Should I Declaw My Kitten? | Catzio

Should I Declaw My Kitten?

Jump to: 

  1. Let’s Be Honest: Is It Really Cruel to Declaw a Cat?
  2. Why Declawing a Cat is Inhumane
  3. The Problem with Declawing for Convenience
  4. Risks of Declawing Kittens
  5. When Should You Declaw a Kitten? 

Cats can be destructive little things, mainly because of their sharp claws and scratching. This tendency, in particular, can be hazardous to you and your furniture. So, you might be looking for a suitable way to manage it. 

Should I declaw my kitten? In short, no, you should not declaw your kitten. Declawing cats is inhumane and often presents more risks than benefits. Further, it does not support the cat’s wellbeing. Instead, it’s human-focused, meant for the owner’s convenience at the expense of the cat’s right to remain physically intact. 

 

A cat reaches toward its human’s hands, gently grasping the person’s fingertips.

 

Not enough cat owners understand all the risks that come with declawing cats, or what cat declawing truly means. For a more thorough understanding of this procedure and how it might affect your kitten, see the details below. 

Let’s Be Honest: Is It Really Cruel to Declaw a Cat?

Cat owners’ motivations for declawing their cats (or, at least, considering it) vary. It’s not always outright cruelty. In fact, it rarely is. So, we should be mindful when declaring a cat owner’s decision to declaw as “cruel” or not. Here’s why.  

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, animal cruelty constitutes “acts of violence or neglect perpetrated against animals.” This includes:

  • Neglect: The pet owner fails to provide the appropriate amount of food, water, and shelter, either intentionally or unintentionally. Excessively tethering the animal, keeping it crated, or otherwise restricting its movement for extended periods or in a hazardous environment is also neglect. 
  • Hoarding: Keeping far too many animals in a space that cannot accommodate them all. Additionally, the owner cannot provide enough food and water for all the pets or maintain appropriate sanitation levels and veterinary care. Often, this leads to starvation and fatal illnesses. 
  • Physical abuse: Intentional behaviors and actions that cause the animal pain, suffering, or death. Abuse constitutes a wide range of activities, including sexual abuse. 

As opposed to declawing as you may be, it’s unfair and inaccurate to label it as “cruelty” toward cats. This wording assumes too much of the owner’s intentions and goals behind opting for declaw surgery. In reality, the choice may have stemmed from the person’s inability to understand their cat’s natural behavior or a lack of awareness of the potential risks. 

People do things out of desperation or a lack of knowledge about pet welfare. This is part of why declawing cats is still so common. But objectively, declawing is inhumane, strictly in terms of animal wellbeing, apart from human motivation––most of the time. 

 

A closeup photo of a cat’s soft paws alongside a diagram showing the details of what happens to declawed cats.

 

Why Declawing Cats is Inhumane

Imagine that you accidentally scratched your mother when you were a toddler. It could have happened accidentally, as a result of overexcitement during playtime, or intentionally, when you didn’t know your strength. Now, imagine that your mom was so upset about being scratched that she took you to the hospital and got your nails surgically removed permanently. 

What would you feel? How do you think this would affect the rest of your life? These are things to consider before you opt for cat declawing for aesthetics, convenience, or merely as a result of your unwillingness to address behavioral problems another way. 

Still, this example doesn’t quite do justice to what it means to get a cat declawed. This is because the procedure, also known as “onychectomy,” is not simply a claw removal. Instead, it’s an amputation—an invasive procedure that you can never undo. Here are the painful details. 

What Happens When You Declaw Cats 

When a cat gets declawed, any anatomical feature that help retract or extend the claws is taken out. 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “declawing is the surgical amputation of all parts of a cat’s third phalanges (toe bones) and the attached claws.” Yes, you read that right: Declawing cats is equivalent to having their toe bones amputated. Most people choose to do this only on the front paws, but others request for all four to be modified. 

Sadly, in some cases, the amputations don’t stop here. If the veterinarian only partially removes the phalanx (the medical term for “toe bone”), the claw can regrow. This can lead to more invasive procedures in the future if the wants to declaw again. 

Sometimes cat owners opt for partial amputation because they believe it allows the cat’s paws to function normally and look more natural than they would with a full removal. Unfortunately, this means that some cat owners don’t understand the severity of the procedure, partial or not. 

This is partially because some clinics offer declawing as an add-on service to other procedures like spaying and neutering, as if the practice is as simple and necessary as a nail trim or dental cleaning.  On the other hand, others may choose cat declawing for mere convenience. Either way, the procedure is harmful to your cat’s wellbeing. Here’s why. 

The Problem with Declawing for Convenience

One of the most common motivations for cat declawing is convenience. More specifically, most cat owners who opt for declaw surgery are trying to protect their furniture and other indoor possessions. But it’s easy to forget that scratching is a natural behavior that cats do to maintain their claws and mark territory. This may be why scratching makes up 15-42% of behavior-related complaints. 

Although declawing makes the human happy (many owners report improvements in their relationship with their cat after the surgery), it rarely results in a significant behavioral change. In other words, your cat will continue scratching just as much as it did before. It just won’t have the claws to fulfill this instinctual behavior’s purpose. 

As mentioned above, scratching is a self-care and territorial action. It also helps to stretch parts of the body, including the limbs, thorax, and back. (The cat can still stretch these muscles without its claws. Still, the cat may not get the same satisfaction from stretching without the ability to follow through with a scratch.)

The only reports of dissatisfaction with cat declawing were mostly unrelated to the cats’ wellbeing. The complaints were as follows: 

  • The cat no longer wanted to have its paws touched
  • The cat stopped covering its feces in the litter box or elsewhere
  • Many cats jumped on furniture (e.g., counters and tables) more often 
  • The cat started to go potty in inappropriate places around the house
  • Some cats started biting harder or more often (many owners felt that this was less problematic than scratching)

All these concerns center on human concerns and conveniences. But what about the cat? 

 

A young kitten shreds the side of a red couch in place of a scratching post.

Risks of Declawing Kittens

Amputating toe bones should never be taken lightly. Even if it goes well, the owners’ complaints above show that your cat may not ever be the same. Still, nothing’s guaranteed. You can’t be certain that your kitten will be okay when it’s all said and done. Some of the primary risks of cat declawing include:

  • Chronic pain. No matter what you may think your cat is feeling, declawing is objectively painful. The procedure has a “severe” pain rating in the Fossum’s Small Animal Surgery textbook. This can lead to more severe, long-lasting problems, and the cat may no longer bear weight on the affected paws. You could be spending lots of money on pain medication for the rest of your cat’s life.
  • Hemorrhage. This is the most common problem with declawing cats. Older cats are more vulnerable to this risk than kittens. More than one-third of cats (31.9%) of cats suffer from hemorrhaging post-surgery
  • Claw regrowth. This could inspire the cat owner to subject their kitten to multiple declaw surgeries and lead to the formation of abscesses. 
  • Reopening of the wound. This happens more often than you might expect. Seventeen percent of declawed cats’ surgical incisions reopen, making them vulnerable to infections, excessive bleeding, and other problems. 
  • Distal limb ischemia. This means that the “distal limb” (everything below the knee and hock) is not getting enough blood. Such poor circulation can occur after poor bandage application. 
  • Disease. Of course, infections can cause severe illnesses in declawed cats. However, the stress and pain caused by surgery can lead to weak immunity, increasing the kitten’s susceptibility to diseases. 

Experts also express concern for cats’ natural behavior patterns post-surgery. Biting and inappropriate potty behaviors are among the most common issues that arise in declawed cats.

 

A young indoor cat digs its claws into home furniture while hiding underneath the sofa it’s scratching.

 

Some circumstances might justify the consideration of declawing a kitten. First, suppose you live with an elderly family member. In that case, you might want to modify your cat’s claws to prevent injuries and infections. Secondly, you might want to protect a baby or young child from the same fate. 

However, you are still strongly advised to seek alternative correction methods, like those listed below or adopt a different pet that does not present these risks. 

  • Behavioral training. It’s unfair to adopt an animal that is widely known for scratching and surgically modify it to prevent that behavior. Instead of removing its ability to scratch entirely, you can train your cat to use a scratching post. This way, your kitten won’t have to lose its toe bones, and your furniture will be saved. 
  • Claw trimming. You can either trim your cat’s claws yourself or take it to the vet. Ideally, your cat’s nails should be trimmed once weekly. 
  • Nail caps. If you can’t quite keep up with the trimming or it’s not making much of a difference, you can simply cover its claws with nail caps. But be prepared: your cat may throw a fit, making these might be pretty difficult to apply and keep on. 
Cat declawing should never be the first course of action or be considered without first assessing alternatives like these. 

 

Declawing kittens is an extreme measure, one that really only serves human interests. Instead of surgery, it’s best to trim your cat’s nails and invest in behavioral training using items like scratching posts, and the reinforcement of appropriate behavior with treats and praise. 


About the Author

My name is Jazmin "Sunny" Murphy, and I am a science communicator and web content writer. Since 2015, I've been producing scientific content that is written in plain English. My love for life science has influenced my professional and academic aspirations since I was a kid. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and 21 units of a Master's education in Environmental Policy & Management (concentration: Fish and Wildlife Management). You can learn more about me and my science writing and reporting work at my website, Black Flower Writing Services.

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