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What You Should Know About Declawing

Updated on June 24, 2012

Sources are listed at the bottom of the article along with links when applicable.

Felines are naturally designed for grace, balance and agility. As the British author and Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing once said: “If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, [the] cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.” Key parts of this design are, surprisingly, the claws.

In spite of this however, thousands of cats across America undergo a painful surgery each year that deprives them of these important tools. This surgery is called an onychectomy but is more commonly known as “declawing”. To the average American citizen, declawing is as harmless as getting a cat spayed or neutered. This is not the case.

People must understand that scratching is a natural and necessary behavior that comes with every cat. This does not mean that one must accept the destruction of their furniture, only that there are alternatives and each feline will need something that is okay to scratch. Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained and will easily learn to use a scratch post rather than that priceless living room set. Declawing is the lazy solution to the scratching “problem”, and many innocent felines pay the price for this laziness. Declawing should be made illegal in the United States, as it has been in at least twenty-three major countries across the world, because it forces a cat into an unnatural lifestyle and causes physical and in many cases psychological damage.

A cat's claws are an important part of its natural life. Many pro-declaw owners argue that domestic cats no longer need claws if they are kept inside. What they don't understand is that these claws are not merely for catching prey. Cats are digitigrades which means they walk on their toes. Their back, shoulder, paw and leg joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves are all designed to support this lifestyle. The claws of the cat play a key role in this. They are used for balance and to stretch the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders and paws. These muscles can only be stretched using a method similar to isometric exercising for humans in which a cat digs its claws into a surface and pulls back.

The claws and bone removed during an onychectomy are also very important to the conformation of a cat's foot. Their absence would cause back pain similar to that experienced by humans while wearing improper shoes for extended periods of time. In addition, a declawed cat will shift its weight off its sore toes and will develop an altered gait. This unnatural gait would cause a great deal of stress on the felines joint and spine causing damage and possible arthritis. There have been studies done that confirm this.


Cats also use their claws for grooming. In addition to licking, they also repeatedly scratch themselves. This removes skin irritations, dislodges dead hairs and combs out tangles in the fur. Without claws a cat cannot effectively perform these tasks and the cleanliness that attracts many cat owners suffers as a result. A cat is incapable of using its teeth to reach important areas of the neck, head and mouth for grooming and they also do not work as well on the rest of the body.

The claws are also an important tool for self defense. With their claws that can climb to safety or when cornered they can leave a nasty scratch on a would-be attacker. Cats also use their claws to mark their territory which is, of course, one of the main reasons cat owners decide to inflict this surgery upon their feline friends. This scratching behavior is entirely instinctual and natural. By scratching, a cat creates a scent and visual marker for its territory. It also seems to make them happy. It is very common for owners to report that upon arriving home their cat rushes to the scratch post.

Cats were created with claws for a reason.

These claws serve many functions that are incredibly important to the overall health and happiness of the animal.

Like any surgery, declawing is risky and the complications are painful. While many think of the claw of a cat as the feline version of a fingernail, this is not at all an accurate comparison. The claw of a cat is actually part of the last bone in each toe. To completely remove the claw and prevent it from growing back, the entire bone must be amputated. There are two common techniques for this surgery; the scalpel and guillotine trimmer techniques. During the scalpel method, the claw is gripped with a small clamp while the surgeon uses a scalpel to slice through skin, tendons, nerves and blood vessels around the distal phalanx. The more common guillotine trimmer method consists of using a nail trimmer to half rip, half tear through the tissues. The wounds are then closed with sutures or surgical glue and tight bandages may be applied to restrict the tissue's ability to swell, causing more pressure and intense pain. There is also a new form of the surgery, in which a laser is used to cauterize the blood vessels. While there is less bleeding, it is still a declaw surgery and the consequences are the same.

In a study carried out by Washington State University of Veterinary Medicine, 163 cats were declawed. At least fifty percent had one or more complications soon after surgery including extreme pain, uncontrolled bleeding, lameness and swelling. These symptoms were more common in those with the trimmer declaw. After being released from the hospital, at least twenty percent developed additional complications such as infection, nail regrowth, and continued lameness. Other complications seen after the surgery include damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing and chronic back and joint pain. Paw ischemia is also a possible problem. This is defined as a lack of oxygen to the tissue due to blockage of a blood vessel. Another complication is exposure necrosis of the second phalanx. Necrosis is the death of cells. These are serious conditions. Yet one study shows at least thirty-one percent of American cat owners admit to putting their beloved companions in a condition that could lead to these types of problems for the sake of their couch or favorite chair.

Although it is widely disputed among veterinarians and cat owners, personality and behavioral changes are commonly reported after surgery. Many owners report that their cat “has never been the same”. It is true that many cats carry on after surgery without signs of being affected by it. Cats, like many other animals, instinctually hide pain. In the wild, most predators target the sick and elderly. An animal that openly expresses pain will not stay around for long. They are also adaptable and will simply learn to live with any pain afflicting them. Not all cats adapt to life without claws as easily, however. Some cats that were once friendly and social become fearful and reclusive, spending their lives under the bed or on top of the refrigerator, shying away from all human contact. Hiding becomes their only defense against real or imagined enemies. They lose all confidence because they know they can't defend themselves.

One common reason for declawing is “the cat scratches everyone.” One reason for this is the tendency to play with kittens by using our hands. When that cute little kitten grows up it may associate fingers with toys. If a cat is scratching people there is a reason. People must remember to respect these animals and learn to read their body language. They will let it be known if they want to be left alone. Once the claws are removed, this line of defense is gone. It is common for cat owners to report that their once sweet-tempered cats turn into biters after being declawed. Biting is far more dangerous than scratching as it will cause deeper wounds and transmit bacteria infested saliva.

Another problem faced by owners of declawed cats is litter box rejection. After surgery when walking is still painful a cat may associate anything it walks on with pain including the litter box. In one survey, ninety-five percent of calls about declawed cats related to litter box problems while only forty-six percent of calls about clawed cats were litter box related. Of those clawed cats that did have problems, the majority were older cats or had some sort of physical ailment.

There may be no proof solid enough for American Veterinarians and scientists to convince them that cats suffer psychological damage from these amputations but the observations of cat owners makes it hard to believe otherwise.

As a pet owner, a person has a responsibility to give their new companion the quality of life it deserves. Before bringing one of these fascinating creatures into the home, a human must understand the animal and accept that cats come with claws. These claws must be trimmed and one or more scratching posts must be provided. For those who find it difficult to maintain trimmed nails there are still alternatives to declawing. There are vinyl caps for cat's claws called Soft Paws. Designed by a veterinarian, they are non-toxic and easy to use. Once applied they last four to six weeks. If this is too much work there are methods to discourage cats from certain surfaces. Placing double sided tape or aluminum foil in certain areas is often effective and can be removed after a short time. One should always remember: never physically punish a cat. Unlike dogs who connect punishment with their own actions, cats will only learn that their human is unpredictable and should be avoided.

When treated properly, these animals give their human friends many years of love. In return they should be left as they were made; with the grace and beauty that comes from every inch of their feline form... including eighteen small claws.

Countries That Have Outlawed Declawing

  • England

  • France

  • Norway

  • Ireland

  • Portugal

  • New Zealand

  • Japan

  • Italy

  • Switzerland

  • Denmark

  • Slovenia

  • Belgium

  • Austrailia

  • Yugoslavia

  • Wales

  • Austria

  • Netherlands

  • Finland

  • Brazil

  • Scotland

  • Germany

  • Northern Ireland

  • Malta

  • Israel

If you found this hub interesting, you may also want to take a look at these:

The Funny, Sweet and Crazy Habits of a Cat

The Awesome Intelligence of Cetaceans Part 1

How a Whale Senses the World

Works Cited

Do you or have you ever owned a declawed cat?

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If you have any experience with a declawed cat, do you believe that cat had any long term problems, mentally or physically, as a result of being declawed?

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This is my first Hub!

What do you think of this hub?

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    • Eric Calderwood profile image

      Eric Calderwood 

      7 years ago from USA

      Quite a thorough job for a first hub! I have just learned about this issue. The most persuasive part of the argument for me is when you tell about what the procedures consequences are for the cat. The least persuasive part of the argument for me is the guilt angle - like caring more about your furniture than your cat, and the video with the fingertips cut off. Also, I don't know if most Americans would care what other countries have outlawed. But overall, I don't think I could get a cat declawed after reading this and other articles about it. I don't like what it would do to the cat. Great job!

    • Kate H profile imageAUTHOR

      Nova Scott 

      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Ciel Clark: I'm glad you understand the importance of claws in a cat's life. It is comforting to hear about people who love their cats the way they are born and do not try to mutilate them to suit their own needs.

      Sawfishlagoon: Actually if I had written more articles about cats you might feel differently about my making your job difficult. I may not have mentioned it in this article but I am very much in favor of cats being kept indoors or in a fenced in area while someone is around to keep an eye on them. I believe that allowing cats to wander is not in their best interest in today's world although the cats would very much prefer to roam. I also feel that pet owners should spay or neuter their animals. I agree that humans have caused cats to thrive around the world and that other animals suffer as a result of this, however I do not believe we should ban cats as pets or take away their claws to help those other animals. So if advocating those ideas is your job then yes, people like myself will make your job quite difficult.

    • Sawfishlagoon profile image


      8 years ago from Shallow, brackish water

      I am a conservationist. You are making my job hard for me. I love wildlife as much asI love my pets.

      I am making a feeble effort to educate the public.

    • Ciel Clark profile image

      Ciel Clark 

      8 years ago from USA

      It's not really declawing, is it? It's amputation. It's like getting your fingers amputated up to the first knuckle.

      I have always had cats, make sure they have scratching posts (with catnip) and have hung balloons off of furniture, and clip their TOENAILS, (with my fingernail clippers, just to get the hook off-- not surgery!) but would rather go cat-free than submit an animal to torture for my benefit.

      I am mad at our wonderful vet who does it even though he hates it and does not agree with it.

      Look at the statistics for cats sent to animal shelters for behavioral problems. (let alone pain and litter box avoidance). I'm sure I would struggle with many things if I were missing parts of all of my fingers.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 

      9 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      My cats are not declawed. If they're excited with my treats, they often scratch the wooden part of the door. If they just awaken, they usually scratch the post of our lanai. Well, I never mind about our bamboo furniture being scratch by these lovely felines.

      They seldom scratch me, only when they're hungry. :D

    • random theme profile image

      random theme 

      9 years ago

      Excellent hub! About 20 years ago, my parents had out cat declawed. That was before we knew any better. Sadly, that cat passed away from other unrelated issues. Since then, our family individually have many cats between us and we would never consider declawing now.

    • Captainausume profile image


      9 years ago from New Jersey

      I feel that the amount incidences where a cat is effected poorly by the procedure are greatly exaggerated in a very PETA kind of way. I know from plenty of experience that indoor cats can be declawed and live a full and healthy life without the claws. Anyone who's cat was either "traumatized" or injured obviously went to an inexperienced veterinarian and should blame them.

      The point isn't whether or not one "agrees" with the procedure because that is entirely a personal decision. Similar to my decision to not eat meat, yet I do not push this point of view on others. Not to say this was your goal but I know the there are plenty of people who want to make me feel like a terrible person for declawing my cats when there is no reason to do so.

    • shymyrika profile image


      9 years ago from Phillippines

      Great hub! Very informative indeed! I do have two lovely male cats, never been declawed and never will. :)

    • Kate H profile imageAUTHOR

      Nova Scott 

      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you all for your feedback. Meisjunk I agree sometimes cats can be difficult to train but I'm surprised your cat can't learn not to scratch your furniture. Some cats are just more set in their ways I suppose. My cat has never touched our furniture he's always used his post. I guess I got lucky. Thank you Markrosenbluad for the votes its really nice to see such support so early on. I really want to succeed at this. Esmeowl I had declawed cats when I was little because my father insisted on it. I too, noticed problems as a result of this. One cat actually had a whole toe that had accidentally been cut off during the surgery. The vet was totally incompetent in my opinion. I won't tell you what he said when we complained but it was inappropriate. She hid in the basement for almost a month.

    • Esmeowl12 profile image

      Cindy A Johnson 

      9 years ago from Sevierville, TN

      We would never declaw a cat. We did adopt one who had already been declawed and I think she has suffered for this. I do know that when she walks on you, her paws seem to "dig" in and are pointier, I guess because of the absence of claws for balance. It's not really like this with our other cats with claws. It really hurts!

    • markrosenbluad profile image


      9 years ago from Oregon, United States of America

      Well stated, informative, and right on target if you ask me. totally a "vote up" and an "awesome". Good luck and I look forward to reading more hubs of yours.

    • Meisjunk profile image

      Jennifer Kessner 

      9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Informative hub! I agree with most of your points, especially how cats CAN be trained. I do disagree about cats being "easily" trained not to scratch the furniture. xD My cat is 6 or 7 years old, and what we ended up having to do was to put couch covers on our furniture! He will still do it, but I don't think he likes the cover that much. Likewise, I have not yet found a type of scratch post that he likes.

      Cats and their personalities, right? XD Anyway, good hub! Voted up and useful. =) Welcome to hubpages.

    • Kate H profile imageAUTHOR

      Nova Scott 

      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you so much for your feedback! Jetta I really appreciate the votes and I will definitely check that out. I love training my cat hes up to 5 tricks now. Binaya thank you as well! My mother was always a huge cat lover as well. She would take in any strays she saw and work hard to find them new homes.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I have special attachment with cats. My parents favorite memory: When my father saw my mother first time she was playing with a cat.

      About your hub: You have aptly raised a serious issue. Your arguments are nicely put. Thanks for this brilliant hub.

    • jetta17 profile image


      9 years ago

      First off, Welcome to Hubpages! This is a great article to start off with. I gave you an awesome and up as well. Being a feline owner, I really do agree with the information presented in the article. Like you said, thousands of people still think that declawing is a simple and harmless procedure, but its not!

      "One common reason for declawing is “the cat scratches everyone.” One reason for this is the tendency to play with kittens by using our hands. When that cute little kitten grows up it may associate fingers with toys. If a cat is scratching people there is a reason. People must remember to respect these animals and learn to read their body language."

      I hear this excuse all the time for declawing cats. If people do not want their cat scratching, you have to work with the cat, not remove its claws. If you associate scratching with bad behavior, cats will learn very quickly not to do it anymore. Heck we don't remove dogs teeth for biting do we? Why do cats get the short stick?

      Great hub and keep up the good work. Based on this hub, you might like:


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