Cat Claws: a Head Scratcher

looking into the debate on declawing felines

Emily Kuhn, photos by Andrea Paulseth

As the owner of two cats, I experienced firsthand the angst that some cat owners feel when trying to decide whether declawing them is the right thing to do: How painful is it? When should you do it? And most importantly, is it really akin to “amputating your finger at the first knuckle,” which is boldly stated on the Humane Society of the United States’ website?

While both the American Humane Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association confirm that declawing (technically onychectomy) is indeed like amputating the end bones of a cat’s paw, both they and Chippewa Valley vets assert that the procedure, when done early enough and with the right treatment, may not cause the long-term pain and discomfort that the above statement implies. However, every source I found emphasizes the importance of first exploring less invasive procedures, like regularly trimming your cat’s claws and making scratching posts and other acceptable materials available. 

If you decide to declaw your cat (as I did after consulting our vet on multiple occasions), there are a few tips to consider. According to Westgate Animal Hospital veterinary technician and office manager Paula Luer, “Decide once and for all whether your cat will be allowed outside or confined inside. If you’re sure the cat will be indoors, it’s fine. If the cat’s going to be getting outside, then their claws are necessary from getting away from other animals and fighting if need be.”

Another factor to consider is the cat’s age, a fact that was emphasized by both Luer and Kindness Animal Hospital vet Dr. Charlie Arntson, along with multiple websites. “I’d rather see it done when they’re young, when they can more quickly and easily heal from surgery,” stated Luer. “The older they are, the more painful the surgery is and the longer it takes to heal.” 

Arntson agreed. “We have the right medicines to treat multiple levels of discomfort, but younger cats will recover faster and better than older ones,” he said. “We often recommend getting it done right along with a spay or neuter procedure to make it less traumatic for the cat.” 

While the Humane Society of the United States’ website blatantly decries the practice of declawing, area vets wavered somewhere in the middle ground: try alternate methods first, but if the procedure is deemed necessary, be smart about it – consult your vet or the vets in your area to gain the most knowledge before making a decision. I decided to declaw just the front paws of both of my indoor cats before they were a year old, and after a few days of discomfort, they were jumping and playing with ease. We regularly trim their back claws.

“I think it’s a personal choice,” stated Luer. “But when it’s going to happen, we try to steer people into doing it younger rather than older.”

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