People's Animal Welfare Society
Eastern Province

Declawing: The Facts & Alternatives

Unlike most mammals who walk on the soles of the paws or feet, cats are digitigrade, which means they walk on their toes.

A cat's claws are used for balance, for exercising, and for stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders, and paws. They stretch these muscles by digging their claws into a surface and pulling back against their own clawhold - similar to isometric exercising for humans. This is the only way a cat can exercise, stretch and tone the muscles of its back and shoulders.

Removal of the last digits of the toes causes the feet to meet the ground at an unnatural angle that can cause back pain similar to that in humans caused by wearing improper shoes.

Contrary to most people's understanding, declawing consists of amputating not just the claws, but the whole phalanx (up to the joint), including bones, ligaments, and tendons!

To remove the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. Thus declawing is not a “simple”, single surgery but a painful amputation of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe that is declawed. A graphic comparison in human terms would be the cutting off of a person's finger at the last joint of each finger.

Declawing Your Cat

Onychectomy (Declawing) Surgery

Declawing is not a "minor" surgery comparable to spaying and neutering procedures.

1. The claw is extended by pushing up under the footpad or by grasping it with Allis tissue forceps. A scalpel blade is used to sharply dissect between the second and third phalanx over the top of the ungual crest. The distal interphalangeal joint is disarticulated (disjointed), and the deep digital flexor tendon is incised (severed). The digital footpad, is not incised.

2. If a nail trimmer is used, the ring of the instrument is placed in the groove between the second phalanx and the ungual crest. The blade is positioned just in front of the footpad. The blade is pushed through the soft tissues over the flexor process. With the ring of the nail trimmer in position behind the ungual crest, the blade is released just slightly so that traction applied to the claw causes the flexor process to slip out and above the blade. At this point, the flexor tendon can be incised and disarticulation of the joint (disjointing) completed.

Both techniques effectively remove the entire third phalanx.

(Excerpted from: Slatter D; Textbook of Small Animal Surgery 2nd ed vol I, p.352 W.B. Saunders Company Philadelphia.)

Physical Complications

Declawing is not without complication. The rate of complication is relatively high compared with other so-called routine procedures.

Complications of this amputation can be excruciating pain, damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, painful re-growth of deformed claw inside of the paw which is not visible to the eye, and chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken.

Abnormal growth of severed nerve ends can also occur, causing long-term, painful sensations in the toes.

And remember that during the time of recuperation from the surgery your cat would still have to use its feet to walk, jump, and scratch in its litter box regardless of the pain it is experiencing.

Psychological & Behavioral Complications

Some cats are so shocked by declawing that their personalities change. Cats who were lively and friendly have become withdrawn and introverted after being declawed. Others, deprived of their primary means of defense, become nervous, fearful, and/or aggressive, often resorting to their only remaining means of defense, their teeth.

In some cases, when declawed cats use the litterbox after surgery, their feet are so tender they associate their new pain with the box...permanently, resulting in a life-long adversion to using the litter box.

Other declawed cats that can no longer mark with their claws, mark with urine instead resulting in inappropriate elimination problems, which in many cases, results in relinquishment of the cats to new homes or ultimately euthanasia.

Many of the cats are surrendered because of behavioral problems which developed after the cats were declawed.

Declawing Your Cat

Numerous declawed cats become so traumatized by this painful mutilation that they end up spending their maladjusted lives perched on top of doors and refrigerators, out of reach of real and imaginary predators against whom they no longer have any adequate defense. A cat relies on its claws as its primary means of defense. Removing the claws makes a cat feel defenseless.

This constant state of stress caused by a feeling of defenselessness may make some declawed cats more prone to disease. Stress leads to a myriad of physical and psychological disorders including supression of the immune system, cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Ethical and Humane Considerations

Most people, including PAWS, are vehemently opposed to declawing due to a combination of reasons:

1) Because the end (owner convenience) doesn't justify the means (causing unnecessary pain to the cat);

2) Because other, less harmful alternatives to declawing exist; and

3) Because claws are part of the nature or "catness" of cats.

Declawing robs a cat of an integral means of movement and defense. Because they cannot defend themselves adequately against attacks by other animals, declawed cats who are allowed outdoors may be at increased risk of injury or death.

Scratching is a natural instinct for cats and declawing causes a significant degree of privation with respect to satisfying the instinctive impulses to climb, chase, exercise, and to mark territory by scratching. Cats simply enjoy scratching.

The sensible and humane solution to undesirable scratching is to modify the cat's conduct by making changes in the environment and direct the cat’s natural scratching behavior to an appropriate area (e.g., scratching post) rather than surgically altering the cat.

Overall, the view is that it is ethically inappropriate to remove parts of an animal's anatomy, thereby causing the animal pain, merely to fit the owner's lifestyle, aesthetics, or convenience without any benefit to the cat.

Other Solutions

Don't let your cat get bored. Simple boredom can lead to destructive scratching. Make sure that if you leave your cat for extended periods of time you provide enough mental stimulation to keep them happy, especially if they are a single cat.

Declawing Your Cat

Be sure to give your cat enough time. When you are home be sure to include them in your daily activities. Even though cats are independent by nature they still crave love and attention.

Provide alternatives to your household furnishings. If cats are not provided suitable scratching spots they will create their own. Invest in a cat tree, scratching posts and stuffed kitty toys.

Observe your cat's scratching activity. Many cats have personal preferences as to scratching positions. Observe your cat when he is scratching things around the house. Does he go after carpeting (horizontal) or prefer the end of the sofa (vertical) Other details to notice include his preferred texture (wood door frames, carpet, cardboard boxes) Also, does he vary his scratching locations, or always return to the same place?

Once you see his preferences you can accommodate his needs.

Declawing Your Cat

There are also vinyl nail caps that slide over your pets claws and are an excellent alternative to declawing your cat. They are easy to apply and are completely safe and humane.

These vinyl nail caps prevent damage to/in the household from scratching as well as preventing wounds to other household pets and humans from scratching.

Vinyl nail caps are applied with an adhesive on to your cat's existing nails. They will NOT interfere with your cat's normal claw extraction and retraction. Best of all cats tolerate them extremely well.