To declaw or not to declaw….this is something many cat owners think about when they bring their feline friend home. Before you make that decision, here are a few things to consider.
Why do cats scratch? Scratching is a normal behavior of cats. Scratching leaves visual and scent markers for other cats. Scratching keeps the nails in good shape and helps shed the claw sheaths. Cats’ nails are also used as a defense when necessary, or to help them escape by climbing.
What is declawing? Declawing (also known as an onychetomy) is the removal if the nail. Since the nail develops in the third digit (end) of the toe, declawing involves amputating that digit of each toe. Comparatively, it would be amputating the human finger from the tip to the first knuckle.
Declawing is a painful procedure and not without consequences. Possible problems may include:
- Nail regrowth (if part of the nail is left in the bone)
- Infection (usually within a week or so after surgery)
- Long term nerve pain of the paws
- this may contribute to litter box aversion and inappropriate elimination in the future
- More likely to bite without front claws to use as a defense
Starting in 2021, the American Association of Feline Practitioners set forth guidelines that eliminate declawing in its Cat Friendly Practices. As a Cat Friendly Practice, Suburban Animal Clinic will no longer do declawing.
As mentioned before, scratching is a normal cat behavior, and with some understanding and training, cats and humans can live in harmony with the kitty claws.
There are alternatives to declawing. Teaching your cat to accept having his nails trimmed is an option. Start as early as possible handling your cat’s paws and offer a treat. Work up to trimming nails, even if it’s only a paw at a time.
Suburban Animal Clinic staff are happy to teach you to trim your cat’s nails, or trim them for you as a technician appointment. All cats must have a current exam (within 1 year) and rabies vaccine.
Another option is nail caps. These are found in pet stores and go on over the nails and can be done at home.
Probably the best thing you can do for your cat is to provide a variety of acceptable scratching items for them to do the scratching behaviors that is natural to them. Look to see what your cat prefers now-horizontal surface, vertical surface, or an incline? What type of surface-shaggy carpet, cardboard, wood?
There is a large variety of scratching posts and other items in pet stores. You can also make your own at home. Put an acceptable scratching item near where your cat already scratches. Sprinkle a little catnip on it to attract your cat. When your cat begins to use the acceptable item, you can move it a little each day to another location if necessary.
Remember, cats like high perches and will often scratch in high-traffic areas.
Feliway Scratch is a product that can be used to direct cats to a desired scratching surface. For more information, visit
Cornell Feline Health Center of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has videos on trimming your cat’s nails and on managing destructive scratching behavior in cats (this also involves selecting appropriate scratching items).
Committed to Claws is an educational website designed by a local veterinarian in an effort to decrease declawing and increase the bond between cats with claws and their owners. The website has helpful hints and information for cat owners in an effort to avoid declawing.