male cat. But he scratched and attacked everyone in his new home: the other cats and the people. Instead of giving him up, they decided to declaw him. So that got me wondering
what declawing does to cats
I realized I didn’t really know. I mean, I assumed declawing a cat was like a radical nail clipping.
But it’s more than that.
All cat owners, even people who have never owned a cat know that cats scratch. It’s instinctive, they need to do it and they like doing it. It’s a way they leave their mark, and it’s how they defend themselves. Cats also scratch to keep their claws healthy: it’s how they shed the outer sheath of the nail. So they need somewhere to scratch – your upholstery, rugs and curtains are perfect. But we humans disagree.
What the surgery does
Declawing, or the technical term onychectomy, is the cutting off of part of the toe. Since a cat’s claw grows out of bone, declawing requires cutting off the entire first joint of each of a cat’s toes – basically, it’s an amputation. The human equivalent would be amputating the first joint of a finger.
The surgery removes not only the claw, but bones, nerves, the joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the flexor tendons. Declawing also severs tendons, causing them to contract and pull the toes back. This changes the angle at which the foot connects with the ground.
It’s problematic for a cat, because cats walk on their toes. Normally, they carry 60 percent of their body weight on their front paws ‐ If the front paws become damaged, even temporarily, the effects are felt all the way through the cat’s wrist, elbow, and shoulder, down the spine to the tail. A declawed cat is forced to shift her weight backwards (the back paws are rarely declawed) which can lead to stress on the ankles, which can be very painful.
Here’s another problem with declawing… when a small piece of bone is purposely left in, a painful regrowth can occur, even as much as 15 years later. Declawing can lead to additional complications such as chronic small bone arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and neuralgia.
Cat’s behavior after declawing
Although most cats appear normal and may resume playing, climbing and jumping after being declawed, it isn’t normal because their physiology has been altered. Studies have been done about what declawing does to a cat: a 2001 study (published in a prominent veterinary journal) reported that 80 percent of declawed cats had at least one medical complication following surgery and one-third developed behavior problems, such as biting or urinating outside their litter box.
Following the surgery, owners have reported that their cat became morose, withdrawn, irritable, and even aggressive. Others describe their cat as nervous, fearful and again, aggressive. The aggression might be accounted for by the cat’s sudden loss of their primary defense, relying solely on their remaining defense, which is biting.
Another observation concerns high perches. Although many cats like high perches, declawed cats end up spending more of their time on top of fridges, or high shelves – even if they had been confident on the ground before they were declawed.
Urination outside of the litter box has also been noted. Some declawed cats, once they discover they can’t mark their territory with their claws, begin to urinate around the house instead. This can result in long-term inappropriate elimination problems.
Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. The decision to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian. Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).
- Declawed cats should be housed indoors and allowed outside only under direct supervision.
- Scientific data do indicate that cats that have destructive scratching behavior are more likely to be euthanatized, or more readily relinquished, released, or abandoned, thereby contributing to the homeless cat population. Where scratching behavior is an issue as to whether or not a particular cat can remain as an acceptable household pet in a particular home, surgical onychectomy may be considered.
Yet surprisingly, the AVMA (American Veternarian Medical Association) states
- There is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups.
An opposing opinion
oocities.org is a site presenting an opposing view: that the declawing surgery isn’t so bad, and could be a good option for scratching issues. The site suggests declawing cats before cats are 2 years old.
Declawing seems like an extreme solution only for extreme situations. If the complaint is about scratching upholstery, then reconsider alternative solutions: scratching options, keeping your cat’s nails clipped, and protecting upholstery. As for the male rescue cat, he is at least as aggressive if not more so, since the surgery.