Declawed Cat Grows Painful, Spiraling Nail After Owner Amputates Cat's Knuckles

A healthy cat playing. Julian Schroeder on Flickr

Paws have claws. That's one of nature's laws.

But some cat owners believe that they should get their cats "declawed," or to have their fingers and toes cut off at the last knuckle. To others, this declawing process is tantamount to mutilation.

Veterinarian Rachel Fuentes posted on Facebook the gruesome aftermath of a cat that had undergone a declawing procedure where part of the nail tissue was left accidentally. Rarely, viable nail tissue gets left behind, and as the nail cannot grow out and become worn down, it can grow in a spiral embedded in the flesh. In this case, the nail burst open the cat's wrist in a mass almost as big as a ping-pong ball.


The aftermath of a declawing procedure that Fuentes says wasn’t done as appropriately as it could have been. Courtesy of Rachel Fuentes / @RachelFuentesDVM on Facebook and Instagram /

The process of declawing a cat, or onychectomy, involves amputating the distal phalange, or the first knuckle of the paw, using a tool similar to a cigar cutter or a laser. This elective procedure requires anesthesia and pain management as the cat heals from having his or her tendons severed.

Historically, some vets would recommend the declawing procedure without being asked and without explaining the risks, as surgery is part of a vet's income. According to the Paw Project, a 2003 survey of 20 Los Angeles–area vet hospitals found that 75 percent of vets agreed to declaw cats without asking why or suggesting alternatives. However, that goes against the American Veterinary Medicine Association's guidelines.

The AVMA recommends that declawing should only be performed after exhausting all other methods of minimizing cat scratches, and only if the owner is educated about the risks of the procedure. Today, many vets refuse to declaw animals without medical necessity, which is now illegal in Los Angeles.

While this cat was declawed 12 years ago at the clinic where Fuentes works, times have changed, and so have the staff and management. They now do not perform declaws unless mandatory for a pet's health. If someone comes to their clinic asking for an elective declawing, the vets will explain why it's not a good idea.

"The number-one thing is client education," Fuentes told Newsweek. "Because sometimes people don't know. Maybe they had a declawed cat when they were younger, and now they're adults and they're getting their own cats, and they just think that a cat is supposed to be declawed." Instead, she educates them about alternatives.

She explains her thoughts in a video:

The AVMA also published a literature review on the welfare effects of declawing. Despite anecdotes of declawed cats becoming less friendly, the review asserts that clinical evidence doesn't link declawing to behavioral problems. However, they note that it is an acutely painful procedure, can cause infections and can even cause lifelong pain.

More humane alternatives to declawing include putting gel caps over the claws, trimming them or teaching the cat not to scratch things. You can give a cat a scratching post and reward him or her for using it, understand how to train a cat and learn to understand their body language so they don't scratch you for bothering them.

In some cities and many countries, declawing is considered so inhumane that it is illegal. Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals bans declawing, along with defanging, docking ears and tails, and removing the vocal cords of a pet. There are only a few exceptions to these rules; specifically, when a vet deems the procedures necessary to the animal's well-being. The same goes for Australia, Brazil, San Francisco and, possibly in the near future, Denver.

Fuentes says that the cat in the photo was treated for surgery months ago and has recovered well. But if you want to avoid this risk, consider the alternatives before amputating your pet's toes.