Once upon a time, it became quite common for cat owners to fully declaw their cats rather than use dedicated cat claw clippers to keep them short and in good health.
There is no denying that the painful jag of a claw isn’t pleasant for humans. Nor is a shredded sofa. It looked like it was a permanent solution to filing their claws every week (and the scratched arms).
But declawing can actually cause a lot of stress to your cat and cause substantial changes in behaviour. So much so that it has been illegal in the UK since 2006, yet it still happens in parts of the US and throughout the world. But have you ever wondered why it’s banned, or why people do it?
What is declawing?
Essentially, declawing a cat is ensuring there is no trace of claw left behind, so they can’t be used.
Onychectomy is the most popular form of declawing. It involves cutting off a segment of the bone from which the claws grow out. This is similar to cutting off the tip of a human finger at the intermediate phalanges. This is usually done with some form of scalpel or clipper. The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue.
Declawing is a medical process which carries risks just like any other surgical procedure
When put like that, it is clear to see why professionals are against the practice.
Tendonectomy is another method. This severs the tendons in each toe so the claw remains but they just can’t control them or extend them to scratch. It means the claw grows back thicker and is harder for the cat to look after themselves. So, you would need to file and clip them regularly.
How can it harm the cat?
As would happen if a human lost a toe, cats can lose their balance when part of their toe or claws are missing. This obviously poses problems if they go outside or are active, and can cause them to go lame in the long term. They would have to learn to walk all over again in many cases.
They could also struggle to use cat litter trays or generally go to the toilet. Cats are used to scatting. This is when they cover their toilet mess with litter or some dirt and soil. If you have a cat litter tray, they may start going outside the tray.
Then there is the chance of infection and continuous pain, which can both affect health and behaviour. Behaviour can also be affected by the fact that they may feel threatened by the presence of other animals or objects, as they don’t have their claws to protect them.
Scratching is also a way for them to mark their territory, so other cats in the neighbourhood may take this opportunity to perform bullying behaviour.
Why are cats declawed?
In the US, it is thought that the majority of cats who are declawed are indoor cats. While around 20% of all cats in the UK are exclusively indoors, this figure is much higher in America.
Owners may wish to declaw their cat because they regularly damage furniture that they use as a scratching post, or because they find the scratch of a cat claw very painful when the cat is picked up or played with.
In rare cases, a cat may be declawed for medical purposes, such as to remove cancerous growths. But these are usually the only conditions under which they are allowed in the UK.
Why do cats scratch?
A cat may use your lovely armchair as a scratching post. It is normal and necessary for them to scratch, as it helps them to remove the outer layers of dead claws and keep them nice and sharp, preventing ingrowths.
Remember that scratching is natural for cats, and the occasional scratching of furniture or yourself is part of the package with some animals
But obviously using your chair isn’t ideal and an alternative should be sought. A cat should always be provided with a suitable cat scratching post to do this, rather than being declawed to prevent it entirely.
They may also scratch if you go to lift them up, place them in a carrier or stroke them. While they may be playing in the latter instance, lashing out could be a sign of them feeling threatened. So again, rather than declawing them, you should change your behaviour and actions to make them more comfortable.
Alternatives to declawing cats
If you trim your cat’s claws using a dedicated pair of clippers, you can safely ensure the claws are kept at a good length. And, the very sharpest point is a bit blunter which can be less severe for those on the receiving end. It could also prevent them from damaging their claws with excessive scratching.
This can be done with the help of a pair of claw clippers at home, or by a vet or groomer if you’re concerned about not getting it right.
Many owners use cat claw covers which stops them from being able to retract their claws. But this is against the advice of many leading experts in the animal world. It also stops them from retracting their claws, which limits their natural behaviour. You can read more about this on the Battersea website.
You should have a scratching post or climbing tree in place which they can safely use. If you are trying to stop them from scratching furniture or carpet, use things such as sticky tape and sprays to prevent it.