Declawing Cats Alternatives, Problems, and More from a Ragdoll Rescue Expert
Guest Post by MeLinda Hughes of Merlin’s Hope Ragdoll Rescue
Originally posted on Mar 22, 2013
In 1998, I adopted my first cat, a lovely domestic short-haired solid white cat with blue eyes. Her name is Nimue. She is now 15 years old. When I adopted her from the shelter, the director recommended a vet. When I made the appointment, the vet asked if I wanted to have her declawed when I had her spayed. Not knowing what declaw really was (I thought it was a serious nail clipping), I said yes. When she came home, I was horrified to see her poor front feet bandaged, but she quickly bounced back, and I assumed all was well. I had my next two cats, Lyonesse and Taliesin, declawed with no problems. I had adopted Merlin, but since he was already neutered and was 12-years-old, the issue of declaw didn’t come up, and I didn’t ask.
It wasn’t until I had my poor Aslan declawed that I really, truly realized what I had done. The veterinarian clipped his middle toe on his right foot too short. Aslan crippled around for several days before I took him back. The vet convinced me that Aslan had “Limping Kitty Syndrome” (aka Calicivirus) and hospitalized him for a week. I went in every day to visit and was horrified at how he would try to rush to the front of the cage to see me and how he cried when it hurt. I finally took Aslan home despite the veterinarian’s insistence he needed further hospitalization. By now, I
had spent over $1,000. I took him to another veterinarian who showed me his x-rays (I should have known that something was wrong when the first vet refused to let me have my x-rays). His poor toe was at least ½ inch shorter than the others. Aslan did improve, but he always walked funny, and I was appalled when I let him into my enclosed backyard and he tried to run up a tree and ran into the tree rather than being able to climb it. Now, finally, I did my research and discovered what declawing really was. Declawing is like removing end of each finger up to the first knuckle. For a more in-depth look at declawing, please review this article (please note that this is a graphic visual progression of an actual declawing). Another excellent article about declawing is by Dr. Jean Hofve.
About that time, I started corresponding with animal lovers in Britain, where declawing is illegal, and was faced with their horror over what I had done. I hate to admit it, but I declawed my last cat in 1999, Gypsy Rose, because she was horrible about scratching both human and feline. I thought it was my only choice, that she would endanger my other cats. I now know better, but I so regret what I have put these five cats through. Please note that I declawed five cats in my lifetime, and that all five cats developed issues caused by declawing.
So, I learned my lesson, but what I didn’t know was that my problems had just begun. Declawing, you see, doesn’t just cause physical harm (like with Aslan, who had chronic and painful arthritis), psychological harm (like with Gypsy, who is still completely anti-social and lives under my bed), but it also causes medical and behavioral issues. Nimue developed a curved spine from jumping incorrectly. The damage cannot be corrected. We have accommodated her inability to jump by adding ramps and stairs around the whole house, so she
doesn’t have to jump. Aslan, Lyonesse, and Taliesin all developed litterbox issues later in life, and I removed carpet, added paper litterboxes, and created a plan of putting pee pads around the litterboxes so they would know where to go without going in the litterbox (which they associate with pain). Aslan and Taliesin both also developed chronic urinary tract infections, in part, I believe, because they didn’t want to go in the litterbox. Lyonesse still pees on my bed a couple of times a month. I accommodate her by putting two waterproof mattress protectors on my bed. I can’t even complain. It is my fault, so you can see, I have learned from personal experience what declawing does to cats.
But that is not enough. As a rescuer, I would say well over 50% of the declawed cats we take in are surrendered to us and to shelters because of declaw-related issues: litterbox problems, behavioral issues, health issues, aggression issues. Many declawed cats start to bite, because they feel that is their only defense. Many become completely anti-social, hiding so no one can hurt them. Two recent cases at Merlin’s Hope Ragdoll
Rescue are MacGrumpy (now MacCreamy) and FooFoo. MacGrumpy was apparently dumped outside due to socialization issues. Being declawed, he had no way to protect himself. He came to the shelter matted, filthy, underweight, angry, and bitter. I rescued him, despite being terrified of how vicious he appeared to be when I went to get him. After I endured nearly two months of constant biting and attacking, MacGrumpy finally came around, but it was a close call. He would have been (and was on his way to being) euthanized because of his aggression. Recently, we took in FooFoo, a gorgeous purebred 9-year-old declawed Ragdoll male who was dumped outside because of allergies in the house. He came and immediately showed major litterbox issues. Fortunately, there is a wonderful litter called Cat Attract. With a larger litterbox and Cat Attract, we have managed to curtail FooFoo’s litterbox issues. He also has some aggressive tendencies, but I believe those will settle with time.
As a rescue, we refuse to adopt cats into homes where people are going to declaw. We do, however, recommend our declawed cats if we have any. Many rescues will not even accept declawed cats into their program due to liability issues (biting); we take them, but we warn adopters that integration may be twice as complicated with a declawed cat.
Reasons people give for declawing include fear that a child or dog might be scratched (a cat scratch tends to be much less dangerous than a bite), fear of furniture damage (furniture can be replaced; it can be covered by slipcovers; it can be protected with sticky-tape products or Bitter Apple Spray that discourage cats from scratching), fear of aggression (actually, declawing may cause more aggression, especially passive-aggressive behavior), fear that a declawed cat in the house might be in danger.
If you are concerned about your cat’s claws, please know that there are a number of excellent alternatives to declawing. Cats can be properly trained to not scratch by using a variety of cat scratchers (please see our product reviews; there are literally thousands of different types of scratchers) and using positive reinforcement. There are nail tips called Soft Paws (available at PetSmart and Petco). Cats’ nails can be kept trimmed short. I actually trim my cats’ claws every Sunday afternoon when we have their grooming session.
There is actually no legitimate reason, in my experience, to declaw a cat unless it is for the cat (problems with ingrown nails). A large number of veterinarians have actually even decided to no longer declaw and are actively working with animal welfare groups for legislation to declare declawing illegal in the US, though a significant number of vets still declaw. Note that declawing is a major source of income for vets, so please consider that before you rely on your veterinarian’s recommendation about declawing. In my situation with Aslan, the vet actually received even more money from me because the vet botched his declaw. There is a new form of declawing, tendonectomy, which is supposedly less painful. It may be less painful at the outset, but this is not a suitable substitution to declawing. In fact, it can cause even more issues.
Many declawed cats live happy, healthy lives, and this is not to say that all declawed cats develop visible issues. Unfortunately, the potential for these issues is high. Furthermore, if for some reason your declawed cat ends up in a shelter, please know that he is much more likely to be euthanized than a clawed cat. Cat shelters are stressful environments, and when declawed cats end up in shelters, there is a great possibility for either extreme fear or extreme aggression, both of which lower the cat’s adoptability and endanger his life.
Copious amounts of information against declawing exist. One article I like to recommend to my adopters is by well-renowned cat veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve on declawing. Dr. Hofve also has a website called Little Big Cat at www.littlebigcat.com where she provides additional articles on cat behavior and declawing.
Please just be aware, before you decide to declaw your cat, that valid reasons exist to not declaw and that there are suitable alternatives to declawing that will keep your cat and you happy and in harmony. You are the one making the choice, but please be certain that you are making the best choice not just for you but for your cat.
Quotes from well-renowned animal advocates against declawing:
Jean Hofve (Little Big Cat): “Declawing is not a simple or routine surgery. It should never be done as a “preventative,” especially in kittens. Despite their reputation for independence, cats can readily be trained to leave the sofa, curtains, or carpet untouched. Using surgery to prevent or correct a behavioral problem is expedient, but it is definitely not the smartest, kindest, most cost-effective, or best solution for you and your cat.”
Jackson Galaxy (YouTube video): “It’s inhumane. It’s cosmetic. It is no different than docking tails, ears or de-voicing a dog. They are workable problems. It needs to be outlawed. I have worked hard and will work harder to help achieve this outcome. Any questions?”
Noted veterinarian Nicholas Dodman (from his book, The Cat that Cried for Help): “Declawing fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery.”
Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,
Oh my does this article resonate with me. I had two cats declawed many years ago. Because they were scratching my drapes and furniture…Good grief. How stupid was I. I have felt guilt for years about that after I learned what a horrifying thing I had done to my cats. Flash forward a decade later I bought my first rag. I had to sign a paper with the breeder that I would not have her declawed. Which I happily signed. Purchased another Raggie a year later and basically let them both claw the crap out of everything they wanted. Furniture, carpet, you name it. WELL, I moved 6 months ago into a rental whereby the landlord was very hesitant about renting to me with cats because they might screw up her perfect white carpet (I know..what was I thinking). Long story short, I’m here to say that you can absolutely train a 10 and 1l year old cat to not destroy your home. #1: Buy a scratching post for every single room/area; especially where they eat and poop. #2 Have several spray water bottles (eeek bad bad mom) and spray them every time they scratch somewhere inappropriate. #3. When they are done eating, sit down next to a scratching post and scratch it yourself. It works it works it works. I only used the spray bottle on them maybe 4 times. I felt horrible doing that to them, but it did the trick. I have every variety of scratching post made, but in our world the cheap ones with carpet work the best. They get it.
what a horribly sad story. and i agree with melinda, it should be illegal. don’t get a cat if you can’t live with their nature. get a stuffed toy. makes me sick when i hear about people declawing a cat. i’ve known several that have lost their lives because they got outside and then couldn’t defend themselves. it’s the same as us having our first bend in our fingers cut off. if you can’t deal with claws, don’t get a cat.. it’s pretty simple when you think about it. we have no right to mutilate animals because what they inherently have doesn’t suit us.
Jenny & Melinda: Thank you for sharing such a wonderful article filled with very useful information!
Melinda, thank you so much for being so very honest about your experiences and bless you for your rescue efforts! I learned so much from reading your information!
Patti & Pink Sugar 🙂
Thank all of you so much for the support. You cannot imagine how many angry potential adopters the rescue has because we decline them when they insist on declawing. Most of them have declawed for years and “have never had any problems.” The problem with that is that once they do, what will they do with the cat? Many veterinarians recommend euthanasia or expensive medical procedures, so many of those poor cats end up in shelters and/or then dead. As I said, I know about the problems; I am guilty, and I accept my punishment (litterbox and social issues) as I should, but not everyone is going to put up with a cat that pees regularly on a bed or one that hides (and has been hiding for 12 years). The only answer is to make declawing illegal.
Excellent article from MeLinda Hughes. I cannot understand why the USA still allows it when so many other countries of the world have banned the practice. Three words: DO NOT DECLAW.
I completely agree that no cat should be declawed. I do think that cats will scratch furniture no matter what, though. It’s not just for their claws, they do it to communicate as well. When they’re frustrated or excited, they’ll scratch the nearest suitable object which may be your couch even if they have a scratching post. A slipcover or even an old sheet over furniture they won’t leave alone will help protect it from damage, and scratching posts will help them want to scratch your furniture less. The cover or sheet keeps hair off the furniture too. I look at it this way. a couple of scratching posts and a slipcover are a lot less expensive than surgery, and less work than having to take special care of a cat recovering from surgery and driving to and from the vet unnecessarily.