The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their owners or to prevent damage to household property. The only circumstances in which the procedure should be considered are those in which all behavioral and environmental alternatives have been fully explored, have proven to be ineffective, and the cat is at grave risk of euthanasia.
Cats' claws are a vital part of their arsenal for both offense and defense. They use them to capture prey and to settle disputes with or escape from other animals or people who are hurting or threatening them.
As part of their daily rituals, cats instinctually pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance. They do this to mark their territory, exercise muscles normally used in hunting, relieve stress and remove worn sheaths from their nails.
Declawing of cats, or onychectomy, is the amputation of the last digital bone, including the nail bed and claw, on each front toe. If the surgery is performed correctly and the entire nail bed is removed, the claw cannot regrow. The surgery involves the risk of anesthesia, excessive bleeding and postoperative complications, including infection, and is accompanied by pain that may last from several days to much longer unless appropriate pain control is provided.
A variety of alternatives exist to manage natural scratching behavior and to prevent injury from cat scratches. These include having a cat’s nails trimmed regularly in order to blunt the tips, providing scratching pads, posts and other appealing structures for the cat to use and employing behavior modification techniques to induce the cat to use them, using deterrents such as double-sided tape (e.g., Sticky Paws®) to protect furnishings, and covering the claws with soft temporary pads (e.g., Soft Claws®). Owners should also be familiar with cat behavior and proper handling techniques to avoid being scratched.
Because declawing has not been proven an effective method for improving other behavioral issues, including aggression towards people or other cats, it should never be used as a behavioral remedy or as a preventative measure. Behavior concerns should be discussed with trained behavioral experts, who can recommend techniques that are effective in managing feline behavior issues.
We do not consider the potential for exposure to zoonotic diseases from cat scratches (including in households with immune compromised people) a valid justification for declawing a resident cat. Notably, in providing recommendations for reducing the zoonotic risk associated with pet bites and other exposure to pet saliva, urine and feces, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service suggest simple measures such as sanitation, hygiene, careful selection of pets and changes in animal contact. These recommendations do not include declawing.
Legislation to make declawing illegal, while well-intentioned, can be problematic, because, in rare cases, the procedure may be justifiable as a last resort to prevent euthanasia. There is also no meaningful way to enforce a law that includes this exception.
Therefore, we believe that is the responsibility of veterinarians to inform their clients of alternative, nonsurgical methods to address destructive clawing, including referral to an animal behaviorist. Prior to surgery performed to prevent euthanasia, the veterinarian should thoroughly explain the pain, permanence, and complications of the procedure to the owner. Veterinarians should decline to perform declaw procedures except in the rare instance where all other humane alternatives have been exhausted.