Friday, May 24, 2013

Declawing: Smokey Joe's Story

Guest Blogger: Danielle Brendel, Volunteer Adoption Counselor

I had been volunteering as an Adoption Counselor at Animal Friends’ satellite adoption center in Petco for nearly 2 years before I met Smokey Joe, a declawed cat.

I already knew of the dangers of declawing cats and routinely told customers about the negative effects from the surgery.  I was not prepared for what I encountered that day. 

Smokey Joe was brought in with his two sisters. They were frightened so we kept them in a cage together. They seemed to find comfort in each other's company.

I went about wrangling the other cats who were awake and ready to play so I could socialize them and help them burn off some energy outside of their cages. When I got to Smokey Joe, he was asleep on his bed and showed no interest in me.  Smokey Joe and his sisters were all declawed.  Their owner had passed away, and while the family wanted to keep them they were unable to.  I bent down to get on his level and slowly began petting him and trying to coax him out of his cage.  He immediately responded with head butts, sweetly rubbing his face all over my hand.  This was clearly a cat who had been cherished by someone and was used to a home filled with love and attention.

I watched as Smokey struggled to get up from his bed. He seemed reluctant to stand at first. When he finally did I saw that his paws were so maimed from his declawing surgery that he would not walk on his feet. He had resorted to walking on his forearms. 

Unfortunately, most people don't know of the dangers of declawing their cats.  The general public thinks it is an easy procedure just like trimming a person's fingernails.  The truth is that it is a painful and aggressive surgery in which a cats’ bones are amputated.  It is the equivalent of cutting a person's finger off at the last knuckle.  This is very detrimental to a cat's health and well-being, as you can imagine. 

Cats love to be clean and tidy.  They groom themselves and want to use a litter box to bury their waste. It is their instinct. Unfortunately, after declawing, cats can develop what's known as litter box aversion.  Their human family is giving them a rough gravel to dig into, but the litter injures their sensitive feet which have just undergone an amputation. Their natural reaction is to not dig in that litter.  One of the main reasons that cats are turned into shelters in the US is due to defecating outside of the litterbox.  Sadly, these cats are the hardest to find homes for. Sadly, many other shelters are forced to euthanize them.

Cats that undergo this procedure oftentimes develop arthritis prematurely. They are forced to adjust their gait and it effects their hips, spine and legs. 

Another unintended side effect is the tendency to bite.  Cats rely on their claws as a natural defense and when they are removed they tend to rely on teeth instead. 

There are so many alternatives available so that your cat can keep its claws and still live in your home without scratching. Cats like to scratch when they are happy and it is also a  form of exercise for them.  There are many varieties of scratching posts and cardboard scratchers.  Some are vertical and some horizontal.  It helps if you sprinkle a little catnip on them to get your cat into play-mode.

Regular nail trimming is key!  A cat's nails should be trimmed every 2 to 3 weeks. Some cats may not like this at first, but with time and lots of treats most will grow accustomed to the routine.  If they are still difficult to trim, consider visiting an experienced groomer or your vet. 

If a cat keeps going after a particular area, put something on that spot that they will not want to scratch.  You can use double sided tape, or tape a piece of aluminum foil there. After a short time your cat will not like the feel of that surface and will not continue to scratch there and eventually it can be removed.

I consider it an incredible stroke of luck that Smokey Joe and his siblings made it to Animal Friends and that I  am able to share his story to let people know about the dangers of declawing.  I am sure that these cats had been well loved by their previous owner, but that that person had no idea what they were doing to their beloved pets when opting for such a surgery.

That night I got everyone settled into their cages and I did my usual routine of saying goodbye to them and telling the cats one by one that I hoped I never saw them again. I learned this ritual from another volunteer: never seeing them again means that they were adopted and had found their forever home.  

I didn't know that this really would be the last time I saw Smokey Joe, as he was adopted two days later.  I made a promise to him that I would educate people about declawing and its alternatives so that a cat like him would not have to suffer again because their owner did not know of any alternatives to such an unnecessary procedure. 

Learn more about alternatives to declawing with this printable, sharable poster. 


  1. That poor kitty :(
    My indoor cats have their claws and I would never put them in that pain.

  2. If your furniture is more important than a living, breathing cat, then don't get a cat. One should never mutilate an animal to make it fit one's lifestyle. If you truly loved cats, but can not tolerate scratching, please just admire from afar.

  3. Thanks Stephanie for the education, I was always under the impression that declawing was like cutting the cats toes off at the first knuckle, now I find out it is even worse than I thought. I've always had cats & never declawed one & never will. Congratulations to the new cat owners, I Pray they have the Patience to take care of these handicapped cats! Thanks for Volunteering too, I'll bet every day your there you want to take all the animals home with you...I know I would!