Onychectomy is the process of removing a cat’s claws. A feline’s front and back claws may seem insignificant, but they are essential for climbing, hunting, defending, and territory marking. But some owners decide to remove a cat’s claws because they’re scratching furniture and carpets.
Declawed cats are less able to keep themselves safe. They can climb trees to escape predators, but will be slow and unstable. They can bite with their teeth, but biting leaves them vulnerable to head injuries. Keep a cat that has been declawed indoors.
Attitudes to declawing have changed in recent years. Declawing is now frowned upon due to the unnecessary stress it causes cats. Without their talons, declawed cats feel vulnerable and afraid.
What Do Cats Use their Claws For?
Cats have retractable claws on their front and hind legs. The claws have the following main functions:
- Climbing – When jumping and climbing, cats use their claws to grip onto tree branches, fences, and furniture.
- Hunting and Playing – Gripping prey such as rodents and birds.
- Fighting and Defending – When they are being attacked, cats will often flex their claws and take a swipe at the attacker.
- Territory Marking – The claws release a scent from the glands in their paws which marks territory and eases anxiety.
- As a Warning – Cats may partially extend their claws to take a gentle swipe at an 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 far more likely to use their claws.
Declawed cats are less able to hunt, climb, and 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 instead.
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 cats without claws are less able to protect themselves than cats with claws. To compensate for their lost claws, cats may:
- Bite more than usual. Declawed cats may rely on their teeth to defend themselves. They may also use their teeth more when playing.
- Use their back claws more often. That’s if these are still intact.
- Swipe with their paws. Swiping may be enough to warn off some types of predators.
- Urinate outside of the litter box to mark territory. This is because they are not able to mark their territory by scratching. Your cat may start peeing on your clothes, for example.
- Become lethargic and hide away. This could lead to depression.
Cats are resourceful creatures, so they can adapt to losing their claws. Cats without 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 neighborhood dogs, birds of prey, coyotes, and other wild animals.
Cats can bite to defend themselves, but biting is slower and less effective than scratching and clawing. Cats who do this are more likely to suffer from facial injuries, which are more likely to be fatal.
My Declawed Cat Has Escaped
If your declawed cat has gone outside, you should try to get them to return home. Cats without claws should not be left to fend for themselves, even for short periods. If your cat has gone missing, try the following:
- Shake your cat’s favorite biscuits. If your cat is the vicinity, this familiar sound should prompt it to return home.
- Ask your neighbors if they’ve seen your cat, or use social media to raise awareness of the situation.
- Cats who’ve not been outside may become overwhelmed and look for somewhere to hide. It’s common for frightened cats to seek refuge underneath cars, so check beneath vehicles in your local area.
Cats should be microchipped so they can be reunited with their owners.
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.
Though declawed cats lose some dexterity and grip, some cats are still able to catch mice. It would be quite rare for a cat that doesn’t have any claws to do this, but it’s certainly not impossible.
Most cats will still enjoy chasing and playing, and some will even “claw” at a scratching post. Many cats will attempt to extend and retract their claws as if they still had them.
Can Declawed Cats Jump and Climb Fences?
When they’re outdoors, cats climb trees or jump up on fences to avoid dangerous predators. Cats seem less able to climb when they have been declawed, but they are not incapable of climbing.
According to NCBI, about 30% of declawed cats will have some lameness for 3 months after the operation. They will find it hard to run away from predators and should be kept indoors.
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 it to climb more effectively.
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.