Everyone can agree that it’s essential to give your pet access to the best possible healthcare. Still, there are several decisions cat owners come across that cause division within the pet parent community. While cat parents might bicker about the best brand of food or litter, issues like whether to declaw your cat draw extreme opinions.

Veterinarians consider onychectomy (the medical term for declawing), an elective surgical procedure. It’s similar to ear and tail docking since it’s often performed for aesthetic reasons. However, many cat owners have pursued surgery to combat behavioral problems. Some pet parents and veterinary professionals believe the procedure may help deter scratching behavior, while others believe the procedure causes unnecessary pain to cats.

Is declawing your cat really necessary?

Declawing is a medical procedure that became increasingly popular for indoor cats through the ’70s and ’90s, but it has since gone down in popularity. It’s traditionally an operation performed under general anesthesia. A vet will amputate the last toe bone on a paw with a scalpel blade or laser. The amputation is similar to cutting off the tip of a human finger at the knuckle.

Some vets may choose to perform a tendonectomy instead of amputating the toes. Rather than removing the claws, a vet would cut the tendons that allow the cat to extend its claws. Some professionals believe this procedure is less painful for the cat. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association does not recommend it.

Both surgeries are usually used as a last resort to rectify scratching problems, but scratching is a completely natural behavior in most cats. Aside from helping a cat stretch out, scratching helps cats with normal activities. Scratching gives them a way to mark territory by releasing pheromones from glands in their paw pads. It also helps remove build-up and shed claw layers.

Declawing has been banned outright in New York State. There are also several municipalities across California where vets cannot perform the declawing operation. These include Berkley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood. The city council in Denver City, Colorado, has also banned the surgery. Declawing is also banned in many other countries, including the UK, and parts of Australia and Europe.

Pet parents considering the surgery are often concerned about whether it’s cruel to declaw their feline friends. Removing a portion of the toe changes how a cat’s paw sits on the ground, which shifts weight and can cause back pain. In addition to chronic pain, there are many other potential physical and mental risks associated with the surgery.

Aside from potential infection, cats can also experience tissue necrosis, lameness, nerve damage, and even nail regrowth if not done correctly. These issues can cause lifelong pain and immune system weakness and may even require euthanasia.

Declawed cats may also develop other behavioral issues after the surgery. Pet owners have to replace litter with shredded newspapers and other alternatives while the wound heals, which may result in them rejecting litter later on. Cats may also experience depression or PTSD from the loss of their nails. Some may turn to biting because they no longer have claws for defense.

The surgery is usually performed before a cat reaches six months, but adult cats can undergo the surgery as well. However, the younger the cat, the faster the wound will typically heal. Adult cats would also be used to having full access to their claws, which would make the adjustment process more difficult.

Alternatives to Declawing Your Cat

Typically, veterinarians only consider declawing as a last resort. However, there are several options that pet parents can consider when dealing with a cat that loves tearing up furniture. Whether you can solve the problem with extra enrichment or a quick kitty pedicure, there are multiple avenues to consider before surgery.

The most obvious alternative to declawing would be shortening your cat’s claws with a standard pet nail trimmer. Cutting down the nails can help avoid damage to furniture and other surfaces. Cat parents have also had success with redirecting scratching behaviors to scratching posts. Cat trees and other scratching surfaces can provide a great alternative, especially when laced with catnip.

Another option cat parents have had success with is special nail caps. Nail caps are specialty products specifically used to treat scratching issues. They’re similar to acrylic nails for humans and can be glued directly to the nail. When applied correctly, the cat should be able to fully extend its nails, but the cap will create a rounded end to prevent damage. The caps will fall off naturally as the nail grows out.

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The Cost of Declawing Your Cat

The cost of declawing a cat can range anywhere from $100 to over $800, but certain pet insurance companies and alternatives can help cover part of the cost.

An onychectomy is a major surgery that requires general anesthesia and serious aftercare. The price is predominantly impacted by a cat’s age, your vet’s general prices, and any prescriptions for pain management and healing. Many veterinarians do not offer the surgery, which may require you to travel to a clinic that will operate.

Cat parents looking to have the operation might not be able to pay a hefty vet bill out of pocket. Most traditional pet insurance companies do not cover any elective surgeries. That means insurers would not reimburse any pet parents pursuing the operation to rectify behavioral issues. However, there are pet insurance alternatives, like Pet Assure, that offer to reimburse pet parents for a portion of all medical bills.

Luckily, traditional pet insurance will cover declawing surgery when deemed medically necessary by a licensed veterinarian or specialist. That means insurers would reimburse the costs from nail removals for any cat suffering from issues like paw tumors or broken nails.

If you’re looking to buy a pet insurance policy, be sure to compare plans and policies on Insurify. Insurify’s pet insurance comparison tool makes it easy for you to find the best policy for your pet.

Samantha Vargas
Samantha VargasInsurance Writer

Samantha Vargas is a freelance writer for Insurify. She has a background in comparative English literature and film and has produced a variety of journalistic content for the University at Buffalo's independent student newspaper, The Spectrum. She currently works in Buffalo, NY while finishing her master's degree. She spends her free time baking and working with animal welfare groups.