Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Are declawed cats scaredy-cats? (I think so)

Popoki the cat on her stairs

Popoki the cat looks pretty darn relaxed in the photos I take of her. She knows me, she knows the camera and she knows the space where photo shoots take place. This is a controlled environment, and as a result, she has nothing to be afraid of. She seems to know that.

But if I changed even one thing about that formula, I'd have very different photos. A new human, a new sound or a new object would send her running. And a new cat? She'd scream in fear.

Why is she like this? I have a few theories. But there's one I like best. I think it has to do with her declaw surgery at 6 months of age.

Popoki the cat looking up

Cats use their claws in a very specific way. A cat that feels threatened or upset can give a whack with claws out and put the intruder human or animal on notice. A claw swipe is just enough to help a cat transmit fear, but it's not so aggressive that it means the cat must followup with a full-blown biting attack.

Cats that are naturally reticent (which Popoki probably is) use their claws quite a bit. They swipe at veterinarians, at house guests and other cats. They carve out space with their claws.

If you take a cat's claws from them, that leaves these cats with no real way to display their discomfort. They must either run or prepare for a full-on attack when they're threatened. And since they don't have all the weaponry they might use in a full-blown attack, they know they'll go into fights they can't win.

What would you do? You'd run. Whenever you faced something that made you nervous, you would run.

Popoki the cat looking angry

People who continue to support declaw surgery (even now, there are people who do this) often say that cats without claws are no worse for wear. They say cats without claws adjust.

But I think the adjustments these cats make are adjustments that can make them a little harder to live with. These are cats that can seem suspicious, eternally on guard and essentially alone. They behave that way due to their trauma. And that trauma is something we can't understand or really fix.

The best way to combat the continuing ignorance of people who support declaws is to remind them of the stories of cats like Popoki. Give them specific instances of cats who weren't "just fine" after a declaw. Help them to see the truth for what it is.

Want to do more? I recommend the Paw Project. Your donations help to keep that advocacy work going. It's advocacy so many cats like Popoki will benefit from.

And just in case you think Popoki is alone in her behaviors, come back on Thursday. I have a story to share about another shelter cat (and declaw victim) that's looking for a home. He'll need our help, and I'm hoping you can join in!


  1. I only have experience with one, a cat of a family I babysat for. She wasn't fearful, but she did go straight to BITING during play!

  2. I have had several declawed cats (rescues that were declawe when I got them) including one polydactyl whose feet were almost to the point of being deformed (as they had developed) so that I definitely feel the declawing made it even more difficult for him. They definitely had some quirks that could very well have been the result of declawing. They were definitely more withdrawn - until I read this I had not thought to attribute it to anything except the general "quirkiness" of cats, but knowing the trauma involved, that makes sense.

  3. Declawing is a barbaric, and it should be banned here, as it is in many countries. You are so right about there being behavioral issues that result from declawing. We've seen it at the shelter with declawed cats who come in. We are glad Popoki has a safe, understanding and loving forever family.

  4. Coming from a country where we just don't practice declawing, I was utterly horrified when I realized that roughly 25% of North American cats have their toes removed! I didn't know it existed until I moved to Canada, where in some provinces it's still widely practiced. The excuses given for being pro-declaw are so baseless to the point of absurdity.

    The bottom line is that the majority of countries have made it illegal which means that millions of cats and cat owners around the world are living together with their clawed cats.

    I'm just so saddened for cats that continue to have to go through this horrible surgery. In my circle I have asked friends and colleagues to please not go through with the surgery for their new cat, showing them the pawproject video, but to no avail. It's always "my cats were always declawed". It requires a real mind shift and I hope some day people will get it. Popoki is in good company.