Why Declawing Your Cat Is a Bad Idea

Declawing cats does more harm than good.

declawing your cat

When I brought home a new recliner for my husband, I was determined not to let my cats claw it to shreds. But it wasn’t off limits. I’d let them sit, lie, and drape themselves on the chair’s top, arms, and seat. I’d spent a lot of money on the recliner. It was a gift, and I wanted it to stay intact.

The thing is, kitties naturally love to scratch. My two cats had previously demolished the arms and sides of one of our sofas. To protect the new recliner, I placed a slipcover over it, and put blankets on the arms to block their claws.

I also put scratching posts close to the new chair and told them, in my firmest pet parent voice: “No scratching!”

A veterinarian I no longer take them to suggested I declaw them, because replacing furniture is expensive. And hey, no claws, no problem—right? He also said the furniture damage was evidence of destructive behavior. I agreed with the “destructive behavior” part of the discussion. I, however, would not declaw my cats. 

Here’s why.

It’s flat-out illegal in some countries

Declawing a cat is illegal in the United Kingdom, most of the European Union, Australia, Brazil, and in many other countries. In the United States, there’s also been a crackdown. New York became the first state to ban the practice in 2019. In California, declawing a cat is illegal in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and six other cities.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) discourages the onychectomy (declawing) of cats as an elective procedure and supports non-surgical alternatives to the procedure. The AMVA recommends veterinarians educate pet owners about the scratching behavior of cats. Sure, that means a lot more work on the part of pet parents, but it’s also the humane option.

Onychectomy, defined

The AMVA describes onychectomy as a surgical amputation that requires multi-modal perioperative pain management.

Translation: Declawing is an invasive and traumatic procedure that requires multiple types of pain relief methods post-op. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) both oppose declawing. The ALDF explains declawing as an invasive surgery where “the last bone of each one of your cat’s toes is amputated; it’s similar to severing a human finger at the last knuckle.” Yikes. 

Why you shouldn’t declaw your cats

If that stomach-churning visual wasn’t enough to convince you, how about the practical considerations? 

Cats use their claws to grab things, and to defend themselves if they spend time outdoors. Next time you toss a toy to your kitty, watch how she grasps it. Plus, cats like to scratch. Scratching allows your cats to leave their scent on the furniture and other items in your home. When they do this, they are marking their territory.

Your cat’s claws are necessary for a number of reasons, including:

  • Cats need their claws for protection. If your indoor cat goes outdoors and doesn’t have claws, they’re defenseless. Cats also use their claws to climb trees, which helps them escape from dangerous situations.
  • Cats use their claws to stretch their muscles. It’s a kneading type of movement that’s a form of exercise.
  • Claws help with balance. When a cat is declawed, they have trouble balancing.
  • Removing a cat’s claws can cause health problems. Declawed cats suffer from joint stiffness, chronic pain, and lameness.

Teach your cats not to scratch

Hopefully we’ve convinced you to keep your cat’s claws intact (and to think twice about a vet who would recommend the procedure to deal with something like furniture damage). So what can you do instead?

I’ve gone through two sofas because my cats destroyed them. I tried nail caps, which you place over their nails, but those didn’t work. I also clip their nails every two weeks. Nail-clipping might make you anxious, but the Humane Society of the U.S. has a helpful list of tips on how to trim a cat’s claws.

I don’t have any wicker or sisal furniture in my house. Cats love to scratch those materials, so you might want to avoid them as well. There are sisal scratching posts on the cat tower I purchased, which they do use. It’s placed in the same room as the recliner and the sofa we recently purchased, offering an alternative scratching option.

I also purchased two inexpensive cardboard scratching posts that come with catnip that you sprinkle over it and into the cardboard crevices. It seems to work. My cats use this often. Each time they do, I praise them by telling them they’re great kitties.  

The catnip toys in the house also distract them and keep them busy. Another product that some cat owners swear by (and others say doesn’t work) is Feliway, a synthetic feline facial pheromone spray that may have a calming effect on your cats. 

If your cat continues to scratch the furniture, schedule a checkup with your cat’s veterinarian, or call a cat behaviorist to help you manage your kitty’s conduct. 

Praise the well-behaved kitty!

So far, I’ve managed to keep my husband’s recliner in relatively pristine condition. One cat occasionally eyes the recliner. When she does, I warn her in a firm voice not to scratch. So far, it’s worked. We’ve had the chair for a year now with no scratches on it.

I also heap on the praise, letting them know when they’re making better scratching decisions. Applauding them for their good behavior really pays off. So does a lot of attention and TLC. Spending time with them, playing with them, brushing them, and sitting on the sofa with them on our laps or next to us while we watch TV keeps them happy, occupied, and well-behaved.

Yes, this all means a lot more work and energy than the cruel and irreversible choice to declaw a cat. But if you truly love your furry friend, you wouldn’t put them through pain and anguish simply because it’s more convenient.

Caring for your cat 

We know you only want what’s best for you cat, which is why you might want to get them set up with pet insurance. Pet insurance, like coverage offered by Lemonade can help take the sting out of unexpected vet bills, plus Lemonade offers a number of preventative packages and add-ons to help cover routine care, as well as other issues that might come up. 

Applying for pet insurance is fast, easy, and also kind of fun! 

Michele C. Hollow

Michele C. Hollow is an award-winning journalist covering pets, wildlife, health, and climate. She’s a long-time animal lover who took zoology courses at the Bronx Zoological Society. She enjoys learning about and spending time with animals. Her byline has appeared in The New York Times, Next Avenue, Parents, AARP, The Guardian, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelechollow.


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