Declaw... or Not?

Declaw...Or Not? Get Client Handout

Safeguarding the Welfare of Domestic Cats

Declawing remains a controversial topic in companion animal medicine. Declawing is a major surgery involving amputation and is not medically necessary for the cat in most cases. There are, however, some situations in which declawing may be considered, such as when a cat’s excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior causes risk of injury to immunocompromised people or remains destructive despite conscientious attention to behavioral modification and alternatives.

The decision whether to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian. Veterinarians should provide complete education about the normal scratching behavior of cats, the procedure, and potential risks to the patient.

Just as for many other animal welfare-related issues, the AVMA has adopted policy on this topic. To ensure a fully-informed policy-making process, the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division completed a literature review, which supported discussions by our Animal Welfare Committee and House of Delegates. Their discussions resulted in updates to the AVMA’s policy on Declawing of Domestic Cats. A video overview and client handout also were created to assist with client education and support the decision-making process.

AVMA Policy Excerpt: Declawing of Domestic Cats

The AVMA strongly encourages client education prior to consideration of onychectomy (declawing). It is the obligation of the veterinarian to provide cat owners with a complete education with regard to the normal scratching behavior of cats, the procedure itself, as well as potential risks to the patient. Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. The decision to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian. Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).

- Read the Full Policy: Declawing of Domestic Cats

Information for pet owners

Scratching is a normal behavior of cats. It conditions the claws, serves as a visual and scent territorial marker, allows the cat to defend itself, and provides healthy muscle engagement through stretching. In many cases, a cat can be trained to scratch only appropriate surfaces. However, a cat's excessive or inappropriate scratching behavior can become destructive or cause injury to people in the home.

Punishment is not an effective deterrent to scratching. However, there are numerous training and management options that can help redirect scratching appropriately:

  • Providing appropriate scratching surfaces, such as dedicated posts and boards that are tall enough to encourage full stretching. What constitutes an attractive surface or location varies by cat, so don't be afraid to get creative!
  • Scenting with catnip may help too.
  • Frequent nail trims - every 1 to 2 weeks
  • Nail caps - replaced every 4 to 6 weeks
  • Positive reinforcement training, beginning with kitten kindergarten if available
  • Pheromone sprays and/or plug-ins
  • Discourage use of inappropriate surfaces by attaching sticky tape or tinfoil