One of my cats was admitted to the veterinary hospital for what would become a lifetime of tummy troubles. I visited him on my lunch break, and he greeted me with enthusiasm. I can’t say that about his neighbor, a young kitten, eyes glazed with pain, bandages covering bloody paws, its pitiful cries audible over the background noise of a busy practice. The tag on the cage read “onychectomy.”
Onychectomy is the medical term for declawing. Look at your fingers. Imagine each being severed at the first joint below the fingertips. That is akin to declawing a cat. It’s an amputation, the end result the same, no matter which method is used to perform the procedure.
Many people are unaware what declaw surgery entails. They assume if their vet operates it must be safe. There was a time when a new kitten or cat was brought to the vet to be sterilized and declawed, one anesthesia, and one vet bill. It was thought to be easier on the cat and the wallet. Onychectomy is tough on young kittens and even worse for adult cats.
Veterinary medicine has evolved since then. Many vets will no longer offer the surgery at all, and in some European countries the practice is illegal. There are some vets who will declaw all four paws, but that is unusual. Most people do not remove the back nails.
Even if you intend to keep your cat inside, accidents can happen and kitty may make a dash out the door. This is more dangerous for a cat without claws, as their main defense against predators has been taken from them.
You may run into issues with your newly declawed cat once it is released from the vet. Some may turn to biting. Others may refuse to use the litter box because they don’t like the feel of the litter on their mutilated paws. Shelters receive cats with these problems as a result of declaw surgery and they are often euthanized. If you couldn’t handle the issues resulting from your decision to declaw, why would anyone else? Cats can also live for many years with no issues from the surgery. Keep in mind that like humans, skin on cat paws gets thin as they age. Kitty may stop using the litterbox all of a sudden, refusing to defecate in the proper place because their paws hurt when they try to cover their mess. Instead they will seek other locations to do their business, none of which will make their owner happy. I had this problem with one of my cats a couple years before we lost her this June at age 17.
If you opt to keep kitty’s claws, how do you protect your stuff? First, be sure your cat has plenty of scratching toys and cat trees to climb. This will keep them entertained and less likely to use your furniture for scratching. It is important to trim your cat’s nails regularly. At the shelter we recommend trimming front claws every two weeks and back claws just a couple times a year. If you have the patience, soft nail caps can be put on each nail. I haven’t used them, but I’ve heard they work well.
Declawing is a personal decision. Some shelters will not adopt a cat to someone who plans to declaw. Instead they will approve the potential pet parent for a declawed cat, a cat who has already had their claws removed before entering the shelter.
As for me, I apologized to my kitty with the tummy trouble. He was the last cat I ever had declawed. I have adopted two cats with claws from the shelter, and years after they came home, I still have intact furniture. Cats both with and without claws can live together harmoniously in a household. Please discuss declawing alternatives with your veterinarian before making the decision to declaw your cat. Remember, choosing onychectomy, and the possible consequences as a result, are irreversible.