Declawing Your Cat: Could it Lead to Arthritis?

By January 28, 2018Pet Health

If you have ever owned a cat, then you know that declawing is often a part of the domesticating process, at least in the United States, even though it is not medically imperative. It is common to assume that to declaw your cat means a natural, non-harmful choice. However, research suggests that your cat could suffer long-term health effects from declawing.

What does declawing a cat mean?

Declawing a cat involves serious surgery. Consider your human toenail. The thought of fully removing it probably makes you wince. However, in the process of removing your toenail, no bone would be extracted. Cat claws are different; bone and claw are actually closely connected. As a result, declawing includes the amputation of the entire first joints of your cat’s “toes.” With this approach, regrowth is very unlikely. So, the surgery is more similar to an amputation of your human fingers to the knuckle rather than just removing the nail portion. As you can imagine, after the anesthesia wears off, quite a bit of pain is to be expected, even if your cat “grins and bears it.” Recuperation takes time, especially since cats have to find a way to walk on their amputated areas during recuperation.

Cats Declawed – Pros and Cons

You love your cat (and cats do love to scratch!), but you also love your body and your furniture. Declawed cats cannot ravage your cushions and even your skin. Additionally, they are more likely to be indoor cats, safe and sound where you can see them, and travel outside only under proper supervision, as they cannot defend themselves against predators.

On the flip side, when cats are declawed, their bodies experience a change post-surgery, one that affects their movement and is visible, if you take a moment to observe it. After surgery, cats start to shift their weight more toward their hind legs, even though the front legs normally bear the brunt of their weight. Within a year after surgery, the normal weight-bearing process begins to reappear, but the fluctuations in bodily weight distribution and other stressors due to scar tissue from severed tendons can lead to arthritis over time. Moreover, the physical effects may yield emotional ramifications, and cats may take to biting instead of scratching. Because of these serious health impacts, much of Europe has outlawed declawing.    

As you can see, the pros of declawing are generally in your favor and the cons are in your cat’s favor. How do you reconcile the two sides?

For starters, you can explore the alternatives of declawing with a trusted, informed veterinarian. You can discuss and learn ways to tame your cat’s claws without removing them completely. On a very basic level, you can regularly trim your cat’s front claws. If you have the time, training your cat to direct its claws to a scratching post, which you can purchase or build yourself, has invaluable benefits. Knowing why cats scratch, such as the need for exercise and to mark territory, and getting to know your cat, in particular, will assist with the training process. If time is a factor, you can consider vinyl claw caps that you adhere to your cat’s claws. The caps come in attractive colors and usually last about a month or two. Whether your cat remains indoors or goes outdoors also plays a role in your decision. Outdoors, cats can use the bark of trees to sharpen their claws, as they were naturally meant to do.

Ultimately, every cat owner has a vital decision to make. Knowing all the facts and options will help you give the best possible life to your little Garfield or Cheshire.       

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