How Can You Make a Declawed Cat More Comfortable?

Monitoring your declawed cat’s paws and making some household changes can ease his discomfort.

Declawing can be painful. By: Mr. TinDC
Declawing can be painful for cats. Photo: Mr. TinDC

Jason was our first indoor cat. When he was about 1.5 years old, my parents insisted on having him declawed. To be fair, they honestly didn’t know that declawing meant removing the last bone (i.e., the distal or third phalanx) of each toe.

Traumatized, Jason took to biting. He was very loving toward my father and me, but he could turn aggressive in the proverbial heartbeat.

Declawing and the Feline Psyche

Declawing is, as Dr. Lisa Maciarakowski points out, “an elective procedure done solely for the owner convenience, with no benefit to the feline.”

It’s instinctive for cats to scratch things: It is, after all, their way of marking territory and lets them get a good stretch in, too. It makes them happy. “Declawing takes away all of this as well as their integral means of movement, balance and defense,” the vet explains.

A lot of declawed cats do eventually adjust, more or less. But others go through a personality change as a result of the trauma, becoming withdrawn or aggressive, as Jason did. Then there are litter-box/spraying issues.

According to writer Annie Bruce (Cat Be Good: A Commonsense Approach to Training Your Cat), declawing is the leading reason that cats start wetting outside their litter boxes. The litter feels painful to their paws after surgery. So they stop using the litter box altogether. Or they start spraying because they’re unable to mark by clawing.

The Outcry Against Declawing

So far, 22 countries have banned declawing.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and countless other organizations have spoken out against it unless there’s a good medical reason for it. Cancerous nail-bed tumors are a reason. So are what Maciarakowski describes as “extra interdigital nails that are at risk of getting caught and torn off…. In these cases, it would never be all of the toes, but only the selected ‘problem’ toes.”

FYI, your loveseat’s health is not a good medical reason.

Some argue that declawing helps cats keep their homes. “This is simply not true,” contends Dr. Jean Hofve. “Shelter workers can attest that declawed cats who do develop behavior problems often lose those very homes. Individuals and organizations that trap and neuter feral cats know that a great many of those ‘feral’ felines are actually homeless declawed cats that have been banished to the outdoors, abandoned or simply dumped.”

Stop! Don't declaw my paws. By: miss Murasaki
Stop! Don’t declaw my paws. Photo: miss Murasaki

A Novel Solution

Rosanne Malusa has been doing what she can through her Facebook page, Declawed Cats for Adoption/New York area. (Don’t let the name fool you: The page covers the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions as well.)

The way Malusa looks at the problem is actually pretty simple. If someone is determined to have a declawed cat, then match him/her up with one who has already gone through the procedure. This way, the homeless declawed cat gets a home, and another cat gets to keeps its digits intact.

The Compassionate Person’s Checklist

Over the years, we’ve fostered a couple of cats who had already been declawed. You can’t undo the pain they’ve gone through, of course, but here’s what you can do to make what’s left of their 9 lives easier:

  • Check your cat’s feet periodically. Sometimes claws grow back if the surgery was badly done. Abscesses, intermittent lameness and arthritis are other things to watch for.
  • If your cat’s paws are hurting him, try going for a soft scoopable litter instead of a harsher clay one.
  • A scratching post may seem like an odd gift for a declawed feline, but cat expert Fran Syufy says otherwise. “Although he no longer has claws for gripping the substrate (the scratching surface), cats’ toes are very strong, and he will use them to grab and hold on.” She suggests a scratching post with carpeting rather than with sisal.

A Tale of 2 Kittens

My son, Zeke, remembers all too vividly 2 newly declawed kittens at the veterinary clinic kennels where he used to work. “They were very sad and confused,” he recalls. “They would hit their paws against things. Their balance was off. They had fairly thick bandages — I’d say at least a quarter- to a half-inch thick — and you could still see blood on them the day after.”