Unfortunately cat declawing has become one of those topics that is smeared by disinformation, passed around by bloggers and exaggerated at every turn.
Declawing your cat should of course only be done as a last resort. For me, as for many people, declawing is done only as an alternative to euthanization. Putting it in that sort of realistic perspective, it's hard to see declawing as a cruelty. For some evidence that this IS the correct perspective to consider declawing:
* The single most common reason for euthanasia in the United States today in animal shelters is for behavioral reasons. (AVMA)
* One of the the most common reasons for adult cats being surrendered in animal shelters is due to destruction of property. (ASPCA)
Most arguments against declawing are emotional arguments, supported by biased word-of-mouth evidence. As such, there are many myths repeated in regards to declawing. Here are some examples:
* A declawed cat will resort to biting everyone and everything to compensate for its lack of claws.
- This is an absurd anthropomorphization
. People like to imagine that cats behave as they expect a human would. Aside from a little soreness for a day or two, cats have no idea their claws are missing. They continue to scratch, climb, and fight as though the claws are still there. Studies have shown there is no change in cat behavior after declawing.
A good example of this anthropomorphization is someone saying "The poor cat! After being declawed it would lift its paw up, stare at it, and almost cry!" Lifting of the paw is a very normal cat behavior that can be seen in almost all cats, with or without claws. Some cats seem to do it more than others, but again, with no relation to whether the cat is declawed. My friend has a kitten (with claws) who does this every time he's cleaning himself. He frequently raises his paw to lick it, and then gets distracted and leaves the paw in mid-air while looking at it or something else. It's a very cute behavior which has absolutely nothing to do with the cat carefully considering the properties of its paw.
* A declawed cat can not climb trees, defend itself, or catch prey.
- Declawed cats can in fact do all of these things. It might be slightly less efficient, but rear claws are primary in all of these behaviors. Regardless, these are completely irrelevent to an indoor cat. There is no reason to declaw an outdoor cat (they will exercise their scratching behavior outside rather than on household items) so I'm not sure why these points even come up in the first place.
* Declawing is extremely painful, the wounds always become infected, and the cat will be scarred for life!
- Declawing is normally done under anasethesia. The paws are sore for a period of a few days afterwards. This is probably comparable to having your wisdom teeth taken out. It's not exactly fun and games, but it's not going to scar you for life either. Competent veterinarians take copious precautions, such as ensuring the wounds are closed and healed before releasing the cat to the owner. It's certainly possibly there are severely incompetent veterinarians who remove claws using a butter knife and some alcohol, then throw the cat back on the street 10 minutes later. However this is only an argument against incompetent veterinarians, not against a properly performed procedure.
In addition to the myths and emotional pleas spread about declawing, there is a very basic hypocrisy in most complainers. There are far worse things done to animals than causing them a day of sore paws to avoid euthanization. In fact, there are far worse things done to humans *legally* every day.
Somehow I find it hard to take it seriously when someone tries to tell me it's cruel to save a cat from euthanization by declawing it and keeping it indoors -- after watching that same person eat eggs and bacon for breakfast, de-beaked chicken breast for lunch, and a cut of slaughtered-alive beef for dinner. Being eaten is obviously a bit worse for an animal than losing its claws - of course most animals we eat aren't quite as cute as a kitten, if you want to get down to the real reason for the discrepancy in people's interest.
Personal experience with a dozen cats, both clawed and declawed.