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Why You Should Never Declaw Cats

Updated on March 4, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Liz has always loved animals, and seeing them ill, hurt or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs.

The Straight Dope

A fair warning: this article is not going to be gentle or pull any punches. I'm going to be very blunt, and put the graphic truth forward, because I believe strongly that the word needs to be spread to eliminate this practice forever.

Why Do People Want To De-Claw Cats?

There are many reasons people will put forth as an excuse for this barbaric practice. These reasons are stated in some of the following ways (although this is an incomplete list):

  • The cat might scratch me
  • The cat might scratch my child
  • Cats claw things--they might ruin my furniture
  • The cat might ruin my clothes with his claws

Not a single one of these reasons is valid. De-clawing cats is cruel and unnecessary, period. It is inhumane.

One of Our Cats in a Pensive Mood

Cats are wonderful companions, but you must learn about their habits and needs and be willing to live with them on their terms
Cats are wonderful companions, but you must learn about their habits and needs and be willing to live with them on their terms | Source

Let's Discuss This in Human Terms

How would you like it if someone shoved you in a cage, took you to a hospital and spoke to the doctor in a language you could not understand? Suppose the next thing you knew, you were being rendered unconscious.

When you awaken, your hands are in bandages and they hurt terribly. When the bandages come off, you discover to your horror, that not only are all of your fingernails gone, but so is the entire first knuckle joint of all your fingers! That is what it really means to declaw a cat. It is no minor procedure, and it is a cruel, inhumane, and barbaric practice. Yes, I used three synonyms for emphasis!

This Is What Declawing Actually Looks Like

Poor Kitty!!  Imagine having this done to you!
Poor Kitty!! Imagine having this done to you! | Source

Pulling no Punches:

People who are so worried about their furniture that they would even consider doing this to an innocent, gentle animal are quite simply not suitable candidates to own a pet.

Why Do Cats Claw and Scratch Things?

They need to, quite simply. It is exercise for their feet and legs, and it also deposits their scent onto the clawed surface, (from glands between their paw pads), marking it as their territory. Like it or not, cats are territorial. A group of cats can quite easily learn to live together in the same household, but they will still need to do what cats need to do.

It is essential for their mental health, as discussed above. Even cats who previously have undergone this horrendous surgical alteration will still go through the motions of clawing on things. It is hard-wired in, and you can no more change it than you can turn a tiger into a horse and ride it.

Furthermore, if the cat should get outdoors by accident, it has no defense against other animals or predators, for its claws are its primary weapon.

Mistaking Accidental Play Scratches As Being Malicious

Unless the animal is mistreated, it is the rare cat that lashes out and swipes at a person maliciously. If the cat is not being mistreated and this happens, then there is another cause; perhaps kitty is not feeling well, and a visit to the vet is in order to find out if she is in pain somewhere.

Kittens naturally tumble, wrestle and bite each other during play, and yes, they use their claws at times during this play. When you take in a kitten, it is going to need to be trained to play with and claw at appropriate substitutes. Just remember: fingers are not toys, and if you dangle your fingers or wiggle them on the floor to play with kitty and get scratched, you asked for it, so don't blame the cat!

Remember: Cats Grasp and Hold With Their Claws

That said, however, normally, the cat will not swipe at or scratch you; they will simply stick out their claws and hold on. So, if this happens, simply take your other hand and gently remove the 'claws-out' paw from your hand, while saying firmly, "No!" They don't have opposable thumbs, so they use both their paws and claws to hold onto anything.

If you snatch your hand away instead, of course you are going to end up with a nasty scratch...but you did it, not the cat! The cat was just holding and you did the pulling action that caused the scratch. So again, don't blame the cat.

One of our cats was a stray whom we rescued, and I've taught her to understand the words, "soft paws; no claws" and she immediately retracts her claws.

Children must be taught this as early as possible, and for that reason, a young kitten is not the very best choice where young children are in the household. A calmer, more mature kitty might be a better companion for small children. This is explained more fully in my two other articles discussing when an adult cat is a better choice and how to care for a kitten.

Cat at Play

Cats grasp and hold with their paws and claws
Cats grasp and hold with their paws and claws | Source

Living With a Cat And Your Furnishings

There are many ways to keep cats from ruining your furniture. First and foremost, play with your kitty every day! Wearing off energy by play sessions keeps a bored cat from scratching at things just for something to do. You'll want a variety of types of cat toys: some that kitty can enjoy on her own, if you're busy or not home, and other toys that include interaction with you.

There are various deterrents to keep cats from the furniture clawing business. First and foremost are to have plenty of acceptable scratching surfaces. These may include:

  • cat furniture, consisting of climbing "trees,"
  • scratching posts covered in sisal rope or similar coverings
  • cardboard scratching mats
  • special double-sided sticky tape, for discouraging clawing couches and other fabric-covered furniture
  • repellant sprays

The tape goes on the corners of the furniture; the most likely area for cats to scratch. The majority of cats don't like sticky stuff on their paws. And, you want exceptions to the rule of cats? I'll give you one of my own. One of our cats (out of a household of six plus foster kittens), does not let the sticky tape stop her; she simply licks the tape until the sticky is gone, and claws away anyhow! She's weird! But in our case, it doesn't really matter--the furniture was already old and in bad shape. If company is coming, we just toss on a throw cover, and it looks fine.

I understand that there is a new type of adhesive for just such mischievous cats as mine. Instead of being sticky on both sides, it is sticky only on the side to adhere to the furniture; the exposed side is a slick plastic, giving them no purchase for their claws. I plan to look into those!

Get a Cat Tree and Scratching Post Combination

Cat trees come in sizes and shapes from simple to Holy Smokes!
Cat trees come in sizes and shapes from simple to Holy Smokes! | Source

Remember: fingers are not toys!

Pay Attention to the Cat!

Being vigilant is important when you first bring a cat home, (especially a kitten--like little children, their memories tend to be short). Watch the cat, and be ready with a sharp "NO!" accompanied by either clapping your hands or a squirt of plain water from a spray bottle set to shoot a stream. That way, the water travels farther, and you can intercept the activity without leaving your comfy chair.

Position the preferred scratching surface within reach of the forbidden one, and re-direct the cat to the post or mat. Gradually, move the scratching post further and further away from the people furniture. Cats are not stupid. They can learn and be taught.

Spray Them Away From Furniture

There are also repellant sprays available. Just be sure you can test it in the store, to make sure it doesn't have any odor, or at least, not an unpleasant one. There are several brands available; we have used the "Scratch Not" spray with pretty good success.

You want to train the cats away from the furniture, but you don't want to repel the people at the same time. The one we use has no noticeable odor.

Give Kitty a Pedicure

Learn to trim your cat's claws at home. It is not difficult, but not all cats are pleased with the procedure, so it might take two people; one to hold the cat, and one to do the trimming.

Just please, be very careful not to cut too much claw and get into the 'quick.' That would hurt the cat, just as if you cut or tore your own fingernail back too far. It bleeds, and it hurts. It will also make it harder to trim their claws the next time--they will be mistrustful.

One other thing that can make the trimming procedure uncomfortable for kitty affects only long-haired cats. We had a big Maine Coon, and his feet were so furry, that sometimes bits of fur would get caught in the clippers, and pull a bit. He didn't like that, just as we would not want our hair pulled. However, it was an annoyance, and not damaging, so it did not put him off too much.

Claws Needing a Trim

Learn to trim kitty's claws. Firm, but gently pressure on the paw will cause the claws to extend so they can be trimmed.
Learn to trim kitty's claws. Firm, but gently pressure on the paw will cause the claws to extend so they can be trimmed. | Source

How to Trim Kitty's Claws

You can use any of several types of special trimmers available. We use a special-purpose small scissors for the foster kittens, and a regular nail clipper such as people use, for our adult cats. (In fact, this is what our vet uses!)

To trim the claws, hold the cat comfortably, but firmly in your lap. Reach around and gently press on the paw, thumb on top, fingers underneath. This will cause the claws to extend, as shown in the photo above. Simply snip off the sharp point on each claw. In the photo, a fair amount needs to be snipped, but most cats, even black ones, have a fairly light-colored claw, and it is easy to see where the pink part is. Don't cut too close to that, and you'll be fine.

Don't forget the dewclaw--it's up the leg a short bit from the main part of the front paws, but it is just as important in the grooming/trimming process. Neglected dewclaws can become ingrown, requiring veterinary intervention.

Dewclaw

Source

If kitty doesn't want to cooperate, have another person hold the cat, while you trim, or vice-versa. Remain firm and confident; don't let the cat intimidate you. Just maintain a firm hold, grabbing the scruff of the neck if need be. This is what mother cats do to move their kittens, so it does not hurt them at all.

If you are not comfortable doing this, you can take kitty to the vet or the groomer to have this done...but expect to pay anywhere from a dollar a paw to a dollar a claw. At an 18 claws per cat, (5 on each front paw, including the dewclaw); 4 on each back paw; (more if you have a polydactyl cat), that can add up. If kitty is at the vet anyway for some other reason, many vets will offer a courtesy trim at no extra charge.

Left: kitten claw trimmers, right: nail trimmers for humans; best used on adult cats
Left: kitten claw trimmers, right: nail trimmers for humans; best used on adult cats | Source

Claw Covers?

There is a companion option to trimming, but it has to be repeated at intervals, as well. A product called "soft claws" is essentially akin to fake fingernails for people. They are hollow claw-shaped bits of soft vinyl that are glued to each individual claw.

As the natural claw grows, the fake 'tips' will have to be cut off and replaced. A cat wearing these will not be able to scratch, but not all cats will tolerate them, either. You have to get to know your cat and its personality. I know none of ours would sit still for having fake claws applied!

This Cat is Wearing Orange Claw Covers

Claw covers come in all sorts of 'fashion' colors.  I don't know about this look...
Claw covers come in all sorts of 'fashion' colors. I don't know about this look... | Source

Remember: Your Cat Depends On You

Adopting a cat is like adopting a child--a child that never grows up and remains dependent upon you for its care for all its life.

Just as you would not cut off the ends of a childs fingers for continually reaching into the cookie jar or for drawing on the wall, please, never, ever even consider declawing a cat. If after reading this, you still feel that is an acceptable practice, then please, never adopt a cat!

The organization with which I volunteer, H.A.L.O. (Homeless Animals' Lifeline Organization) has potential adopters sign a paper promising to never declaw. If they seem inclined to insist, we show them the door and decline to place any of our kitties with that person. It is that important.

Please help spread the word, and join the Cat Support Network in their efforts to have declawing banned by law.

Love your cats; play with your cats; pet your cats, and you will have wonderful companions as long as they live!

© 2012 Liz Elias

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  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 23 months ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello Lynn Savitsky,

    Yes, I saw that post as well. Woo-Hoo!! WTG, New York! Many European countries have banned this horrible practice already. It's time for the USA to play catch up.

    Thanks much for your comment and support.

  • Lynn Savitsky profile image

    Lynn Savitzky 23 months ago from New Jersey

    Last week I found out New York may be the first American state to ban declawing. Go, New York!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 23 months ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Lynn Savitsky,

    Thank you very much for your kind words and support. We do need to get the word out to end this horrific and barbaric practice. In fact, it has been banned in many European countries; the USA needs to catch up!

  • Lynn Savitsky profile image

    Lynn Savitzky 23 months ago from New Jersey

    Beautiful. I completely agree with everything you've said here.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again, Julie,

    Thank you again for your caring and compassion. It raises hope for humanity that there are at least some of use on the side of those furry critters who cannot speak for themselves.

  • Julie Lowe profile image

    Julie Lowe 4 years ago from Rochester, New York

    Txs DzyMsLizzy, I have been rescuing these poor lost souls since 1995 or so. I truly wish the day will come when I don't have to do this anymore...imagine a world full of responsible, caring people! Oh, what a pipedream. And I do find that the declawed cats I've taken in have just been so damaged they've barely been able to hold their own until re-homed. Thanks for the great article --- if it changes ONE person's mind and they decide not to declaw, you have done your job!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello Julie Lowe,

    What a horrible kind of person to toss kitties from a car! I cannot think of anything truly ladylike to say about people who would do such a thing. On top of that, the cats were already de-clawed?? This shows they were at one time someone's loved pet. It could be, indeed, that the surgery caused some other behavioral issues, prompting them to give up the animals...but in such a way! Grrrr!

    Blessings upon you for working with TNR and caring for the ferals. People don't realize how that stabilizes the cat population in the area of the colony.

    I'm sure your poor rescued fosters would be terrified of the other kitties... I do hope she finds a home, soon, as well. We had a senior, previously de-clawed kitty given over to our rescue group, and the poor fellow languished in the cage for nearly 8 months before one of our volunteers just could not stand it any more and adopted him herself. He is a very sweet cat, but I guess some people were afraid because he was 12 years old...but seniors need love too.

    Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your story.

  • Julie Lowe profile image

    Julie Lowe 4 years ago from Rochester, New York

    There was a person seen throwing 2 cats out of a car in a feral colony I'd been TNRing for a couple of years now. It took six months of trapping to finally get ONE of them --- and she is declawed ! Terrified of all of my other foster cats that do have their claws. Feel so badly for her, hope she gets a home soon.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again, Rose,

    I know--it is a horrible practice, and I wish we would just outlaw it in this country, as I know several European nations have done. Meanwhile, all we can do is spread the word and make people aware.

    You are so right--if your furniture is more important than the well-being of your pet, then you are not a suitable pet owner. Such people should go get a pet rock instead!

    Thanks very much for the votes!

  • Riviera Rose profile image

    Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France

    I'd never heard of declawing a cat until I started working with Americans - it's just a non-existent practice in Europe. Cats scratch, deal with it, I say! I'm unhappily cat-less at the moment and when I look at my sofas and all the scratch marks I just laugh - it reminds me of them and if you can't laugh off a bit of damage to a sofa then just don't get a cat! A terrific hub, voted up and awesome!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again, RottenLab,

    For the most part, those sites are heavily text-based. The couple of videos I've seen have not been graphic--but I cannot guarantee the entire site is free of such images; I've not had the time to delve into their archives, nor can I predict what may appear in the future. But, for now, for the most part, I'd classify them as 'safe.'

    This video is about 12 minutes long, and gives the history of the movement, showing that no-kill IS very possible: http://vimeo.com/48445902

  • RottenLab profile image

    RottenLab 4 years ago from Canada

    Hello DzyMsLizzy,

    You are probably right - I shouldn't have added my last comment. I'm a bit passionate about that topic. Sorry, I will try to use discernment!

    I have to remember that there is a "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;"

    A question: do those sites/links have graphic images? I do not like seeing gruesome pictures!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, RottenLab,

    Thanks for your support of not de-clawing cats.

    As far as docking and cropping, just because it doesn't have "as many side effects" is no excuse for people to perform these "cosmetic" alterations on their pets. As you pointed out, it could be that the dog would have a bit of trouble communicating properly. I don't find this to be an acceptable practice. The analogy is, what if you were taken into a hospital, without any ability to resist, and had your outer ears (pinnae) removed?

    It is not true that "a lot of animals would have to be killed to start the process of becoming no-kill." That, sadly, is already being done. The real answer is in spay/neuter programs, and in the shelters living up to their names and actually sheltering and finding homes for the dogs and cats that come their way, instead of just murdering them out of "convenience."

    I suggest you read the entire story at these websites:

    http://www.thenokillnation.org/ and http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/

    I'm not going to respond to your final comment. This is not the proper forum for that issue, and not the focus of this article.

    Thank you for your input.

  • RottenLab profile image

    RottenLab 4 years ago from Canada

    I would have to agree with you about declawing your cat - it has too many side effects.

    On the note of docking and cropping:

    Docking and cropping usually does not have any of the effects that declawing does in cats. Personally,I would prefer if people didn't dock/crop their dogs, but it's no big deal if it's done properly. The only problem that results, is that the dog will not be able to communicate as well.

    Another side tracked remark about becoming a "No kill Nation."

    To do that, you will have to start by killing a lot of animals, and spaying and neutering many as well.

    And to beat it all, North America will have to stop killing thousands of babies every year.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello again, Nellianna,

    I always try to reply to the folks nice enough to leave comments after reading my articles. It just seems like the right thing to do. ;-)

    You could be right about the texture they got accustomed to. I know we have a problem with our clawing up the carpet...probably our fault for covering the cat tree with scrap carpeting...how is a cat to know the difference? Oh, well...one of these days, we'll replace the carpet with that do-it-yourself hardwood flooring. ;-)

    Have you tried using a black light to find where the "accidents" are? It works really well, but it does have to be pitch dark in the room--even the light from the TV will interfere. But cat pee glows yellow under black light, so you can easily find where "that smell" is coming from.

    I know what you mean about missing them...I've been down that road, and it's not a happy place.

    All the best to you and yours.

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 4 years ago from TEXAS

    Thank you, Lizzy. How nice of you to respond.

    What's puzzling about our kitties was that they used their litter box properly & regularly for all that seemed their output over all their years. Their accidents were never solid deposits, which makes it almost seem they each had some need to wee-wee somewhere else occasionally. I figured that Toulouse's was probably as I mentioned, to 'mark his territory' on furniture, especially that green chair. His wasn't ongoing except when that issue flared up.

    When they were first born (in the bottom of my closet), & while their momma was tending to them there, I kept their basket super-clean, with a folded fresh sheet and terry towel which I changed frequently. Their momma tended to their messes (which must be natural instinct), but perhaps the nappy towel left a lasting impression on Camille. When she became active, she ruined a fur rug with her urine, & all her life, sought out fuzzy carpets, settling on a shag carpet in the living room in this house. I never caught her at it, but discovered lingering odors in out-of-the-way corners which she probably thought were undetectable. Her personality was a perfect lady's - - with a slightly sneaky side. :-)

    Perhaps another explanation for their behavior was recompense for being declawed. Maybe it was 'bottled up' & expressed itself in the misdemeanors. In any case, they were beloved pets. They've been deeply missed, misdemeanors and all. Ours was the more serious - declawing them.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Thank you so much, Nellieana, for sharing your experience. We humans too often end up in the 'sadder but wiser' box.

    I can relate to "accidents." One of ours hasn't seemed to figure out how to bury her deposits...and trying to show her results in her bolting from the litter box double-time. Oh, well..at least she uses the box, so I can't gripe over much!

    I appreciate your comment and your story.

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 4 years ago from TEXAS

    I appreciate your work, MsLizzy.

    I was determined to raise indoors the two beautiful kittens we chose from the litter we'd arranged with their parents, who were outdoor, virtually alley-cat-siamese.

    But I regretted having them de-clawed and wished it could be undone. I agree fully that it's a terrible choice which, of course, can't be reversed. We could've provided them clawing means to sharpen their 'tools' and taught them when & where it was OK, just as we kindly taught them several other good manners.

    There were a couple of other bad habits that weren't overcome, but - - they were cats, after all! Their non-housecat-mother wasn't able to teach them good litter manners, so it was up to me to do the honors for all 5 kittens. I'd take them to the bathroom with me, where their litter box was located; no one got to leave till the 'do' was done!

    But limits to my expertise on litter-use left loopholes! Over the years, a few non-accidental 'accidents' just went with having cats, I suppose. Some furniture & carpet paid the price, like Dolores said. It was that pretty soft green velvet rocking chair. Green was the key, I realized. He'd observed a stray cat 'marking' a green Kamado clay cooker on our patio; & though he was 'fixed', his instinct was to try it himself. As you say - cats are territorial, and this house was "his" territory!

    Animals have natures, just as human animals do. Our interference in theirs is only slightly appropriate, at best, and we must observe their best interests. Declawing an animal who's been equipped for survival with claws is a sign of our own short-sightedness. Your illustration of a human hand 'denailed' is visceral proof. At the very least, one never can be sure the cat won't become subject to outside dangers without protection. It happens, I'm sure. I'd never ever declaw again.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, midget38,

    Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom, and I'm glad you liked the article. Thanks for the share!

  • midget38 profile image

    Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

    Declawing a cat is indeed inhumane and so is debarking a dog, because these are the instincts the animals were born with and should not be taken away from them. Thanks for raising the awareness here, and I'll help by sharing too!

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