Should I Declaw my Cat?

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Declawing cats has long been a contentious topic in the realm of pet care. While some may view it as a solution to furniture damage and unwanted scratching behavior, the procedure comes with significant risks and long-term consequences for feline companions.

This blog uncovers the true nature of declawing and explores its potential risks, negative side effects and alternatives. From understanding the invasive nature of the surgery to exploring humane alternatives like nail trimming and scratching posts, we aim to equip cat owners with the knowledge and resources needed to make informed decisions about their pets’ well-being.

What is Involved in Declawing a Cat? 

A common misunderstanding surrounding declawing is the belief that it simply involves removing the nails from a cat’s paws. In reality, declawing requires invasive surgery to achieve this outcome. Declawing is a surgical procedure that involves amputating the last bone of each toe on a cat’s paw. To prevent the claws from regrowing, the entire first joint of each toe is removed, similar to cutting off the last joint of a human finger. This procedure is often done to stop cats from scratching furniture or people. However, it doesn’t just remove the claws; it also involves the removal of bones, joints, tendons and ligaments.

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Potential Negative Side Effects of Declawing a Cat 

Immediate Physical Consequences

Complications during declawing surgery can include allergic reactions to the anesthesia, stroke or even cardiac arrest. Post surgery, cats are at risk for a range of issues, such as pneumonia, nerve damage and ongoing bleeding. Infection is a significant concern since it is difficult to keep a cat’s feet completely clean due to their need to walk and use the litter box. Infections can be particularly dangerous if they reach the bones in the feet, making it crucial to monitor for signs of infection closely.

Pain is another immediate consequence of declawing. Surgical procedures involving bone are inherently more painful, and since cats walk on their toes, the pain from having a section removed can be severe and long lasting. Indicators of pain in cats include decreased movement, lameness and limping, all of which highlight the discomfort and challenges they face during recovery.

Long-Term Side Effects of Declawing a Cat 

Litter Box Avoidance: After declawing surgery, a cat’s toe stubs can be extremely painful for days or even weeks. This pain can extend beyond the initial recovery period, with some cats experiencing “phantom limb pain” for the rest of their lives. The discomfort caused by the surgery makes it difficult for cats to use the litter box, as the texture of many litter substrates can be excruciating on their sensitive paws. Consequently, cats may start to associate the litter box with pain and avoid it altogether, leading to inappropriate bathroom habits around the house.

Arthritis and Crippling: Cats are “digitigrade” animals, meaning they walk on their toes. This anatomical structure is essential for their mobility and agility. When a cat experiences pain in its toes, such as after a declawing procedure, it can significantly alter its normal gait. This change in walking can lead to a number of physical issues. The altered gait forces the cat to shift its weight and movement patterns, often resulting in abnormal stress on the legs, hips and spine. Over time, this can cause stiffness, muscle strain and chronic pain in these areas.

Anyone who has experienced prolonged foot pain can relate to this scenario. Just as humans may develop back pain or hip issues from compensating for sore feet, cats can suffer similarly. The ongoing discomfort can lead to a reduction in activity levels, further exacerbating joint and muscle problems due to decreased mobility. This creates a vicious cycle of pain and immobility, severely impacting the cat’s quality of life and overall health. It underscores the importance of considering the long-term physical consequences before opting for declawing.

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Biting and Aggression: A cat’s claws are its primary means of defense against potential threats, whether from other cats, dogs or humans. When a cat is declawed, it loses this crucial form of protection and may turn to biting as an alternative defense mechanism. Without claws, a cat may bite more readily, either as a direct form of self-defense or as a warning to humans who fail to interpret its body language correctly. This shift can lead to an increase in aggressive behavior, as the cat feels more vulnerable and threatened.

Withdrawal and Depression: Declawed cats often experience withdrawal and depression due to the stress and discomfort caused by the procedure. The pain and vulnerability they feel can lead to reduced interaction, making them less social and more withdrawn. These cats might hide more frequently and avoid interaction with people or other pets. Additionally, the inability to use their claws can make playtime less enjoyable and more painful, leading to a noticeable decrease in playful behavior and overall activity levels. 

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Alternatives to Declawing 

Nail Trimming 

Cats pose minimal damage to furniture, drapery and rugs with trimmed nails. Trimming your cat’s nails is a simple and manageable procedure. Wait until your cat is calm and relaxed, then gently squeeze each toe to extend the nail tip before snipping. Taking it one nail at a time over several days can help your cat adjust without fear. Affordable nail clippers are available at pet stores for this purpose. Be cautious not to cut into the dark part underneath the tip to avoid bleeding. If you’re unsure, ask your veterinarian for guidance or have a local cat groomer trim your cat’s nails during your cat’s grooming session. This approach is not only cost-effective but also significantly more humane and less stressful for both you and your cat compared to declawing.

Scratching Post or Pad 

To address furniture damage concerns, provide your cat with suitable scratching alternatives. Take note of the specific material and texture your cat prefers to scratch and find a replacement that closely matches it. Additionally, consider your cat’s scratching position preference—whether it’s vertical or horizontal—and ensure the replacement accommodates this. Location plays a crucial role too; place the scratching alternative in the same room where the unwanted scratching occurs. To encourage your cat’s interest, consider using treats or catnip near the replacement. This approach helps redirect your cat’s natural scratching behavior to more appropriate surfaces, preserving your furniture while satisfying your cat’s needs.

Testing out different kinds of scratching posts or pads with your cat is a good idea, as your feline might prefer some over others. Scratching posts and pads come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are flat on the floor, others are curved, many come infused with catnip, some are attached to cat trees and a few hang from door knobs. With such a wide variety of options available, it’s important to find the one that works best for your cat.

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Nail Caps 

Nail caps like Soft Paws offer a protective shield for your cat’s nails, serving as a humane alternative to declawing. Requiring replacement every few months, depending on your cat’s nail growth, these caps typically last four to six weeks. This innovative solution effectively safeguards furniture and surfaces from scratching damage while prioritizing the comfort and well-being of your cat. With the application of nail caps, you can maintain harmony in your home without resorting to invasive procedures.


To encourage your cat to scratch in appropriate areas, consider using Feliscratch or catnip spray on approved scratching surfaces. Feliscratch is a pheromone-based attractant specifically formulated to guide cats to scratch certain items. However, please note that Feliscratch has been discontinued and may only be available for a limited time. In its absence, you can opt for catnip spray, which can also be effective in directing your cat’s scratching behavior towards designated areas. By applying these products strategically, you can help deter your cat from scratching furniture while promoting healthy scratching habits.

Cat Grooming at Smoochie Pooch 

At Smoochie Pooch, we prioritize the well-being and comfort of every pet in our care. That’s why we want to reassure cat owners that declawing is not a requirement for grooming services at our establishment. We firmly believe in providing compassionate care that respects the natural needs and behaviors of cats. As part of our basic cat grooming package, nail trimming is included to ensure that your feline friend stays comfortable and healthy.

To see all of our cat grooming services, including a list of salon locations that offer cat grooming, click here.

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Embracing New Practices 

As responsible pet owners, our primary goal is to ensure the health and happiness of our beloved furry companions. While declawing was once considered a routine procedure, our understanding of its potential negative impacts has evolved over time. Today, we have a wealth of knowledge about the risks associated with declawing, including pain, infection, arthritis and behavioral changes. By embracing alternatives such as nail trimming, providing scratching posts, using nail caps and employing pheromone attractants, we can offer our cats the care they need without resorting to declawing procedures.