Onychectomy is the process of removing the cat’s claws. A feline’s front and back claws may seem insignificant, but they are beneficial for climbing, hunting, defending, and territory marking. But some owners decide to remove their cat’s claws because they’re scratching furniture and carpets.
Attitudes towards declawing have changed. Declawing is now frowned upon due to the unnecessary stress it causes cats. Without their talons, declawed cats feel vulnerable. So, there are some precautions you should take to make sure your home is safe, secure, and stress-free for your pet.
- 1 What Do Cats Use their Claws For?
- 2 How Can a Declawed Cat Defend Itself?
- 3 Can Declawed Cats Still Catch Mice?
- 4 Can Declawed Cats Jump and Climb Fences?
- 5 Can Declawed Cats Live with Clawed Cats?
- 6 Can a Declawed Cat Live with a Dog?
- 7 Caring for a Declawed Cat
- 8 How Long are Cat’s Paws Sore After Declawing?
- 9 Should you Declaw your Cat?
What Do Cats Use their Claws For?
Cats have retractable claws on their front and hind legs. The claws have five main functions:
- Climbing – When jumping and climbing, cats use their claws to grip onto tree branches, fences, or furniture.
- Hunting and Playing – Cats use their claws to grip prey such as rodents, insects, and birds.
- Fighting and Defending – When they are being attacked, cats will often flex their claws and take a swipe at the attacker’s face or neck.
- Territory Marking – When cats claw, this is a form of scent marking. They release a scent from the glands in their paws, which helps to mark territory and ease anxiety.
- As a Warning – When a cat becomes irritated, they may partially extend their claws and take a gentle swipe at their owner (or another animal) as a warning to stop.
- Itches. When cats have a particularly irritating itch due to fleas or an allergy, they’re more likely to use their claws. Of course, the claws can cause injury to the neck.
Declawed cats are less able to hunt, somewhat less able to climb, and may find it hard to fight off predators. They may also become overly anxious because they cannot scent mark in the usual way. That’s why it’s better to teach a cat to retract its claws.
How Can a Declawed Cat Defend Itself?
According to the Humane Society, a declawed cat is 75% defenseless. To some pet owners, 75% defenseless might sound like an exaggeration – especially because cats are such adaptable creatures.
Whether you agree with the percentage or not, it’s undoubtedly true that declawed cats are less able to protect themselves than clawed cats. To compensate for their lost claws, declawed cats may:
- Bite more than usual – declawed cats may have to rely on their teeth to defend themselves. They may also use their teeth more when playing.
- Use their back claws more often (if these are still intact).
- Swipe with their paws – this may be enough to warn off some predators.
- Urinate outside of the litter box to mark their territory because they are not able to mark their territory by scratching.
- Become lethargic and hide away from any potential dangers – this could lead to depression.
Cats are resourceful creatures, so they can adapt to losing their claws. Cats are not invincible creatures. Cats with no claws must be cared for slightly differently than cats with claws.
Can Declawed Cats Go Outside?
Almost all vets – even those who advocate declawing – would advise you not to let a declawed cat roam free. Cats need their claws to fight off dogs, birds of prey, coyotes or other wild animals.
Cats can bite to defend themselves, but biting is slower and less effective than scratching. Cats who bite to protect themselves are more likely to suffer facial injuries, and facial injuries are often fatal.
Cats enjoy being outside, so it is a shame to confine declawed cats 24/7. The best solution would be to build a cat enclosure or “catio” in your garden.
This way, your cat can enjoy the fresh air without the risk of predation. Catios also prevent your cat from destroying local wildlife and may help to improve your cat’s behavior because they alleviate boredom.
Can I Put My Declawed Cat on a Leash?
If you want your declawed cat to go outdoors, you might be wondering whether it would be a good idea to put them on a leash. Unfortunately, cats are not as accommodating as dogs when it comes to wearing a lead.
Most cats will be terrified by the idea of going outside on a leash. Cat enclosures are by far the kinder option because they allow cats to explore the garden at their own pace.
My Declawed Cat Has Escaped
If your declawed cat has gone outside, you should try to bring them home. Cats without claws should not be left to fend for themselves, even for short periods. If your declawed cat has gone missing, remain calm and try the following:
- Shake your cat’s favorite biscuits. If your cat is the vicinity, this familiar sound should prompt them to return home.
- Ask your neighbors if they’ve seen your cat or use social media to raise awareness.
- Cats who’ve not been outside before may become very overwhelmed and look for somewhere to hide. It’s common for frightened cats to seek refuge underneath cars so check beneath the vehicles in your local area.
Cats should be microchipped so they can be reunited with their owner.
Can Declawed Cats Still Catch Mice?
As you might expect, cats without claws have more difficulty catching prey because they lose some of their gripping ability. Also, they lose some flexibility and dexterity in their paws.
When cats go through the declawing procedure, they don’t just lose their claws, but also the nail bed and last connecting bone (to ensure the claws don’t grow back). This is comparable to removing the tips of human fingers up to the knuckle.
Though declawed cats lose some dexterity and grip, some declawed cats are still able to catch mice. It would be quite rare for a declawed cat to do this, but certainly not impossible.
Most declawed cats will still enjoy chasing and playing, and some will even “claw” at a scratching post. It’s not unusual for cats to attempt to extend/retract their claws as if they still had them.
Can Declawed Cats Jump and Climb Fences?
When they are outdoors, cats climb trees or jump up on fences to avoid predators. Cats seem less able to climb when they have been declawed, but they are not incapable of climbing.
Declawed cats may be able to use the momentum from a long run-up to propel themselves up a tree or fence. If the cat’s hind claws are still intact, this may also help them climb more effectively.
Cats should not be allowed outdoors (except for in an enclosure) because they may be a lot slower at jumping and climbing.
In the months immediately following the operation, your cat may struggle to move around effectively. It’s essential to keep your cat inside and dissuade them from jumping for the first few months.
According to NCBI, about 30% of declawed cats will have some lameness for three months after the operation. These cats would find it hard to run away from predators so should be kept indoors.
Once they’ve adjusted, most declawed cats will enjoy jumping and low-level climbing, so try to provide a range of indoor cat furniture for your cat to play with.
Can Declawed Cats Live with Clawed Cats?
Declawed cats can live with clawed cats, as long as they are not overly aggressive. If your clawed cat has lived harmoniously with another cat before, this suggests they would be able to do it again.
To prevent fights, it’s vital that you introduce the two cats gradually:
- Keep the cats in two separate rooms for the first couple of days.
- On the second day, swap the cat’s blankets so they can start to get used to each other’s scent.
- After a few days, allow the cats to meet. Make sure each cat has somewhere safe they can retreat to if necessary.
- Make sure each cat has their own bed, water bowl, litter box, food bowl, and a safe space.
Introducing two cats can take a bit of time and effort, but it will be worth it in the long run.
Can a Declawed Cat Live with a Dog?
If you already have a dog, but you want to adopt a declawed cat, think carefully about your dog’s personality. Has your dog lived with a cat before? How well does your dog respond to other small animals? If you are adopting from a shelter, will they allow the cat to go to a home with a dog?
If the dog is tolerant and non-aggressive towards cats, you might be able to introduce a declawed cat into the family. Soft-natured breeds such as Labradors tend to get on well with cats, for example.
If your dog is occasionally aggressive or hostile towards smaller animals, it would be best not to adopt a declawed cat. As the owner, you are best placed to judge the temperament of your dog and decide whether they would be accepting of a cat.
Caring for a Declawed Cat
Cats are adaptable so their behavior might not change very much after they lose their claws. There are some things to consider when caring for a declawed cat.
If you want to ensure your cat is comfortable, you should be prepared to manage stress, monitor their health, and provide toys for your cat to play with.
Reduce Stress in Declawed Cats
Declawed cats feel more vulnerable than clawed cats because they don’t have their primary “weapons” to protect themselves. To alleviate feelings of insecurity, you should create a calm and safe environment for your cat. You can manage stress in cats by:
- Using a pheromone plug-in device to help your cat feel more secure.
- If you don’t want to use a plug-in device, take a clean cloth and gently rub it across your cat’s cheeks so it absorbs some of the pheromone secretions from your cat’s cheek glands. Then, rub this cloth on the furniture and door frames throughout your home.
- Make sure your cat has somewhere to escape to such as a cupboard under the stairs, a wardrobe or a drawer under the bed.
- Stroke your cat on their terms. Do not restrain them or pick them up too often. Instead, hold your hand out and allow your cat to come towards you.
- If possible, install an outdoor cat enclosure.
- Play with your cat regularly to prevent boredom and loneliness.
Monitor your Cat’s Health
Most cats will adjust to being declawed, but some experience complications.
Studies show that a small percentage of cats may be left with bone fragments in their paws, or they may experience painful regrowth. Occasionally, cats may develop an abnormal gait which can put pressure on other parts of their body and lead to joint pain.
You should monitor them carefully in the period immediately after the operation and throughout their lifetime. Limping or bruising should be checked out by a vet to check there are no issues.
They may also benefit from a diet high in omega 3 oils to protect the joints, though you should speak to your vet before changing your cat’s diet.
How Long are Cat’s Paws Sore After Declawing?
A cat’s paws can be sore for several days or even weeks after declawing. Most aftereffects have disappeared within three months.
Side effects include soreness, bruising, lameness, and infection. During this time, it is vital to monitor your cat’s health but try not to disturb them too much.
Also, remove any cat furniture for at least the first few weeks to dissuade your cat from jumping.
Cat Litter for Declawed Cats
They sometimes develop bad toileting habits after an operation. In some cases, they might urinate outside the litter box to mark their territory. However, in other cases, they may be urinating outside the litter box because the litter feels sharp on the pads of their feet.
If you have a declawed cat, look for the softest litter you can find. Clay or very fine-grained wood litters are usually the best options.
Choosing Toys for a Declawed Cat
You might be wondering whether they’ll enjoy playing with regular cat toys. Most cat toys are suitable for declawed cats, though you may need to experiment to find the best option for your pet. Consider the following tips:
- Many cats still try to scratch or flex their claws. They may appreciate a scratching device of some sort. Scratching mats tend to work better for declawed cats than scratching posts.
- They still enjoy running and chasing, so the conventional string toys are a great option. Dangling a feather above your cat is a great option because this will be soft on their paws.
- Bear in mind that declawed cats might have poorer dexterity than clawed cats, so you might need to slow the pace when playing with them. Also, keep sessions short (5 minutes or less) to prevent boredom or frustration.
- If you are out of the house during the day, ping pong balls, sock balls, cardboard rolls, and cardboard boxes can help to keep your cat occupied.
- Food puzzles may not be suitable for declawed cats because they may struggle to pick up the biscuits with their paws.
- Most declawed cats will still enjoy climbing, so try to provide some low-level cat furniture.
Should you Declaw your Cat?
The AAFP and AAHA now “strongly oppose” declawing – except in cases of medical need. If the cat’s claws have already been removed, the kindest thing to do is provide them with a loving home and meet any additional requirements they may have.
If you are considering declawing your cat to improve their behavior, there are many effective alternatives that can yield the same (or better) results.
Alternatives to Declawing
Thanks to developments in pet medicine and pet behavioral research, we now know there are many different ways to reduce a cat’s destructive scratching. For example:
- Use a pheromone plug-in device. These can reduce stress in the household and prevent a cat from scratching excessively.
- Provide a variety of scratching posts.
- Clip the claws every six weeks.
- Use double-sided sticky pads to protect the furniture.
- Play with your cat regularly to encourage them to scratch their claws on toys rather than the furniture.
- Allow your cat to go outside in a cat enclosure where they can burn off some of their energy.
Think carefully about declawing your cat to improve their behavior as there are many other solutions available to you.
Declawed cats are not totally defenseless, but removing a cat’s claws does make them more vulnerable. Not only does it make them easier prey, but it also makes them more anxious.
Declawed cats can still swipe with their paws, but they do not have any claws to draw blood from their predators or clasp on to trees/fences when they are running away. Similarly, declawed cats can bite predators, but biting leaves cats vulnerable to head injuries.
Nevertheless, cats without claws are still cats so they should be allowed to run, jump, chase, and climb. Letting a declawed outside in a cat enclosure would be the best option, but if this is not possible, be sure to provide an enriched home environment for your pet.