When I adopted my first cat years ago, I knew that she would be a “calico cat for sale“, so I briefly considered having her declawed in an effort to save my home and body from her destructive claws. Fortunately, I did some research on the process of declawing and was shocked to discover what was really involved when a cat is declawed. Declawing cats is rare outside North America, as a matter of fact; it is illegal in many other countries. It is likely that the reason so many of these unnecessary painful procedures are being performed in the US, is due to the same misconceptions I had regarding declawing, and that cat lovers simply do not know the facts and risks involved in declawing their cat.
Cats belong to a group of mammals that are digitigrades, which means that they walk on their toes. Therefore, cats’ muscles, ligaments, and their bones are designed to support and distribute their weight across their toes, which include their claws. A cat’s claw is not the equivalent to a human fingernail; it is attached to bone, tendons, and ligaments, and is used similarly to how we use our fingers and toes. Imagine what you would experience if someone amputated your toes!
With their claws removed, cats can experience pain in their back and joints because they no longer have a way to distribute their weight evenly, possibly leaving them with a permanent gait and, or, painful limp. In addition, cats stretch by digging their claws into a surface for traction. Removal of the claw will prevent kitty from getting a good stretch, which we all know cats thoroughly enjoy, and need for strengthening their muscles. Even if a cat is considered a “house-cat”, accidents happen, and cats get out. Without claws, a cat will no longer have any defense over other animals, and he will have difficulty climbing in an effort to escape a threat.
An onychectomy is a surgical procedure; complete with the use of anesthesia, which declaws your cat. The process involves removing the third phalanx, which is the last bone of the toe, along with the claw….10 times. Removing the bone ensures that the claw will not grow back. This would be the equivalent of having a human finger amputated at the first joint. Now remember, your cat “walks” on his toes. While your cat is recuperating from surgery, he will still have to walk, use the litter box, and go about his necessary activities, experiencing pain in the process.
Before describing some of the complications that can arise, understand that cats do not respond to pain the same way a human does. Even though he is purring, or seems “fine”, that does not mean he is pain free. As with any surgery, there are many complications that could arise, including permanent painful nerve damage, or even permanent crippling of your pet. Other possible complications are infection, excessive bleeding, and painful re-growth of the claw if the procedure is not done properly. Decide whether this procedure is worth taking the chance that your pet could be in pain, lame, or both for the rest of his life.
In addition to physiological issues, cats can also display behavioral problems. Due to the pain associated with certain activities, such as going to the litter box, a cat may no longer carry out those activities, including the sweet ones, like using his paws to play and knead. Since a cat will no longer be able to use his claws in defense, he might start biting or acting aggressively, or simply run away when faced with a threat. Some long-term behavioral problems that have been reported include cats that have become depressed or withdrawn, aggressive biting behavior, in addition to litter box avoidance. Some owners notice that their cats’ personalities change altogether.