Declawing in Cats

Declawing in Cats - Conditions Treated, Procedure, Efficacy, Recovery, Cost, Considerations, Prevention

What is Declawing?

Onychectomy, the official name for declawing, is a surgical amputation of a cat’s claws. It is called an amputation because a cat’s claws are attached to the distal phalanges, or toe bones. This procedure is typically used for cosmetic rather than medical reasons. Cats that are extremely aggressive or cause significant harm to small children or humans may be declawed, since these cats are more likely to be euthanized or given to a shelter. Typically, only the front paws are declawed. American cat owners are more likely to have their cats declawed than those in other countries. Declawing is illegal in Europe, since it is considered unnecessary mutilation.

Declawing Procedure in Cats

Since it is an amputation and not a nail trimming, the cat will need to be anesthetized. Anesthetization is risky for animals, especially older cats. The veterinary surgeon will inform owners of all risks associated with onychectomy prior to surgery.

  1. Preoperative testing will be conducted to ensure it is safe for the cat to undergo anesthesia.
  2. The cat will first be anesthetized. Analgesics will be administered prior to surgery, and intraoperatively in some cases.
  3. The surgeon will remove the distal phalanx of each paw requiring onychectomy. This may be achieved using a scalpel or a laser. 
  4. A special adhesive is applied to close the skin.
  5. Each paw will be wrapped with a compression bandage.
  6. The cat will be hospitalized for up to 24 hours following surgery.
  7. Before the cat is released from the hospital, the surgeon will evaluate each toe to ensure proper closure and healing.

Efficacy of Declawing in Cats

Onychectomy is generally considered an unsuitable way of correcting unwanted or aggressive scratching behavior. Declawing should only be considered for medical reasons, or when all other behavioral correction methods are unsuccessful. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence in the current veterinary literature that suggests a cat’s behavior will change following declawing. Since a cat’s behavior is individual, some cats may exhibit behavioral changes following surgery.

Most cats make a full recovery from onychectomy within two weeks of surgery. The lack of claws should not affect their ability to walk, run, or jump. However, declawing will affect their ability to climb and defend themselves from other animals.

Declawing Recovery in Cats

Analgesics will be prescribed for the first few days following surgery. Antibiotics may be prescribed to cats with infection. Cats that have had their claws removed should be prohibited from going outside indefinitely, as they are unable to defend themselves from other animals. Special litter made from newspaper should be used in lieu of traditional cat litter for the first two weeks following surgery. This protects the claws from contamination.

Cost of Declawing in Cats

The cost of onychectomy will vary depending on standards of living and additional costs incurred. The cost of onychectomy typically ranges from $100 to $450.

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Cat Declawing Considerations

Before owners consider or agree to onychectomy, they should research proper cat claw and scratching behavior. Scratching is a normal behavior the cat uses to mark its territory. Owners that have cats which engage in destructive scratching behaviors should seek other alternatives for correcting the behavior before considering onychectomy.

This procedure should not be performed for purely cosmetic reasons. Declawing will cause extreme pain for a cat for the first few days following surgery, especially since it will still have to use its feet to walk, run, and jump. If onychectomy is necessary, it is best that it is performed while the cat is still young. Young cats tend to adjust and recover from declawing quicker than older cats. 

Complications associated with onychectomy include, but may not be limited to:

  • Inflammation and infection
  • Severe pain
  • Regrowth of the claw, as a result of improper removal
  • Wound rupture
  • Nerve paralysis
  • Necrosis of the second phalanx
  • Allergic reaction to anesthetic
  • Anesthetic death

Nerve paralysis is temporary and usually resolves within five to thirty days following surgery. Some complications, including necrosis and regrowth, are indications that the claw was partially or improperly removed.

Declawing Prevention in Cats

Owners with particularly aggressive cats should provide a scratching post or similar apparatus so that the cat can naturally file its own claws. Positive reinforcement for using the scratching post may decrease attacks or inappropriate scratching behavior. Proper nail care should also be employed, particularly regular nail trimming. Nail caps are also available, and can be reapplied each month. Nail caps do not harm the cat, and protect both owners and furniture from scratch damage. Cats that wear nail caps should not be allowed outdoors.

Declawing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


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My pet has the following symptoms:
I am about to adopt a 4 year old declawed cat. I have never declawed my cats, nor would I ever. I think it's cruel and changes the behavior of the animal. This is my very concern. I've read that declawed cats will no longer use the litter box, and will bite. My question is, if this is how my adopted animal behaves, how can I humanely correct this behavior?

July 26, 2017

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I do not approve of declawing of pets unless there is a genuine medical reason for doing so. Many declawed cats will continue to exhibit scratching behaviour after declawing and a literature review published by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) showed that there wasn’t a correlation between declawing and house soiling. There are many people online who oppose certain procedures (for good reason) but post false information online which can lead to misinformation; I have included the literature review below from a reputable source (AVMA). The decision to adopt Gary is yours, but please consider this decision carefully and read the information on the link below. Regards Dr Callum Turner

July 26, 2017

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