Declawing cats: Think Again!

Cats are wonderful companions, but you must learn about their habits and needs
Cats are wonderful companions, but you must learn about their habits and needs | Source

The Straight Dope

A fair warning: this article, unlike many of my others, is not going to be gentle or pull any punches. I'm going to be very blunt, and put the graphic truth forward, because I believe strongly that the word needs to be spread to eliminate this practice forever.

Why Do People Want To De-Claw Cats?

There are many reasons people will put forth as an excuse for this barbaric practice. These reasons are stated in some of the following ways (although this is an incomplete list):

  • The cat might scratch me
  • The cat might scratch my child
  • Cats claw things--they might ruin my furniture
  • The cat might ruin my clothes with his claws

Not a single one of these reasons is valid. De-clawing cats is cruel and unnecessary, period. It is inhumane.

Normal hand (or paw, as this graphic is intended to represent)
Normal hand (or paw, as this graphic is intended to represent)
Hand/paw represented as following a de-clawing surgery
Hand/paw represented as following a de-clawing surgery

Let's Discuss This--In Human Terms

How would you like it if someone shoved you in a cage, took you to a hospital and spoke to the doctor in a language you could not understand? Suppose the next thing you knew, you were being rendered unconscious.

When you awaken, your hands are in bandages and they hurt terribly. When the bandages come off, you discover to your horror, that not only are all of your fingernails gone, but so is the entire first knuckle joint of all your fingers!

That is what it really means to de-claw a cat. It is no minor procedure, and it is a cruel, inhumane, barbaric practice.

It can, (and often does) alter the cat's entire personality. They may become very timid and afraid, or overly aggressive. Worse, they may become afraid of you, (and justifiably so!) since you were the one who delivered them to the hands of the doctor who performed the surgery.

There are now vets who will perform an alternate procedure of simply severing the nerves that control the claws, but in reality, this is not a better idea. In this case, the claws will still grow, but the cat will be unable to extend them on his own to exercise his feet, and his claws will still have to be manually extended for trimming purposes, so they do not overgrow into his feet, causing a new problem

The Hard-Hitting Truth

Pulling no punches at all here, there is no way to put this but very bluntly:

People who are so worried about their furniture that they would even consider doing this to an innocent, gentle animal are quite simply not suitable candidates to own a pet. Their priorities are in all the wrong places!

Why Do Cats Claw and Scratch Things?

They need to, quite simply. It is exercise for their feet and legs, and it also deposits their scent onto the clawed surface, (from glands between their paw pads), marking it as their territory. Like it or not, cats are territorial. A group of cats can quite easily learn to live together in the same household, but they will still need to do what cats do.

It is essential for their mental health, as discussed above. Even cats who previously have undergone this horrendous surgical alteration will still go through the motions of clawing on things. It is hard-wired in, and you can no more change it than you can turn a tiger into a horse and ride it.

Mistaking Accidental Play Scratches As Being Malicious

Unless the animal is mistreated, it is the rare cat that lashes out and swipes at a person maliciously. If the cat is not being mistreated and this happens, then there is another cause; perhaps kitty is not feeling well, and a visit to the vet is in order to find out if she is in pain somewhere.

Kittens naturally tumble, wrestle and bite each other during play, and yes, they use their claws at times during this play. When you take in a kitten, it is going to need to be trained to play with and claw at appropriate substitutes. Just remember: fingers are not toys, and if you dangle your fingers or wiggle them on the floor to play with kitty and get clawed--you asked for it!

That said, however, normally, the cat will not swipe at/scratch you; they will simply stick out their claws and hold on. So, if this happens, simply take your other hand and gently remove the 'claws-out' paw from your hand, while saying firmly, "No!" If you snatch your hand away instead, of course you are going to end up with a nasty scratch...but you did it, not the cat! The cat was just holding--you did the pulling action that caused the scratch.

Children must be taught this as early as possible, and for that reason, a young kitten is not the very best choice where young children are in the household. A calmer, more mature kitty might be a better companion for small children. This is explained more fully in my two other articles discussing when an adult cat is a better choice and how to care for a kitten.

Keeping Kitty Safe

Any of my followers know by now that I am a stern advocate of keeping cats indoors-only to keep them safe from all manner of things, and to extend their lives. The dangers to cats allowed to roam free include, but are not limited to:

  • predatory wild animals and birds of prey
  • diseases
  • injury from fights with other cats
  • cars

The average life expectancy for an outdoor cat is a scant 4 to 6 years, while indoor cats can and do often live to be 12, 15, sometimes as old as 20! Now, don't go carrying on about the "outdoor cat you had as a kid that lived xxx years longer than 6...." The figures are averages, and of course there are exceptions!

Sorry, but I'm not going to toss my cats out to Lady Luck and hope they beat the averages! I'm going to do everything in my power to keep them safe and sound so I can have my loving companions as long as possible.

That said, sometimes accidents happen, and a cat might unintentionally get out. If that happens, and they have been de-clawed, or had the ability to extend their claws removed, they will be defenseless! An indoor cat finding itself suddenly outside is at risk enough, without being defenseless as well. (And I'm sure again, here, some will come along with examples to the contrary. Again--those are exceptions, not the general case.)

Cat Scratchers and Furniture

KONG Naturals Incline Scratcher Cat Toy
KONG Naturals Incline Scratcher Cat Toy

Some cats like an angled scratching surface

 
Go Pet Club 45" Tall Beige Cat Scratcher Cottage
Go Pet Club 45" Tall Beige Cat Scratcher Cottage

More elaborate cat furniture can accommodate multiple cats

 

Living With a Cat And Your Furnishings

There are many ways to keep cats from ruining your furniture. First and foremost, play with your kitty every day! Wearing off energy by play sessions keeps a bored cat from scratching at things just for something to do. You'll want a variety of types of cat toys: some that kitty can enjoy on her own, if you're busy or not home, and others that include interaction with you.

There are various deterrents to keep cats from the furniture clawing business. First and foremost are to have plenty of acceptable scratching surfaces. These may include:

  • cat furniture, consisting of climbing "trees,"
  • scratching posts covered in sisal rope or similar coverings
  • cardboard scratching mats

Being vigilant is important when you first bring a cat home, (especially a kitten--like little children, their memories tend to be short). Watch the cat, and be ready with a sharp "NO!" accompanied by either clapping your hands or a squirt of plain water from a spray bottle set to shoot a stream. That way, the water travels farther, and you can intercept the activity without leaving your comfy chair.

Position the preferred scratching surface within reach of the forbidden one, and re-direct the cat to the post or mat. Gradually, move the scratching post further and further away from the people furniture. Cats are not stupid. They can learn and be taught.

Two 11 x 4 1/2 inch Cat Scratch Guards with Pins ---- THE ORIGINAL CAT SCRATCH GUARD FURNITURE PROTECTOR ---- Love Your Furniture AND Your Cat!
Two 11 x 4 1/2 inch Cat Scratch Guards with Pins ---- THE ORIGINAL CAT SCRATCH GUARD FURNITURE PROTECTOR ---- Love Your Furniture AND Your Cat!

This type of slick plastic protector is held in place by twist pins. Works great on fabric-covered furnishings--not intended for use on leather

 

There are also sprays and adhesive products to discourage cats from the people's furniture. Not many cats like sticky stuff on their feet, so the double-sided sticky tape can be applied to areas of the couch, for example, where cats may be tempted to scratch. (Just to prove my point about exceptions to the rule--I have one such cat myself. She doesn't like sticky on her paws, either, so she gets "around" the sticky tape by licking off all the sticky stuff! She's an oddball cat. None of my other kitties do that!)

I understand that there is a new type of adhesive for just such mischievous cats as mine. Instead of being sticky on both sides, it is sticky only on the side to adhere to the furniture; the exposed side is a slick plastic, giving them no purchase for their claws.

There are also repellant sprays available. Just be sure you can test it in the store, to make sure it doesn't have any odor, or at least, not an unpleasant one. You want to train the cats away from the furniture, but you don't want to repel the people at the same time.

Four Paws Magic Coat Cat Claw Clipper
Four Paws Magic Coat Cat Claw Clipper

Round-tipped specialty scissors with a flat plate to prevent cutting too much nail and hurting kitty

 
Soft Claws for Cats - CLS (Cleat Lock System), Size Medium, Color Pink
Soft Claws for Cats - CLS (Cleat Lock System), Size Medium, Color Pink

If you are really patient, and have a mellow laid-back cat, you might be able to install these claw-guards. The process is much like putting fake fingernails on yourself

 

Learn to trim your cat's claws at home. It is not difficult, but not all cats are pleased with the procedure, so it might take two people; one to hold the cat, and one to do the trimming.

Just please, be very careful not to cut too much claw and get into the 'quick.' That would hurt the cat, just as if you cut or tore your own fingernail back too far. It bleeds, and it hurts. It will also make it harder to trim their claws the next time--they will be mistrustful.

You can use any of several types of special trimmers available. If you are not comfortable doing this, you can take kitty to the vet or the groomer to have this done...but expect to pay anywhere from a dollar a paw to a dollar a claw. At an average of 18 claws per cat, (5 on each front paw; 4 on each back paw), that can add up to some fancy money.

Don't forget the dewclaw--it's up the leg a short bit from the main part of the paw, but it is just as important in the grooming/trimming process. Neglected dewclaws can become ingrown, requiring veterinary intervention.

There is a companion option to trimming, but it has to be repeated at intervals, as well. A product called "soft claws" is essentially akin to fake fingernails for people. They are hollow claw-shaped bits of soft vinyl that are glued to each individual claw. As the natural claw grows, the fake 'tips' will have to be cut off and replaced. A cat wearing these will not be able to scratch, but not all cats will tolerate them, either.

Remember--Your Cat Depends On You

Adopting a cat is like adopting a child--a child that never grows up and remains dependent upon you for its care for all its life.

Just as you would not cut off the ends of a childs fingers for continually reaching into the cookie jar or for drawing on the wall, please, never, ever even consider declawing a cat. If after reading this, you still feel that is an acceptable practice, then please, never adopt a cat!

The organization with which I volunteer, H.A.L.O. (Homeless Animals' Lifeline Organization) has potential adopters sign a paper promising to never declaw. If they seem inclined to insist, we show them the door and decline to place any of our kitties with that person. It is that important.

Love your cats; play with your cats; pet your cats, and you will have wonderful companions as long as they live!


© 2012 DzyMsLizzy

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Comments 72 comments

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 18 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello Lynn Savitsky,

Yes, I saw that post as well. Woo-Hoo!! WTG, New York! Many European countries have banned this horrible practice already. It's time for the USA to play catch up.

Thanks much for your comment and support.


Lynn Savitsky profile image

Lynn Savitsky 18 months ago from New Jersey

Last week I found out New York may be the first American state to ban declawing. Go, New York!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 19 months ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, Lynn Savitsky,

Thank you very much for your kind words and support. We do need to get the word out to end this horrific and barbaric practice. In fact, it has been banned in many European countries; the USA needs to catch up!


Lynn Savitsky profile image

Lynn Savitsky 19 months ago from New Jersey

Beautiful. I completely agree with everything you've said here.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello again, Julie,

Thank you again for your caring and compassion. It raises hope for humanity that there are at least some of use on the side of those furry critters who cannot speak for themselves.


Julie Lowe profile image

Julie Lowe 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

Txs DzyMsLizzy, I have been rescuing these poor lost souls since 1995 or so. I truly wish the day will come when I don't have to do this anymore...imagine a world full of responsible, caring people! Oh, what a pipedream. And I do find that the declawed cats I've taken in have just been so damaged they've barely been able to hold their own until re-homed. Thanks for the great article --- if it changes ONE person's mind and they decide not to declaw, you have done your job!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello Julie Lowe,

What a horrible kind of person to toss kitties from a car! I cannot think of anything truly ladylike to say about people who would do such a thing. On top of that, the cats were already de-clawed?? This shows they were at one time someone's loved pet. It could be, indeed, that the surgery caused some other behavioral issues, prompting them to give up the animals...but in such a way! Grrrr!

Blessings upon you for working with TNR and caring for the ferals. People don't realize how that stabilizes the cat population in the area of the colony.

I'm sure your poor rescued fosters would be terrified of the other kitties... I do hope she finds a home, soon, as well. We had a senior, previously de-clawed kitty given over to our rescue group, and the poor fellow languished in the cage for nearly 8 months before one of our volunteers just could not stand it any more and adopted him herself. He is a very sweet cat, but I guess some people were afraid because he was 12 years old...but seniors need love too.

Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your story.


Julie Lowe profile image

Julie Lowe 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

There was a person seen throwing 2 cats out of a car in a feral colony I'd been TNRing for a couple of years now. It took six months of trapping to finally get ONE of them --- and she is declawed ! Terrified of all of my other foster cats that do have their claws. Feel so badly for her, hope she gets a home soon.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello again, Rose,

I know--it is a horrible practice, and I wish we would just outlaw it in this country, as I know several European nations have done. Meanwhile, all we can do is spread the word and make people aware.

You are so right--if your furniture is more important than the well-being of your pet, then you are not a suitable pet owner. Such people should go get a pet rock instead!

Thanks very much for the votes!


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France

I'd never heard of declawing a cat until I started working with Americans - it's just a non-existent practice in Europe. Cats scratch, deal with it, I say! I'm unhappily cat-less at the moment and when I look at my sofas and all the scratch marks I just laugh - it reminds me of them and if you can't laugh off a bit of damage to a sofa then just don't get a cat! A terrific hub, voted up and awesome!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello again, RottenLab,

For the most part, those sites are heavily text-based. The couple of videos I've seen have not been graphic--but I cannot guarantee the entire site is free of such images; I've not had the time to delve into their archives, nor can I predict what may appear in the future. But, for now, for the most part, I'd classify them as 'safe.'

This video is about 12 minutes long, and gives the history of the movement, showing that no-kill IS very possible: http://vimeo.com/48445902


RottenLab profile image

RottenLab 4 years ago from Canada

Hello DzyMsLizzy,

You are probably right - I shouldn't have added my last comment. I'm a bit passionate about that topic. Sorry, I will try to use discernment!

I have to remember that there is a "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;"

A question: do those sites/links have graphic images? I do not like seeing gruesome pictures!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, RottenLab,

Thanks for your support of not de-clawing cats.

As far as docking and cropping, just because it doesn't have "as many side effects" is no excuse for people to perform these "cosmetic" alterations on their pets. As you pointed out, it could be that the dog would have a bit of trouble communicating properly. I don't find this to be an acceptable practice. The analogy is, what if you were taken into a hospital, without any ability to resist, and had your outer ears (pinnae) removed?

It is not true that "a lot of animals would have to be killed to start the process of becoming no-kill." That, sadly, is already being done. The real answer is in spay/neuter programs, and in the shelters living up to their names and actually sheltering and finding homes for the dogs and cats that come their way, instead of just murdering them out of "convenience."

I suggest you read the entire story at these websites:

http://www.thenokillnation.org/ and http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/

I'm not going to respond to your final comment. This is not the proper forum for that issue, and not the focus of this article.

Thank you for your input.


RottenLab profile image

RottenLab 4 years ago from Canada

I would have to agree with you about declawing your cat - it has too many side effects.

On the note of docking and cropping:

Docking and cropping usually does not have any of the effects that declawing does in cats. Personally,I would prefer if people didn't dock/crop their dogs, but it's no big deal if it's done properly. The only problem that results, is that the dog will not be able to communicate as well.

Another side tracked remark about becoming a "No kill Nation."

To do that, you will have to start by killing a lot of animals, and spaying and neutering many as well.

And to beat it all, North America will have to stop killing thousands of babies every year.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello again, Nellianna,

I always try to reply to the folks nice enough to leave comments after reading my articles. It just seems like the right thing to do. ;-)

You could be right about the texture they got accustomed to. I know we have a problem with our clawing up the carpet...probably our fault for covering the cat tree with scrap carpeting...how is a cat to know the difference? Oh, well...one of these days, we'll replace the carpet with that do-it-yourself hardwood flooring. ;-)

Have you tried using a black light to find where the "accidents" are? It works really well, but it does have to be pitch dark in the room--even the light from the TV will interfere. But cat pee glows yellow under black light, so you can easily find where "that smell" is coming from.

I know what you mean about missing them...I've been down that road, and it's not a happy place.

All the best to you and yours.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS

Thank you, Lizzy. How nice of you to respond.

What's puzzling about our kitties was that they used their litter box properly & regularly for all that seemed their output over all their years. Their accidents were never solid deposits, which makes it almost seem they each had some need to wee-wee somewhere else occasionally. I figured that Toulouse's was probably as I mentioned, to 'mark his territory' on furniture, especially that green chair. His wasn't ongoing except when that issue flared up.

When they were first born (in the bottom of my closet), & while their momma was tending to them there, I kept their basket super-clean, with a folded fresh sheet and terry towel which I changed frequently. Their momma tended to their messes (which must be natural instinct), but perhaps the nappy towel left a lasting impression on Camille. When she became active, she ruined a fur rug with her urine, & all her life, sought out fuzzy carpets, settling on a shag carpet in the living room in this house. I never caught her at it, but discovered lingering odors in out-of-the-way corners which she probably thought were undetectable. Her personality was a perfect lady's - - with a slightly sneaky side. :-)

Perhaps another explanation for their behavior was recompense for being declawed. Maybe it was 'bottled up' & expressed itself in the misdemeanors. In any case, they were beloved pets. They've been deeply missed, misdemeanors and all. Ours was the more serious - declawing them.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Thank you so much, Nellieana, for sharing your experience. We humans too often end up in the 'sadder but wiser' box.

I can relate to "accidents." One of ours hasn't seemed to figure out how to bury her deposits...and trying to show her results in her bolting from the litter box double-time. Oh, well..at least she uses the box, so I can't gripe over much!

I appreciate your comment and your story.


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS

I appreciate your work, MsLizzy.

I was determined to raise indoors the two beautiful kittens we chose from the litter we'd arranged with their parents, who were outdoor, virtually alley-cat-siamese.

But I regretted having them de-clawed and wished it could be undone. I agree fully that it's a terrible choice which, of course, can't be reversed. We could've provided them clawing means to sharpen their 'tools' and taught them when & where it was OK, just as we kindly taught them several other good manners.

There were a couple of other bad habits that weren't overcome, but - - they were cats, after all! Their non-housecat-mother wasn't able to teach them good litter manners, so it was up to me to do the honors for all 5 kittens. I'd take them to the bathroom with me, where their litter box was located; no one got to leave till the 'do' was done!

But limits to my expertise on litter-use left loopholes! Over the years, a few non-accidental 'accidents' just went with having cats, I suppose. Some furniture & carpet paid the price, like Dolores said. It was that pretty soft green velvet rocking chair. Green was the key, I realized. He'd observed a stray cat 'marking' a green Kamado clay cooker on our patio; & though he was 'fixed', his instinct was to try it himself. As you say - cats are territorial, and this house was "his" territory!

Animals have natures, just as human animals do. Our interference in theirs is only slightly appropriate, at best, and we must observe their best interests. Declawing an animal who's been equipped for survival with claws is a sign of our own short-sightedness. Your illustration of a human hand 'denailed' is visceral proof. At the very least, one never can be sure the cat won't become subject to outside dangers without protection. It happens, I'm sure. I'd never ever declaw again.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, midget38,

Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom, and I'm glad you liked the article. Thanks for the share!


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

Declawing a cat is indeed inhumane and so is debarking a dog, because these are the instincts the animals were born with and should not be taken away from them. Thanks for raising the awareness here, and I'll help by sharing too!


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