Is it really that bad to have cats or kittens declawed? Will it harm them in the long run?


This is one of those tough questions that has ethical and moral considerations as well as medical. I will try to point out all the things to consider.

First, we know for a fact that indoor cats live longer, generally less “injurious” lives—they do not have to contend with coyotes, hawks and owls, cars, or potentially fatal diseases like FIV or FeLV. So the first decision to make is “Will my cat go outdoors?”

Sometimes owners have barn cats, to rid the area of mice and rats. That is a valid argument for some people, and as long as those cats are neutered and vaccinated, I don’t see a real problem with that.

But house cats that go outdoors are predators that kill native songbirds, lizards, small snakes, and small mammals that are part of our ecosystem. They are also exposed to more dangers than indoor cats, as well as being exposed to parasites that can be brought in the house. Indoor cats are safe from all those things, but is it fair to keep a cat locked up indoors all day? Are they bored? These are moral questions that have to be addressed by individual owners.

Now, if you decide to let your cat outdoors unsupervised, you should not declaw them. It leaves them at a fighting disadvantage and hard to defend themselves. If you have them indoors, there are veterinarians and animal welfare groups on both sides of this issue. So I will offer my two cents.


The surgery consists of removing the last third of every toe on the front feet (we generally
don’t do the back feet except for very specific reasons). That’s right—the bone is removed at the last joint, and that will include the nail. So the cat loses a part of every toe, not just the claw. Then some doctors close the skin with skin glue, some with sutures, or some do not close the skin. The feet are bandaged for one to two days and then the wraps are removed.

If adequate pain control is obtained and if the surgeon does a good job, there are minimal
complications with the procedure and most cats/kittens recover OK. And there are no studies to show long-term psychological or behavioral problems caused by this procedure that I am aware of. Now, that doesn’t mean there can’t be complications from the surgery or anesthesia—those can happen even to the best of surgeons.


So please discuss all your thoughts about this surgery with your veterinarian. There are many alternatives to declawing: Soft Paws®, nail trims, scratching posts, behavioral modifications, to name a few. And if you want the cats to go outside, please let them out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to avoid peak foraging times for wildlife. Or better yet, keep cats in your yard or teach them to walk on a leash. Yes! They can learn to walk, but on a harness, not a collar—that is just insulting and way too dog-like.

What can I do at home to keep my pet’s teeth healthy?

By far the single best thing to do at home is brush your pet’s teeth. In order to really make a difference, you should be brushing them three to four times a week. As for you and me, brushing everyday would be the best. You can use a regular toothbrush, or for smaller dogs they make really great finger brushes. But make sure that you are using toothpaste made especially for animals, which you can get at your local pet store or at the nearest veterinary office.

If brushing is too much of a challenge, there are some oral rinses or plaque prevention gels like Oravet that can be used in conjunction with other things. In addition to brushing and rinses for canines, we like to recommend that they chew on things to keep their teeth clean. There is a Veterinary Prescription Diet that has been clinically proven to help with plaque and tarter. Products like rawhides, Greenies, Dentabones, or Nylabones are some great chewing products for your canine’s teeth. When looking for products to use, make sure they have the
symbol VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council). The VOHC is a group of veterinary dental experts that have tested these products and know how they work.

Daniel Levenson, D.V.M., operates the Southwest Veterinary Medical Center at the south end of Corrales Road. Visit his website at Send your questions care of