Having your cat declawed means having its fingers amputated

There are many simple facts that totally escape me for years. For example, though I took biology in college and I knew that plants were made of carbon through photosynthesis, I only realized a few years ago that plants grow by absorbing CO2 from the air. I knew that mass had to be preserved, but I stupidly assumed that plants took the bulk of their mass from the soil. I should have realized right away that the assumption was false by thinking it through.

A few years ago, my wife told me what declawing means. I have spent much of my life assuming the veterinarian had some magic and painless way to remove just the claws of the cat. But once you start thinking it through, it makes no sense.

Many people have their cats “declawed” to protect their furniture. The procedure is actually called onychectomy and involves the amputation of the “fingers” of the car (the phalanges).

It is banned as animal cruelty in 20 or so countries. The procedure appears to cause pain: “Regardless of the analgesic regimen, limb function was still significantly reduced 12 days after surgery, suggesting that long-term analgesic treatment should be considered for cats undergoing onychectomy.” (Romans et al. 2005).

We have non-surgical alternatives to declawing such as Soft Paws or regular claw trimming.

The argument in favour of onychectomy is that it is a relative benign surgical procedure that satisfies pet owners most of the time. Some veterinarians further justify the procedure by stating that without it, the owners would have the cat euthanized or would just abandon it.

I know many cat lovers who have had their cats declawed. I am almost sure that, had I offered to amputate the fingers of their cats, they would have thought me cruel…

We live in a complex world and even the best of us operate on very limited knowledge.

Daniel Lemire, "Having your cat declawed means having its fingers amputated," in Daniel Lemire's blog, October 6, 2014.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

6 thoughts on “Having your cat declawed means having its fingers amputated”

  1. We have adopted a declawed cat, but we would never have done that to our own. Not only this can be a painful procedure, but it has serious side effects. Declawed cats are clumsy (they don’t balance that well), they are defenseless and can’t climb trees. If, accidentally, the cat runs a way, there is little chance to see it back alive. I have a constant fear: I fear to forget closing the door.

  2. It’s a bit overdramatic to say declawing=amputating your cats fingers. Their claws are not fingers. Your fingers seem much more vital than an in door cats nails no? And that’s not “b/c we’re more important”. There are no cat cups, keys, door knobs, etc. Sure… Don’t get a cat if you’re going to remove it’s nails/claws to protect your furniture, but there are mountains between reasonable declawing and cat-“finger”-amputation.

  3. @Reason

    Saying that you remove their claws is misleading. You have to cut the bones off (phalanges) entirely.

    Declawed cats do not walk like normal cats… they do not balance well. A normal cat is able to walk on a narrow ledge without effort… a declawed cat typically cannot: he falls off.

    The cat’s ability to climb or jump will be greatly impaired. A normal cat should be able to jump at least 4 feet. Declawed cats are lucky to jump half this height.

    Effectively, the declawed cat is handicapped. In most physical activities that a cat can do, the declawed cat is subpar, diminished.

    It is not just the claws… you can just take off the claws with regular trimming, this leaves the cat in mostly good physical shape with respect to jump or walking… But onychectomy diminishes your cat.

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