Although there are valid reasons for declawing in cats, the decision to declaw should not be made lightly. For obvious reasons, the surgery should not be done on cats that will live outside or that will be living in the presence of other cats that have intact claws or in the presence of other animals that might present a threat where the cat might need all of its defenses. Also I don’t recommend declawing cats that will live aboard a boat or in some other circumstance where the claws might be needed for climbing or additional stability. Furthermore, for best results the surgery must be done by a surgeon who is competent and familiar with the procedure.
Declawing is best done in the very young kitten and, if done properly, results in a quick and relatively painless recovery. Wouldn’t it be great if no cat ever needed to be declawed? Certainly, but that’s not reality. If a cat is adopted by an owner who loves his/her furniture as much as the cat, then, in order to avoid the inevitable surrender of the pet to a shelter or even possibly euthanasia, declawing may be the only option the owner has. In that instance declawing may very well save the cat’s life. Years ago when I adopted my stray cat, he was a 6-month old kitten who hung out under my car out in the yard for a couple of nights. Once I was certain he had adopted us and we felt that he was a keeper, declawing was our only choice. We had a screened in lanai area that had not only screens but sliding clear vinyl panels to keep out the rain. A cat’s claws would ruin the screening over time (chasing the ubiquitous Florida lizards, naturally) and would instantly ruin the vinyl panels. There was no time to “experiment” and see if the damage would be done – once it was done, the items would be ruined. So before we were even willing to allow him into the house, I declawed him. The procedure was quick, the recovery was quick and we have never regretted the decision. “Mucho” is a great pet, a wonderful cat who is extremely well behaved and fun-loving; but without having been declawed this adoption would never have happened.
We no longer live in that house with that situation, but he still does great. He lives inside, but we never have any issues, and we have never had any concerns about what furniture we buy or any other household concerns. I can assure you that the declawing was appropriate because, in spite of having no claws, he still regularly engages in claw-sharpening behavior on various objects around the house. If we are not careful, he can still damage some items, like our bamboo floor mats, simply by the repetitive nature of that behavior. It can be annoying but we can live with it. “Mucho” takes walks on his leash with us, goes for rides in our golf cart, and he goes camping and kayaking. He even climbs trees (on his leash, of course) when we allow it. As far as we are concerned his quality of life has been significantly enhanced by having been declawed, when viewed in comparison to the life he might have led had we chosen to take him to a shelter rather than perform the declaw surgery. In other words, if having a cat declawed is going to make the difference between adoption or not, or is going to make the difference between whether you are willing to keep the cat, then you should make the decision that will allow the cat to have the happy home that it needs.
I have been faced with the decision of declawing adult cats at various times in my career. I prefer not to do it, but when the choice is among several undesirable courses: euthanasia, surrender to a shelter, or declaw of an older cat, I feel that declawing is the obvious treatment of choice. The surgery is more involved and the recovery time longer, but in general they eventually do fine – and as a result they get to stay in the household where they are already comfortable and are part of the family. Years ago I had a client who brought in two eight year old, huge, moderately overweight Siamese cats. She was getting new furniture and she really loved the two cats but she could not reconcile the two sides of the equation. She knew the cats would ruin the furniture. I declawed the cats without incident and after a brief recovery period they lived to a ripe old age in their comfortable, familiar environment along with the new furniture.
Nail caps are certainly an option for those who are averse to surgical declaw. I find them highly unnatural and potentially uncomfortable over the long haul. And those of us who like to anthropomorphize can view the surgical declaw versus nail caps controversy any way we choose – a one time simple surgical procedure and never deal with the issue again, or repeated restraint events to replace unending nail cap losses, ingestion of the offending nail caps, and a lifetime of ongoing discomfort and frustration wearing this synthetic nuisance that interferes with the cat’s natural nail maintenance.
Declawing is not always the solution to a problem. I have had clients request to have a cat declawed because of overly aggressive play and intentional clawing of family members. I generally do not feel declawing provides an answer to that type of behavior because there is a strong likelihood this type of personality will progress to biting, once deprived of its claws. Aggression by a cat is generally a behavior issue and is often the result of an owner having engaged in inappropriate play activity with the cat. When the cat responds to the owner’s excessive provocation with escalating aggression, suddenly the owner is annoyed with the “Frankenstein” that s/he has created. If you do not want your cat to initiate unpleasant encounters, don’t provoke it. A cat’s aggressive play behavior can be entertaining when directed toward inanimate objects in the environment, but when it is directed at humans it should be quietly discouraged; walk away, ignore the cat, and don’t do anything that is likely to provoke it. Slapping, squirting with water, or otherwise ‘disciplining’ the cat will simply aggravate and over the long term exacerbate the problem.
The decision to declaw a cat should not be made frivolously. Too often pet related decisions are made without regard for upcoming lifestyle changes. Plans that involve marriage, moving, having children, adopting other pets and so forth, should all be factored into the decision.