Are your cat’s claws damaging your home and shredding your flesh? Cat declawing — medically called onychectomy — is exactly what it sounds like: the removal of your cat’s claws.
Onychectomy has fallen out of practice because it’s considered inhumane by many organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and ASPCA.³‘⁴, Declawing cats is even illegal in New York and Maryland while many other other states (like Florida) are considering bills to ban the practice. So, what’s all the fuss about? Let’s break down what declawing actually is and what can be done instead to protect yourself and your things from your cat’s sharp nails.
The debate over declawing boils down to a simple question: Is it humane? Declawing is an elective procedure that doesn’t benefit the cat. Imagine this surgery in human terms: it would be like removing your fingers to the second knuckles or your toes to your first toe joints.
Keep in mind that scratching is a normal cat behavior exhibited by all felines. Scratching relieves a cat’s stress, marks their territory, and stretches their muscles. Declawing is painful and, if the surgery is done incorrectly, the entire experience can traumatize your cat. There’s empirical evidence that proves cats can enjoy the same quality of life post-surgery, but there is more evidence that proves otherwise.⁵ Cats may experience infection, hemorrhages, and even behavioral issues that can last the rest of their lives.
To better understand why cat declawing opponents feel strongly that the practice is inhumane, here’s what to know about the declawing procedure:⁵
- Onychectomy: Onychectomy is a catch-all term for declawing. The basic, traditional procedure uses this term to describe the entire removal or “amputation” of the first toe joints with surgical scissors or scalpel. Typically, this is the most painful method of amputation and the risk of infection is high.
- Disarticulation: Another method of amputation. Vets will cut the bones holding the cat's claw with a scalpel or saw, rather than just cutting the claw off. This will reduce the chances that the claw doesn’t grow back.
- Laser declawing: This surgical method uses a laser beam to remove the bone of your cat’s toes by burning the claw and surrounding tissue. The burning is the only assurance that claws don’t grow back.
Ultimately, declawing your cat is a decision to be made by vets and pet parents only if all other alternatives have failed.³’⁴
Cat insurance typically doesn't cover the cost of declawing because it is considered an elective procedure; if there are complications from the surgery, the cost of treating your pet won’t be covered either. Folks who opt for declawing will be responsible for consultation labor, lab work (e.g., blood work, anesthesia), and other miscellaneous fees.³
Cats who are declawed will experience a rough time. First, your cat will be kept for one or two nights at the animal hospital. At-home recovery time can last between one and three weeks, depending on the weight and activity level of the cat.⁵ Your cat may not act like themselves for at least 24 hours as they recover from the effects of anesthesia. They may be unable to walk, jump, or climb for a minimum of 48 hours; some cats who spent longer times in surgery may not be able to walk for a full month.⁵ Expect to give them pain medication and replace your traditional litter with shredded newspaper.³
The reality is our cats cannot tell us how they are feeling about all these changes. What we do know is that pet parents may find themselves helping their cats with simple tasks (like using the litter box) for a long time.
There are immediate risks and long-term effects of declawing a cat. Immediately after surgery, your cat is at risk for infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent and manage infections. Another surgical complication is an incision reopening, causing bleeding and pain. You’ll have to take your cat back to the vet to reseal the area. This can cost you heartache and money.
Long-term behavioral issues may occur as well. Researchers report inappropriate behaviors like litter box avoidance, biting, and aggression when paws are handled.⁵ Another issue is that outdoor cats cannot defend themselves without their claws. Veterinary care professionals say that declawed cats should remain indoors, which you may consider a severe quality-of-life issue if your cat likes to wander outside.
Declawing your cat is not a substitute for training your cat. Simple training can be effective in diverting your cat’s scratching behavior from undesirable surfaces, such as your sofa or leg. Here are some things you can do to train your cat where to scratch.
- Create scratching zones with scratching posts or pads of various textures. Some cats like scratching wood while others enjoy soft surfaces. Consider using catnip or treats to attract your cat to these surfaces.
- Try sticky paws or double-sided tape on furniture to deter your cats. These products are inexpensive ways to teach your cat that your stuff is a “no-no” zone.
- Consider nail caps, which are small pieces of plastic that can be applied to your cat’s claws while still allowing the cat to indulge in scratching behavior. They’re inexpensive and replaceable, with some lasting at least a month.
- Trim your cat's nails as a regular part of their grooming routine. Simply keeping their nails clipped short should cut down on the destruction.
Patience is key in managing kitty destructiveness. Gather their favorite treats to give them when they scratch new scratching posts. Praise them for not scratching you or family members during petting. This will build trust between you and your feline friend.
Ultimately, the cost to declaw a cat is too high. It’s an elective surgery that’s expensive and may create behavioral problems that can be worse than scratching. Try to train your cat to scratch appropriate places like scratching posts and pads before considering this option. Use positive reinforcement to build trust with your cat during nail trimming sessions.
If you’re having trouble with your cat’s behavior, you should chat with your vet. There may be an underlying issue that causes your cat to hiss at and scratch you. Having an active MetLife cat insurance policy can help you protect your cat, and your wallet, from covered and approved vet bills.¹,² Consider getting a free quote today!