Declawing And Alternatives: A Comprehensive Guide

Declawing a cat is a decision that carries weight and requires serious consideration. It's not just a simple procedure, but an operation that affects the very nature of your cat's physical health and behavior.

Have you ever wondered why cats scratch? Or what exactly happens during a declawing procedure? Maybe you've heard of alternatives but aren't sure what they are or how they work.

In this article, we will discuss the intricacies of declawing, from the structure of a cat's claw to the actual procedure and potential risks involved. We'll also explore different methods and alternatives, such as training and the use of nail caps, to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Whether you're considering declawing due to household damage or looking for alternatives to avoid it, our comprehensive guide will provide insights and answers, but not just yet. Read on to get the full story behind declawing and what it means for you and your cat.

Discussing Declawing with Your Veterinarian

Deciding to declaw your cat is a significant choice that should never be taken lightly. It's vital to sit down with your veterinarian and openly discuss why you are considering this option.

Have you tried other methods to manage the problem behavior? Is there a specific medical necessity that makes declawing the best course of action? Understanding the actual procedure, including what it entails and the risks involved, is essential.

Your veterinarian is there to help you navigate this decision, providing facts about the procedure itself, and equally importantly, the alternatives available.

Together, you can explore all the options, weighing the pros and cons, to determine what is the best choice for both you and your cat. This discussion ensures that your decision is informed and aligned with your cat's well-being.

Should I Declaw My Cat?

Scratching is not a behavior problem. It is a natural function of a cat, and it is important to the health of their toes and nails. Physiologically, cats walk on their toes.

Because of the structure of the toe and claw, declawing requires the removal of the last joint of the cat's toe.

Cats use their claws for balance, jumping, climbing, self-defense, and grooming, and declawing forces your cat to walk unnaturally.

There is some evidence that some declawed cats develop arthritis as a result of the unnatural posture forced upon them as a result of the declaw surgery.

As cat owners/guardians, there are many steps we can take to help our cats scratch "appropriately" before considering declawing your pet.

What Is Declawing?

A cat's claw is part of the last bone in the cat's foot, called the Distal or Third Phalanx. The claw is embedded within this bone.

Because of this anatomy, in order to avoid claw regrowth or abscessation (infection), the Distal Phalanx and claw are removed at the joint. This is the amputation of the third joint and claw of each toe.

This procedure is completed with the use of a scalpel, a guillotine knife, or a laser.

Is Laser Surgery Better Than A Traditional Declaw?

There are definite advantages to laser surgery. The use of a laser causes less bleeding and swelling, reducing pain and complications immediately following the surgery.

The rate of long-term complications is the same. It is essentially the same procedure, just with different equipment.

What About a Tendonectomy?

A tendonectomy or tenectomy is severing the (deep digital flexor) tendon between the second and third phalanx, or joints. While the cat keeps his claws, he is no longer able to extend them.

This procedure requires regular owner upkeep of the cat's claws, particularly trimming, because the cat cannot scratch to remove nail husks while the claws continue to grow.

Without regular and proper claw maintenance by the owner, this procedure could result in serious problems in the health of your cat's toes and paws.

Risks Associated With Declawing Your Cat

Declawing a cat isn't just a quick fix for unwanted scratching; it's a significant surgical procedure with potential risks and complications.

In this section, we'll discuss the risks associated with declawing and why it's crucial to consider them thoroughly before deciding on this path.

Potential Complications of Declawing

Declawing involves anesthesia, and like any surgical procedure, this brings the risk of disability or even death. It's a serious decision that demands careful consideration and discussion with your veterinarian.

Statistics show that the rate of complications can vary widely. Some studies report discomfort and pain post-surgery at a rate as high as 29% (Landsberg, 1991), while others note a much lower figure of 1.4% (Pollari et al., 1996).

Here are some potential physical complications to be aware of:

  • Hemorrhaging immediately after surgery or upon removal of bandages.
  • Regrowth of nails, which may require additional surgery to correct.
  • Sequestrum or shattered nail or bone causing infection or abscess.
  • Lameness or an inability to bear weight on the affected limb.
  • Infection at the incision site, joint stiffness, or arthritis.
  • Persistent pain.

Pain management is an essential part of recovery from any major surgery. Your veterinarian will guide you through this process to make it as comfortable as possible for your cat.

Behavioral Changes

Beyond the physical risks, declawing can lead to changes in your cat's behavior. Some cats may start jumping on tables more often, avoiding the litterbox, or even resorting to biting.

Alternatives to Declawing Your Cat

Declawing is a significant decision, one that carries risks and implications for your cat's well-being.

Fortunately, there are alternative solutions to manage your cat's scratching behavior without resorting to surgery.

Below, we'll explore the options available, providing practical and humane ways to address the issue without putting your cat through an invasive procedure.

Alternative #1: Training Cats to Scratch Appropriately

Cats love to scratch. It's natural and healthy. But that doesn't mean your furniture has to suffer!

Choose the Right Scratching Equipment:

Not on the family couch! There are many different types and styles of scratching equipment available. Some are vertical, some are horizontal.

There are many different types of scratching material available: cardboard, carpeted posts, sisal posts, pads, rubber pads, and bark posts - the list is long and varied. The placement/location of the scratching equipment is often very important.

Place in the Right Location:

Placing the scratching equipment in the right spot is essential. Experiment with different locations to see where your cat prefers to scratch.

Encourage Healthy Scratching Behavior:

By using the proper material and location, you can guide your cat toward using the scratching posts instead of the family couch.

Alternative #2: Claw Trimming

Most cats can learn to accept regular claw trimming. It's a safe and effective way to minimize damage.

  • Learn from a Vet: Ask your veterinarian to show you how to trim your cat's claws properly.
  • Less Damage: Trimmed claws cause much less damage to furniture and people if the cat does scratch.


Alternative #3: Nail Caps

Plastic nail caps for claws offer a practical solution for persistent scratchers.

  • No Damage: While training your cat to use appropriate scratching areas, nail caps ensure no damage is done.
  • Long-Term Solution: They can be a long-term answer for cats that persist in scratching. Your veterinarian can provide information about products like SoftPaws.

Before considering declawing, it's worth exploring these alternatives. Talk to your veterinarian, explore the options, and find the solution that's right for you and your cat.

Official Position Statements on Declawing and Cosmetic Surgery

American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

Please be advised that the official position of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is that unless it is a medical necessity for the cat or if clawing presents a potential zoonotic (medical) risk to the cat's owner(s), declawing should be considered only as a last resort and only after a full understanding of the declawing and alternatives to it have been presented.

Please check out this article for the full position statement and points that veterinarians should cover:
Declawing of Domestic Cats

The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)

The Cat Fanciers' Association recognizes that scratching is a natural behavior of cats and that cats may be defenseless without full use of their claws if they, either intentionally or unintentionally, go outdoors.

Scratching damage to household furnishings can be minimized or avoided by routine clipping of the claws, the use of claw covers, and by redirecting the cat's activity to acceptable surfaces.

CFA perceives the declawing of cats (onychectomy ) and the severing of digital tendons (tendonectomy) to be elective surgical procedures that are without benefit to the cat.

Because of the discomfort associated with any surgery and potential future behavioral or physical effects, CFA disapproves of routine declawing or tendonectomy surgery in lieu of alternative solutions to prevent household damage.

In certain situations, including the high risk of injury or disease transmission to owners with bleeding disorders or compromised immune systems, declawing may be justified in order to maintain the cat-human bond.

Please read this article for the full Position Statement and Information Summary:
CFA Guidance Statement on Declawing

American Animal Hospital Association

Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using their claws destructively or when clawing presents a significant health risk for people within the household.

As with any elective surgery, the client should be advised of all advantages, disadvantages, and available options. Veterinarians have an obligation to provide cat owners with complete education with regard to declawing prior to performing the procedure.

Please check out this post for the full Position Statement and points that veterinarians should cover:

American Association of Feline Practitioners

The American Association of Feline Practitioners strongly believes that it is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with complete education with regard to feline onychectomy. There are significant misconceptions about normal feline behavior, and veterinarians are routinely presented with frequently asked questions.

Please visit this site for the full Position Statement and points that veterinarians should cover:
AAFP | American Association of Feline Practitioners

Your Guide to a Scratch-Free Home: Making an Informed Decision

Declawing a cat is more than just a quick solution to scratched furniture; it's a serious operation that can have lifelong implications for your pet's health and behavior.

Understanding why cats scratch, what happens during a declawing procedure, and the potential risks involved is crucial.

Before making any decisions, talk to your veterinarian, weigh the pros and cons, and consider the alternatives. In the end, the choice should align with both your needs and your cat's well-being.

Remember, a scratch-free home doesn't have to mean a declawed cat. By understanding your options and working with your pet, you can create a harmonious environment where both you and your cat are happy and healthy.

For more information about what declawing surgery entails and additional resources for declawing and alternatives, please visit: Stray Pet Advocacy


Related Reading:

Declawing - Post-surgery Care And Complications

Written Contributions by Heidi Bickel
Heidi Bickel lives at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Lakewood, Colorado with her husband and two cats. She is the webmaster and coordinator of two companion animal websites, and, and primarily works with two other longstanding members of The Cat Site Forums on these projects.

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2 comments on “Declawing And Alternatives: A Comprehensive Guide

Jane Loveland September 8, 2023
Here in New York State it is illegal to declaw a cat.
taboobleu November 12, 2016
​Mom & I both agree declawing is OUT of the question. I simply let her clip my front claws so I can caress her face. Since she has a diploma in animal science and managed a pet store for five yrs and knows all about that blood vein & keeps corn starch handy, I trust her completely! She even offers her services for free to her dog & kitty friends everywhere.

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