The Physical and Emotional Effects of Declawing

cat claws

You can’t declaw with love.”

– Paul Rowen, DVM
Little Shelter Animal Sanctuary, New York

It is a sad fact that many poorly informed owners have their cats declawed simply because they thought it was the only way to save the furniture, carpeting, or even people. Fortunately, this is not the case. A normal adult cat does not use his claws inappropriately.

The Procedure: Many veterinarians do not explain the reality of the declawing operation to cat owners. Physically, realistically, it is ten amputations. Moreover, it is ten complex amputations. The cat must remain under an anesthetic quite a long time. Anesthetizing a cat for even a short time is, as everyone knows, chancy. The claw is harder to remove than the tip of all ten of your fingers because you do not retract your fingertip. Your fingertip is not set into the joint below in a complex fashion. A cat’s claw involves tendons and muscles that we don’t have. Someone once described declawing to me as “cutting pieces out of animas’ bodies for convenience.” I was absolutely horrified by the starkness of the way she faced reality. People prefer not to discuss this so graphically in polite company. I apologize to those who already know the reality for reminding you of it and for bringing into your conscious mind again something so painful. But I have met too many loving owners who were never told, or who had the operation misrepresented to them only to find out, perhaps years after it was done, the truth about what they had actually done to the animal they adored. There are several veterinarians (such as myself) who refuse to do the operation and are happy to explain why. In many countries, declawing is illegal or considered inhumane. In the U.S., it is opposed by the HSUS and the ASPCA. I hope declawing will soon become obsolete in the U.S. as cat owners learn to meet their cats’ needs by supplying scratching posts that cats find irresistible.

Physical and Emotional Effects: The physical effect of declawing is gradual weakening of the muscles of the legs, shoulders, and back. Balance is impaired. The cat is 75 percent defenseless. Cats don’t defend themselves with their teeth; they defend themselves with their fight

The long-range effects are both physical and emotional. A declawed cat is, in reality, a clubfooted animal. He cannot walk normally but must forever after move with his weight back on the rear of his pads. Posture is irrevocably altered, and gone is the easeful grace that is his birthright. The carriage of the spine is also altered. Important nerves exit between each vertebrae, connecting the brain with each organ; therefore, every organ is affected too. Because they are defenseless, declawed cats live in a constant state of stress. This is very draining and, because of the constant state of stress, these cats are more prone to disease.

Declawed cats bite sooner and more often than cats that have their claws because they are more tense and nervous and because they no longer have their claws to use as a warning. The claws are their first line of defense. With that gone, they must resort to desperate measures – the use of their teeth. For that reason, a declawed cat is not one you would want to have around young children.

Woman and Her Pet Dog Outside Shaking Hands SilhouetteKittens: Newborn kittens until the age of three weeks or so have not yet learned to retract their claws. But once cats have reached that age, they begin to have control of their claws and can be trained to use them on toys and the post but not on human flesh. The first eight months or so of a cat’s life are the rambunctious months. During this time kittens are learning to use that wonderful body nature has given them. Just as a little human baby uses his teeth on everything in sight when he is teething, a kitten will try to claw on drapes, furniture, and everything within reach during the rambunctious months. Many cats are mutilated with a declawing operation at this time because owners don’t realize that just as human babies eventually outgrow the desire to chew on buttons and fingers, kittens grow out of their desire to claw everything and are easily satisfied with a workout on their scratching post.

Declawed cats are much harder for a groomer or veterinarian to handle because of their nervous state and their proclivity for using teeth. Cats use claws as a mode of expression. We humans have sounds and words and laughter, but cats say, “Mmmm, this feels good” by gently kneading their claws. When I’m grooming cats, frequently they will say to me, “Hey, stop that, wait a minute” by hitting me with their claws when their patience is running out. They do not scratch or harm me in any way. They are simply making a strong statement. I know that “claws out,” in this case, means that I have not listened when they tried to warn me with a meow or wiggle. Cats are polite, they give a warning before they hurt you. If you declaw cats, you have taken away from them this means of being polite and giving a warning first. In a way it could be likened to removing a person’s larynx. Even if you promise that that person would always be protected, even if you promise that that person would always have anything and everything that he might desire (and in real life you can never be sure you can fulfill such promises), still, the larynx is gone. The choice of communicating in the normal way is no longer that person’s choice.

Many times I have encountered owners who, after realizing what a declawing operation really means, vow to never again allow a cat of theirs to be declawed. Inevitably when they begin living with a normal cat they are amazed and enchanted by their pet’s athletic prowess and grace and they point out to me how very unusual their cat is in this respect. I have to explain to them that their cat is simply normal. All cats leap and bound like super ballet dancers if their feet have not been mutilated.

The Scratching Post Cats Love

cat treeCats should be encouraged to scratch because in doing so, all the musculature from claws through legs and shoulders and down the back are exercised and toned. A cat that doesn’t scratch has underdeveloped muscles. The post should be sturdy, rough and coarse, like tree bark, not a soft-looking fluffy post covered in carpet – that is only attractive to humans and does not fulfill its purpose from a cat’s perspective. Find a post that is covered with rope or scratchy sisal. You can even nail a log or post onto a wooden base, cover the post with the rough backside of the carpet facing out or leave the wood exposed (the base can be carpet-covered fluffy side out for play). A disposable corrugated cardboard scratching board can also work well or the cork variety, but both must be firmly braced so they don’t slide around.

Placing the Post: A good place is in the corner or against a wall so it won’t slide around, or next to the furniture they may have been scratching, as they will naturally prefer the post. You can also place it on its side like a tilt board. You can even make it more secure by putting double-face carpet tape on the bottom all around the edge.

Encouraging Use of the Post: Reinforce the association of happiness with the post by rubbing or spraying it with catnip or silver vine and including it in other happy occasions such as your arrival home or around feeding time or play time. Run to the post and begin scratching it with your nails and tell them how good it feels and how happy you are. In response, the cats all crowd around and begin clawing the post, at which time you stop scratching, but keep up the verbal love. Don’t freshen the herbs more than once a week so the cats don’t become immune to its effects.

One more thing you can do to ensure your cats will readily go for the new scratching post is to wrap it up; make them work for it a bit. After rubbing it with catnip or silver vine, pop a big brown paper bag over the top and wrap it up with wrapping paper. Then lay it on the floor, walk away, and sit down to watch the fun. Stretch out the pleasure by leaving it wrapped for a day and letting them tear at the paper and tape as they expose the post. Once it is completely exposed, the cats will probably press their whole body against its primitive roughness, rubbing it with their cheeks and chewing on it. Joining the party yourself will send them all into fresh throes of delight.

If your cat still has the unfortunate tendency to scratch at old familiar places like the drapes or ottoman, you might try a product, Sticky Paws, medical grade adhesive strips. Putting these on the forbidden scratching area will deter scratching as cats don’t like to put their paws on sticky surfaces.

From The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier

Also, please check out The Paw Project website and documentary.  The Paw Project’s mission is to educate the public about the painful and crippling effects of feline declawing, to promote animal welfare through the abolition of the practice of declaw surgery, and to rehabilitate cats that have been declawed.