About four years ago we brought our cat José home for the first time. A coworker was no longer able to keep him and we took him off her hands so he didn’t end up at the shelter. He was roughly eleven weeks old and I remember feeling nervous because even though I’d had pets all my life, I’d never had one so young. We picked him up and introduced him to our dog Bandit. He was shy at first as he’d never met a dog before. Slowly but surely his confidence grew and he was able to roam the house freely.
At this time I didn’t know what I know now. Left to my own devices I would’ve had him declawed because I perceived that as normal. My husband was the one that didn’t want him declawed. He said he should be allowed to be what he’s supposed to be without us mutilating him for our convenience. Even he wasn’t particularly educated on the details of declawing, but he knew he wasn’t in favor of the end result regardless. When I started working at our local Humane Society, I learned that they actually wouldn’t adopt a cat out to someone if they intended to get them declawed. This is where I learned what declawing actually does to them.
What exactly is declawing? It’s an amputation. The equivalent on a human hand would be amputating each of your fingers to the last knuckle. This can be accomplished through a scalpel or laser, but the end result is the same. There’s also a tendonectomy which allows the cat to keep it’s claws, but renders them unable to extend them or use them in any practical sense. This comes with it’s own risk of complications and side effects, the real kicker being that they may still require declawing down the line.
Now, I had two cats growing up both of which were declawed. They seemed like normal, happy, and healthy cats. I’m sure if you’ve had a similar experience you may feel like declawing isn’t a big deal. Obviously just because there are potential side effects doesn’t mean every cat is going to experience them. Thing is, you have no way of knowing if your cat will be one of them or not until it’s too late. Even if the procedure is done correctly, it can cause pain in their paws and back. Keep in mind that cats naturally walk with their weight on their toes and declawing them forces their gait to be altered. A human comparison would be being forced to wear uncomfortable shoes every day that mess with your posture and cause back pain. When things don’t go according to plan, there’s the risk of: nerve damage, bone spurs, behavioral issues, lameness, abscesses, regrowth of deformed claws, and other conditions. In some cases, the stress of losing their primary means of defense can lead to an increased susceptibility to other diseases, such as IBS and cystitis.
As I said before, we stumbled upon making the right decision in not declawing José. However, I wouldn’t recommend how we actually handled the situation to anyone as this was new territory to us and we didn’t do our research at that time. I never had to deal with a cat with claws scratching up furniture before. I didn’t realize they could be trained to use just a scratching post either. So in summary a lot of furniture was ruined. However, I know now that it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want a cat, know you have other options. Don’t underestimate the power of simply keeping their nails trimmed regularly. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself your local Humane Society may offer to do them for a small fee. This won’t prevent any damage to household items, but it will help to minimize it. You may be able to teach your cat to solely use a scratching post, especially if you get them at a young age. Something else that I’ve never personally tried, but have heard good things about are nail caps. They get glued to the nails and act as a cover preventing snags and scratches while still allowing their claws to function. They do need to be reapplied every 4-6 weeks, but apparently they really help to minimize damage. There are different brands with a range of prices, but I did link to one of the more popular ones below. Apparently there’s also an adhesive sticky tape that you can apply to furniture that will deter your cat from scratching. I’ve never tried that either, so I can’t speak to how effective it is, but I’ve linked down below to that as well.
It’s becoming less and less acceptable for us as responsible pet owners to get unnecessary procedures done to our animals. Declawing is actually illegal in some places, with the exception of medical necessity. (There are circumstances in which declawing is the appropriate treatment.) In fact, New York is currently looking to be the first U.S. state to ban it. If you’re in a situation where the cat absolutely must be declawed (perhaps a rental contract, etc.) you can contact your shelter and see if they have any cats that are already declawed instead of having the procedure done to an otherwise healthy cat. Please consider prioritizing the health and happiness of your cat over your convenience. They are not inanimate objects. They are someone and deserve to be treated as such.