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Interested in Declawing Your Cat? Read this First
By: Brianna Gunter
You love your cat, but she likes to scratch, and you’re concerned about your skin and furniture. You’ve heard you can get cat claws removed, but is it the right choice?
The truth is that cat declawing is a more complicated procedure than many people believe. Before you make any decisions, it’s vital that you get all the facts. Keep reading for details on how declawing cats is done, the cost, and the complications that could affect your cat for the rest of her life.
What does declawing a cat mean?
Declawing, also known as onychectomy, is the removal of a cat’s claws so they will not grow back. There’s a common misconception that declawing cats involves simply pulling out the nail and its root, but what actually takes place is an invasive surgical procedure. The veterinarian amputates the cat’s toes up to the first joint (knuckle). For comparison, it’s the equivalent of cutting off the tips of all your fingers.
“If the decision has been made to declaw, it should be performed earlier in life rather than later,” says Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Caroline Wilde, noting that she does not personally agree with the procedure. “Healing time varies with the technique used, but a cat is generally fully recovered at two weeks. Recovery time increases after one year of age.”
Complications from declawing
According to Wilde, the potential health complications from declawing cats include:
- Claws growing back (rare, but possible when the procedure is botched)
“Laser declaw decreases the risk of complications and shortens recovery time,” Wilde adds. “It is less painful and bleeding is minimized.”
Other things to consider before declawing
While declawing may appear to have some benefits upfront, there are numerous reasons beyond initial medical complications that are worthy of consideration:
- Once a cat is declawed, they should be indoor-only because they can no longer protect themselves from attacks.
- Cat declawing can result in an abrupt personality shift in your cat, which may or may not be permanent.
- Declawed cats may resort to biting to compensate for not being able to scratch. If they puncture the skin, cat bites often require aggressive medical treatment.
- Flexing their claws helps cats stretch their muscles, so the loss of them may lead to long-lasting pain and mobility issues.
- Your cat may display signs of depression or even aggression after getting de-clawed.
- Cat declawing costs can be pricey and are not uniform, ranging from $200 to upwards of $1,000.
- Pet insurance typically does not cover declawing—the only potential exception is the rare case when it’s deemed medically necessary.
- Declawing is becoming increasingly illegal around the world.
“Any cat owner should take the decision to declaw seriously and should discuss the issue with their veterinarian so that they can make the most informed decision and have the best understanding of the procedure,” Wilde says. “It is also important to make sure the veterinarian provides good pain management both during and after the procedure.”
Where is declawing cats illegal?
Because it is widely considered cruel and unnecessary by the veterinary community, cat declawing is illegal in numerous countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, New Zealand, Israel, and most of the European Union.
Declawing cats is currently legal on the federal level in Canada. However, the following provinces have made it illegal:
- British Columbia
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
In 2003, West Hollywood, CA, became the first city in the United States to ban cat declawing, and numerous other cities around the country have since followed suit. In 2019, New York became the first state to do so. It is joined only by Maryland, which passed a bill in March 2022 to ban declawing.
While declawing is still legal in most states, the Humane Society has posted the following statement to their website: "The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing except for the rare cases when it is necessary for medical purposes, such as the removal of cancerous nail bed tumors."
Alternatives to declawing
Fortunately for cat owners, there are numerous alternatives to declawing that can spare your kitty’s paws and your relationship.
Learn how to trim cat claws
Not only can trimming cat claws help save your furniture and skin, but it can also be good for your kitty’s wellbeing. If your cat is not able to wear his claws down regularly on his own, the nails can grow to a point where it’s difficult for him to walk. In some cases, claws risk growing into the paw pads.
You may need to acclimate your cat to the process of getting his claws trimmed, but many cats eventually learn to accept it. You may also want to talk with your veterinarian about getting an in-person tutorial prior to starting, or start with some professional trimmings by a cat groomer.
Give your cat a manicure
In addition to trimming your kitty’s claws, applying Soft Paws (small plastic nail caps) can also help. These covers are glued over the nail so your cat can scratch but not actually sharpen their claws. They are not permanent and need to be replaced every 4-6 weeks. Soft Paws also come in a variety of colors so your pet can look fabulous.
Invest in scratch-resistant furniture
Not all furniture can easily be torn to shreds by kitty’s claws. Look for durable materials that are tough to puncture and designed to be resistant to pets. This could mean smoother, non-fabric surfaces or tightly woven layers.
“I have sadly sacrificed two couches and my new rug to my cat,” Wilde recalls. “When I bought my most recent couch, I did research and found a brand that was actually tested with cats and advertised as pet / cat scratch resistant, and it actually is!”
Always have cat scratch posts around
Another way to help save your furniture is to give your kitty a place where she can acceptably scratch. Both rope and cardboard cat scratching posts are good choices, though rope may last longer. It’s a good idea to have more than one option around of different shapes or materials. This will help prevent your cat from getting bored and wanting to sink her claws elsewhere.
When your cat goes to scratch an unacceptable surface, pick her up right away and place her on the acceptable one. You may have to do this several times, but eventually your pet should catch on.
If your pet isn’t using the scratching post, try rubbing it with some catnip, applying a catnip spray, or placing a few treats as close as you can. Some cats also just need time to adapt to new items and recognize that they’re “theirs.”
Don’t tolerate bad behavior
Just like dogs, cats will keep repeating bad behavior (like scratching furniture and people) if they are not immediately corrected. Respond negatively in the moment so your cat can make the connection. For example, yell “ouch!” and pull your hand away if they scratch you to send the message that this is not an acceptable form of play.
Keep in mind that training a cat not to scratch should only be about not using claws in inappropriate places. Your kitty will still need “good” places to scratch in order to fulfill their natural behavior urges, which, again, is why scratching posts should always be available.
Use cat deterrents on furniture
According to Wilde, both tin foil and sticky tape placed on the sides of furniture can help prevent cats from scratch. Pheromone sprays can also deter your cat from areas where you don’t want his claws.
If you want to make your own cat deterrent, talk with your veterinarian first about what’s safe to use. Many essential oils may repel cats, for example, but are harmful to their health.
Accept your cat as she is, claws and all
In addition to taking steps to curb damaging scratching behavior, it’s important to love and respect your cat for exactly who he is. A cat’s claws are one of their defining traits, as is their innate desire to flex their paws and scratch things. In addition to causing pain and confusion, studies have shown that declawing cats can lead to personality changes—In other words, it can change who your kitty is as an individual, for better or worse.
“I think there are certain realities that one must accept when getting a cat,” Wilde says. “The first of which is that they like to sharpen their claws.”
Why people still remove their cat’s claws
The main reason people continue to declaw their cats today is to prevent them from scratching either furniture or people (or both). Many cat owners in these scenarios feel that they either need to declaw or get rid of their pet. Some people may simply want to do so because previous cats they had were declawed and they are unaware of the other options that exist. In rare cases, people may prefer declawing for aesthetic reasons.
Regardless, it’s important to be open to what your veterinarian has to say before making a firm decision.
“If it is a choice between relinquishment or euthanasia vs. declaw, then declaw is preferred,” Wilde says. “But I would always try to make sure the cat owner is well-informed as to the procedure and alternatives to declawing.”
Want to make sure you’re making all the right decisions regarding your pet’s health? Learn how Trupanion cat insurance can help.
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While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Our articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.