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Declawing a Cat

Declawing a cat is the surgical process of amputating at the first ‘knuckle’ of a cat’s toes, thereby removing where the claw grows. It’s similar to cutting off a human’s fingers or toes at the top joint. Declawing cats irreversibly physically alters a cat for the purposes of changing its natural behavior, most often performed for the convenience of the pet owner.


The procedure is performed under general anesthesia, and the cost varies on the nature of the technique, surgical time, and the location of the clinic. For uncomplicated cases, recovery time varies from 10 to 14 days. Cats that have undergone a full declaw will be tender on their paws for several weeks and possibly permanently due to the altered anatomy of the paw. Removing the claws of an outdoor cat should never be done, under any circumstances. Doing so would remove a cat's main mode of self-defense.



Medical alternative: tendonectomy

Tendonectomy is a new procedure that’s a medical alternative to declawing. It involves small incisions made behind the claw to snip the tendons that are responsible for a cat being able to properly extend its claw. This procedure is still very uncommon, but in a post about declawing it only seems appropriate to mention it.


While a tendonectomy keeps the claws intact and avoids harmful repercussions to the animal, without the tendons the toes tend to curl around and alter the cat’s normal anatomy, which predisposes them to arthritis. Many doctors warn that there also is a risk of the curled claws puncturing the pads and causing pain and infection if the nails are not kept meticulously trimmed.


Why do owners declaw?

Declawing is often done to prevent the cat from scratching their owners, other animals, or furniture, but it should only be considered as a last resort. The AVMA states that declawing can be considered “when a cat’s excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior causes an unacceptable risk of injury or remains destructive despite conscientious attention to behavioral modification and alternatives.”


Ultimately, the decision to declaw the cat is up to the pet owner in conjunction with their vet (assuming it’s legal in the place they live). Some veterinarians are open to declawing if it means the cat doesn’t end up back at the shelter or out on the streets. Declawed cats must be kept indoors because declawing takes away their ability to fully defend themselves. Additionally, removing the claws removes a cat’s ability to climb trees and jump fences, etc., to evade predators, and they would be very vulnerable if allowed outside.


There are, however, rare circumstances where declawing may be medically necessary, such as in the instance of an infection of the bone or toe that cannot be resolved medicinally, or cancer, for example. In the vast majority of such cases, only one or two digits would require amputation, rather than all of the toes.


Ramifications of cat declawing

The biggest consequence of cat declawing is chronic pain. Cats are very good at hiding signs of pain and discomfort, so they can be uncomfortable for many years without you knowing. It’s important to monitor mobility for changes in gait or obvious signs of discomfort, as declawed cats may be more prone to degenerative joint disease and arthritis as they age, due to the change in the way they must bear weight on the paws after this procedure. Possibly in conjunction with this common side effect, they tend to be at a greater risk of obesity as declawed cats are on average more sedentary than non-declawed cats. Additionally, without the ability to scratch, the cat can have a hard time stretching her muscles and tendons, preventing her from staying healthy.


Some statistical studies suggest there may be a correlation between declawing and an increased risk of biting. This has not been confirmed by further targeted study, however, and therefore isn't proven. However, one may want to keep this in mind as a possibility.

Cat claws covered with nail caps

Safer alternatives to declawing

Declawing is life-altering surgery for cats; many veterinarians consider the procedure to be unethical and unnecessary and encourage cat owners to opt for safer alternatives to prevent cats from scratching up undesirable surfaces. These include:

  • Nail trimming: Trim your cat’s nails every two to three weeks with feline nail trimmers. If it’s challenging for you to do it yourself, bring the cat to a clinic or groomers to have it done properly. Here at Windsor Animal Hospital we are willing to trim nails on our feline clients who are up to date on vaccines.

  • Nail caps: Gluing blunt nail caps to the cat’s claws can prevent damage from sharp claws. These plastic caps need to be replaced when the nails grow out (every four to six weeks). If you are unable to apply the caps, professional groomers can help. With two people (one to hold the cat and the other to apply the caps) it is usually quite simple.

  • Training: To change your cat’s natural behavioral patterns, provide training at a young age. Encourage your kitten to use a scratching post rather than your sofa by spraying it with pheromone solutions or rubbing it with catnip, or even using catnip spray. Reward your feline with her favorite treats whenever she uses the post, and be sure to incorporate verbal praise!


Cat parents can also make changes to the indoor environment and safeguard furniture to avoid destructive behavior. Provide your cat with a stimulating enriching environment that includes scratching posts and climbing gyms. The post needs to be at least as tall as the cat’s length for her to enjoy a good stretch and drag her claws down. Aside from height, experiment with the different types of posts available, from traditional posts to corrugated cardboard ramps, to find the one your cat likes best.


Because cats love to scratch upholstered surfaces cat lovers should select couches and chairs made of leather or microfiber, which has a tight weave that’s hard for cats to dig into with their nails. Use plastic, aluminum foil, or double-sided tape coverings to deter your cat while you’re in the training phase. With consistency and patience, most scratching problems can be resolved without resulting to declawing.


If You Do Declaw: After Care

If you do opt to declaw, we of course want to decrease the likelihood of any complications - health related or otherwise. An important consideration is the cat litter. If you typically use tradition litters such as clay, crystal, or even wood pellets, it is recommended that you temporarily switch to a paper litter. Shredded paper tends to work best, but you can also use low-dust paper bedding for small animals. The goal here is to cut down on the amount of debris or dust particles that may find their way into the wounds left by the declaw procedure. If you use paper bedding and the ends of the toes heal appropriately without any debris getting inside or resting for long periods against the incisions, the risk of infection is drastically decreased! Toward this end, most veterinarians send declawed cats home with antibiotics, just as a precautionary measure.


A newly declawed cat may experience varying levels of discomfort or pain, and this is different for each individual. Some may experience minor discomfort the first day and increased pain the following week or so. You will be sent home with pain management medication, but a further step to alleviate some of that discomfort can be slightly limiting the cat's movement. They should be able to move at will and play if they feel like it, but removing the option for jumping up onto high perches or jumping down from high places can be wise. Cat trees can be temporarily moved to prevent climbing, and they can be discouraged from jumping onto tables and counters. Keep in mind, cats hide pain very well, and they likely won't understand that the things they used to do may now hurt. Helping them get over that hump of healing before reintroducing things like cat trees can definitely make healing less painful and less stressful.


  • Inspect the foot daily for signs of infection, dirt, litter, etc. And if you see anything worrying, contact your veterinarian just in case. Continue checking the toes for a few weeks, as at certain points of healing the area may itch and this may cause the cat to bite at it and reopen the incision.

  • Don't miss any of the doses of antibiotic that is sent home with you. Be sure to give every dose - finish the round that is prescribed.

  • Don't skip any doses of pain medications sent home with you. As said above, cats are often very good at hiding their discomfort.



*Here at Windsor Animal Hospital our doctors believe that it is not our place to morally evaluate your choice to declaw or not declaw. The above is intended for education and not as a judgement or chastisement of whatever you end up deciding to do in regard to your cat's claws. The following statement is from The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and is provided to help elucidate the current climate of professional opinions around the procedure as of 2024. The AAFP statement as well as their reasons for their stance can be read in full here.


The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) strongly opposes declawing (onychectomy) as an elective procedure. It is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with alternatives to declawing. If owners are considering declawing, they must be provided with complete education about feline declawing.

We sincerely hope that we have given you all of the information needed to make a thoughtful and informed decision concerning declawing and its alternatives, but if you are our client and you have further questions feel free to reach out to us!


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