Declawing is a net negative for cat welfare

There’s a bill going through the New Jersey legislature to criminalize declawing as animal cruelty. Apparently one of the primary defenses of declawing from the veterinary community is that some owners have their cats euthanized because they’re fed up with the scratching, so in that sense, declawing keeps a lot of cats alive.

Then in the Facebook comments on the article, someone says spaying/neutering is mutilating the animal’s genitals, and nobody seems to find anything wrong with that, so, therefore, mutilating their paws should be okay.

Right. So, here’s the difference between one type of mutilation practiced on companion animals (spay/neuter) and another (declawing): spaying and neutering cats actually achieves what declawing is supposed to do.

Fixing a cat makes it less destructive. Without those sex hormones, cats are calmer, more willing to stay inside, less destructive, less aggressive; basically, they’re so much nicer to be around once their gonads are taken away. They don’t spray nearly as much, if at all.

Declawing a cat makes it unable to scratch furniture, but it can still bite. It can still use its back claws. When a cat can no longer scratch in self-defense, it often turns to biting instead. Cat bites can lead to nasty infections. A cat without its weapons of choice can still be unpleasant. It can still injure its humans.

Declawed cats often develop litter box aversion. The way it works is, the front paws are sore and tender after the surgery, and when it steps on litter, it’s very painful. So the cat becomes afraid to go into the litter box because it knows that stuff hurts. Even years after the procedure, some cats still have tender front paws and will not step on cat litter if they can help it. Do you think cats that pee and poop all over the house are less likely to be surrendered to shelters? Do you think cats at shelters don’t get euthanized?

Cats are digitigrade; they normally walk on their toes. Declawing takes away valuable walking surface, which means they have to use their legs differently when they walk. That can lead to joint problems. A cat with chronic pain and difficulty walking is probably more likely to get euthanized, not less so, than a cat with healthy joints.

Finally, a spayed or neutered cat cannot create any new kittens that get euthanized at shelters because they have nowhere to go. My little Lavender had a litter of five that were all adopted ahead of her. Not all babies are so lucky. Entire litters of bitty kittens get dropped off at shelters, and many of those don’t make it out alive.

If you really want a cat without front claws, there are plenty of already-declawed cats waiting at shelters. Many of them ended up at the shelters precisely because of the behavior problems they developed after they were declawed. There’s an episode of My Cat From Hell with a declawed Persian who’s been through five owners in five years because of litter box aversion. She’s a perfectly sweet kitty in every other way, but she’s constantly making a mess because she’s afraid to put her little mutilated paws on litter. You can get a cat without claws, just don’t expect it to be the ideal pet.

If you feel like a scratching post would ruin the aesthetics of your living room, maybe you should just run a pet-free household. Every living body in a house increases the chaos factor. Pets are messy. Their needs aren’t the same as ours. They will make your house look different.