Cat adopters, particularly first-time adopters, often don’t know what to do when it comes to their cats’ claws. And the concern, oftentimes, is not, “Will my cat scratch or hurt me?” but, “Will my cat damage my stuff?”
And the short, simple answer is, “yes, probably.”
But owning an animal, whether it’s a cat or dog or other, necessitates at least some level of compromise. A dog owner can expect their couch to eventually smell like wet dog. A cat owner can expect their couch to get a little scratched. Sure, there are plenty of ways to dissuade a cat from this behavior—providing appropriate places where they are allowed to scratch, regularly trimming their nails, exercising the cat to prevent boredom, putting sticky tape on the couch to discourage scratching, training the cat not to scratch the couch (yes, cats can be trained!), and if it gets bad enough, there are even nail caps you can glue on like a protective manicure—but that requires the tiniest bit of effort. And a tiny bit of effort is often too much effort for a lot of people.
Because we like our possessions. Sometimes, even more than we like our pets. It sounds absurd to say it, but it must be true. Otherwise, who would ever even think to declaw a cat?
A small part of the declawing problem is ignorance. Some people don’t really know what declawing is. They think it’s a simple procedure, like snapping little twigs off a branch. They don’t realize that it’s an amputation—a complicated one—that if done wrong (and even when done “right”) can lead to medical and behavioral issues far worse than a scratched up couch.
At the Animal Rescue League of Boston, we’ve had some declawed cats pass through the shelter. Jack and Sancho were a bonded pair of declawed cats. Jack was a sweet, easygoing tabby. Sancho was a gray and white cat who almost didn’t make it.
Sancho had severe fear aggression. When he was nervous or stressed out (which is the life of a cat in a shelter environment), he would lash out at people. Now, because Sancho was declawed, he could swipe at someone without hurting them. But the insecurity he possessed because he couldn’t defend himself resulted in a frenzied, panicked biting and kicking with his back claws that could cause some serious damage. He had some strong muscles behind him.
The volunteers worked with Sancho to soothe him and boost his confidence. And once he began to trust people, he turned into a very affectionate cat and the pair was eventually adopted. But Sancho will always have his fear aggression issues—a direct result of having been declawed.
It may end there for Sancho, but for some declawed cats, it gets worse. Declawing can cause house-soiling (urinating outside the litterbox). It can cause lameness, arthritis, and pain for a cat. In other words—declawing can make a cat’s life, and its owner’s life, hell.
“But I’ve had declawed cats in the past and they’ve all been fine,” is the usual response to this argument.
Yes, that can be the case. But cats are also known for hiding pain and sickness, and an owner might never have noticed the discomfort their cat felt from walking on its heels instead of its toes.
And every cat is different, just like people. A human amputee, for instance, might use their loss of limb as a challenge and rise to the occasion. And another amputee might become increasingly depressed or angry. Just because one cat did okay with their amputation, doesn’t mean the next one will.
Ultimately, declawing a cat is selfish. It’s a human convenience that brings absolutely no benefit to the cat. It’s also a form of animal cruelty and illegal in many countries. The United States, unfortunately, is having trouble rising above convenience.
For more information, take a look at the amazing upcoming documentary by Jennifer Conrad and The Paw Project. It will make you want to kiss your cats’ claws and buy them a brand new scratching post.