Upon the recent acquisition of a cat, I was surprised to find such a vast and adamant opposition to the declawing of these animals. While many, if not most I have encountered, offer the procedure in a humane and painless way, almost every adoption agency had stipulations of adoption contracts and/or agreements with vets not to declaw their animals. The main argument against declawing seems to be (a) The procedure is cruel, (b) the animal will be unable to defend it self against other cats or predators. While I am not a vet, allow me to present some rebuttals for these arguments.

  • Declawing is inhumane and/or cruel: The animal suffers little to no pain form the operation, as it is under anesthesia. It's less complex than spaying a female animal. Recovery time is minimal, and the paws are bandaged for only a day or so. Also, more advanced and lower impact surgeries are available now, such as laser claw removal. As far as the animal is concerned, it has no idea it's claws are missing. In fact, it continues to behave as if it still had claws (the behavior of sharpening and scratching).
  • The Animal will be unable to defend itself: This is only true depending on the procedure done. The most common (and accepted) form of declawing is "front claws only". In the wild, the front claws are used for a very narrow purpose: killing prey, and "challenging" other animals. In a domesticated their is no need for killing prey (and I have had cats that often still did after being declawed). As far as confrontations with other animals, the front claws serve only as a means of challenging other animals (swating, hissing, arching the back). The claws are not needed for this. If you observe two cats who do actually begin to fight, you will notice the hind claws are used instead, and the defensive position of the animal involves putting the posterior end towards the attacker and swiping, allowing for a quicker get away. The animal can still climb trees (all the way to the top!) as I've personally seen numerous times. The hind claws are used for gripping, while the front paws "hug" the tree, stabilizing the cat.

So, the removal of the front claws gives the animal no disadvantage under domestication. The removal of the rear claws is usually not done or needed, as the animal will not tear up your furniture with them. If the cat is 100% an indoor animal, then rear declawing is usually not a problem. The advantages are numerous, as it won't shred your furniture, accidently hurt small children, or develop ingrown claws. for people with small living spaces, the animal won't require a scratching post, or need scolding when it decides to use your leather couch instead. There are legitimate concerns with botched surgery by incompetent vets. However, if a vet is regularly malpracticeing, it will probably reflect in the the health of his/her patients. For anything related to the health of your animal, you should always choose an experienced vet you know and trust.

Declawing your cat for non-medical reasons is either illegal or considered inhumane (and thus not normally performed) in:

One common medical reason to have a cat partly declawed is if he or she keeps catching and injuring his or her dewclaw on bedclothes or other items. The dewclaw can get partly ripped out and infected, and at that point it may be better to have it removed entirely. Similar damage to a cat's claws or toes may necessitate declawing, as will rare disorders such as feline cutaneous asthenia that make the cat likely to hurt him or herself.

Feline onchyectomy (declawing) is considered inhumane because it removes part of the cat's toebone (most of if not the entire third phalanx of each toe) along with ligaments and tendons. Furthermore, as with any surgery, the cat can suffer life-threatening complications from anaesthesia and infection from the surgery.

Some cats experience nerve damage and/or residual pain from their declawing after their wounds have healed. Declawed cats are also much more likely to develop painful arthritis in their paws. Both can manifest as limping, but a more frequent (and initially subtle) side-effect is the cat experiencing pain when he or she tries to scratch in the litterbox. The frequent result is the cat pooping and peeing on softer materials like carpeting or baskets of laundry.

So, people who express a desire to have their cats declawed for the sake of saving expensive furniture should be asked which they'd prefer to do -- buy a cheaper/more durable couch, or have to recarpet their house every so often and put up with a lot of carpet cleaning in the meantime.

Other people who have multiple cats say they want to have their cats declawed to keep the cats from hurting each other. First, the best way to keep your cats from fighting is to get them spayed or neutered -- the main reason cats fight is over territory, and neutered animals are much less territorial. Second, normal cat skin is much tougher than human skin -- swats that would bloody us barely take the fur off cats. If your cats fight, attack people unprovoked, or shred furniture, try pheromonal behavior modification treatments like Feliway.

After declawing, some cats exhibit radical, negative personality changes. A friend of mine had his kitten declawed despite my suggestion he not do it, and a formerly playful, friendly kitten came back hostile, skittish, and reclusive; his behavior persisted after his toes healed. (Well, if people I trusted sent me off to get part of my toes cut off, I'd probably hate them afterward, too.)

And finally, a declawed cat is much less able to escape and defend against predators like dogs if he or she gets outside.

There are much better alternatives to declawing your cats. You can either trim your cat's claws every couple of weeks, or you can periodically apply claw covers like Soft Paws (since cats shed their claws every few months, the covers won't stay on indefinitely).

Unfortunately, there is widespread ignorance in countries like the U.S. as to the harm declawing can do to cats. Some apartment complexes may contractually demand that cats in their rentals be declawed in addition to charging a high pet deposit.

If you're faced with a person or agency that demands you declaw your cat, you can often talk them out of their demand if you present the following to them:

  • The procedure will hurt your pet, and you don't want to do that
  • A cat is much more likely to claw your furniture than their doorframes and walls
  • If they express concern over carpeting, tell them that declawed cats experience pain that make them much more likely to defecate outside their litterboxes. Point out that cat excrement is much more damaging to carpeting in the long run.
  • You don't want your own belongings clawed, either, so you provide scratching posts and regularly trim your cat's claws or use Soft Paws.

If you educate declaw-demanders in a helpful, nonconfrontational fashion, many will amend their lease requirements.

For more reading: http://www.declawing.com/

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.

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