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Cats can be destructive little things, mainly because of their sharp claws and instinctual behaviors like scratching. This tendency, in particular, can be hazardous to you and your furniture. Naturally, 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. It’s an inhumane course of action that often presents more risks than benefits and does not support the cat’s wellbeing. Instead, it’s primarily meant for the owner’s convenience at the expense of the cat’s ability to remain physically intact.
Not enough cat owners understand all the risks that come with declawing or what it truly means to declaw their cats. For a more thorough understanding of this procedure and how it might affect your kitten, see the details below.
Is It Really Cruel to Declaw a Cat?
Cat owners of all kinds have unique motivations for declawing their cats (or, at least, considering it). It’s not always a decision that stems out of cruelty. In fact, it rarely is. So, we should be mindful when presenting a cat owner’s course of action as “cruel” or not. To give you an understanding of why this terminology should not be used when discussing declawing here’s a definition of “animal cruelty:”
Neglect: The pet owner does not offer their animal appropriate 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 much as you may be opposed to declawing, it’s not only unfair but inaccurate to describe it as cruelty toward cats. This wording assumes too much of the owner’s intentions and goals behind the act of declawing, when truly, the choice may have merely stemmed from the person’s inability to either understand their cat’s behavior or a lack of awareness of the potential impacts on the cat’s wellbeing.
People do things out of either desperation or a lack of knowledge concerning their pets’ welfare, so, unsurprisingly, the choice of declawing arises so often. Now, objectively, strictly in terms of the animal’s physical wellbeing and separate from what the owner’s motivations might have been, declawing is inhumane – most of the time. Why is this?
Why Declawing a Cat is Inhumane
Imagine that you accidentally scratched your mother when you were a toddler. It could have happened in the middle of playtime when you were overexcited, or you simply didn’t realize how much scratching hurts someone else if you did it intentionally. Now, imagine that your mom was so upset that you scratched her that she took you to the hospital and got your nails surgically removed.
What would you feel? How do you think this would affect the rest of your life? These are things that should cross your mind when you consider getting your cat’s claws removed due to aesthetics, convenience, or your unwillingness to address behavioral problems another way.
Even this example doesn’t quite do justice to the reality of declawing (also known as “onychectomy”). This is because it’s not just as simple as removing the cat’s nails. Instead, it’s an amputation – an invasive procedure that you can never undo. When a cat gets declawed, any anatomical feature that plays a role in retracting or extending the claws is taken out.
In the words of 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 – when you choose to declaw a cat, you are opting to have its 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 medically accurate term for “toe bone”), the claw can regrow. This can lead to more invasive procedures in the future if the owner persists in their choice to declaw.
Partial amputation happens from time to time, as some believe it allows the cat’s paw to function more normally and look more natural than full removal. Unfortunately, you can infer that some cat owners either believe this is a surgery that must be done or they don’t understand the severity of it.
This is because they opt to have it done during a spay or neuter operation as if it’s just another necessity. Those who don’t think it’s an inevitable necessity might follow this path for their own comfort and happiness. Here’s a look at the disproportionate effects of declawing on the cat versus its human.
Declawing for Convenience
The primary motivation for this is often mere convenience. Most cat owners who declaw their cats do it to protect their furniture and other items kept indoors. Scratching is a natural behavior that cats do to care for their claws and mark their territory. Yet, it makes up 15-42% of behavior-related complaints.
Although declawing makes the human happy (many owners report improvements in their relationship with their pet 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. Additionally, fewer people know that it also helps the cat stretch many parts of the body: limbs, thorax, and back. (The cat can still stretch these muscles without its claws. Still, the cat may not get the same satisfaction from the action without the ability to follow-through with a scratch.)
The only times people reported they were unhappy with the procedure had nothing to do with how it may have affected their cats’ wellbeing. For instance, the complaints were as follows:
The cat started to go potty in inappropriate places around the house
The cat no longer wanted to have its paws touched
The cat stopped covering its feces in the litter box or elsewhere
Cats started biting harder or more often (many owners felt that this was less problematic than scratching)
Cats jumped on furniture (e.g., counters and tables) more often
As mentioned previously, all these concerns center on how the procedure affected the human. See the welfare concerns below to understand how declawing could impact your kitten’s life.
Risks of Declawing a Kitten
The amputation of the toe bones is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Even if it goes well, the owners’ complaints above show that your cat may not ever be the same. However, it’s not guaranteed that your kitty will be okay when it’s all said and done. Here are some of the primary concerns experts have for a declawed cat:
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, as the cat may no longer bear weight on the affected paws.
Claw regrowth. Not only might this issue inspire the cat owner to subject their kitten to the same invasive surgery repeatedly, it can also lead to the formation of abscesses.
Reopening of the wound. This happens more often than you might expect. Seventeen percent of declawed cats experience their surgical incision reopening, 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. This can occur with poor bandage application.
Disease. Of course, infections can cause severe illnesses in cats that have been declawed. However, the stress and pain that arise after surgery can lead to poor immunity and increase 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.
When Should You Declaw a Kitten?
Some circumstances might justify the consideration of declawing for 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 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 a specific set of natural behaviors and surgically modify it to cease acting on its instincts. Instead of removing its ability to scratch entirely, you can train your cat to use a scratch box or 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.
Claw coverings. 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. These might be pretty difficult to put and keep on, so be prepared.
Declawing a cat should never be the first course of action and should never be considered without first assessing alternatives like those above.
Declawing your kitten is a very 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 scratch boxes and reinforcement of appropriate scratching behavior.
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.