My Cat’s Still Hurting After Her Declaw. Help!

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

We had our cat Samantha declawed about six weeks ago She’s a big cat, 20 pounds, and about 6 years old. She doesn’t want to jump off anything and mostly lays around in the bedroom and looks sad. When she does walk, she walks really slow like she’s tiptoeing around. She doesn’t want us to touch her front feet. She even lays down to drink water. What can we do to help her?

~ Brenda

Siouxsie: Before we even start to answer your question, Brenda, we want to speak to our other readers. We know that many of you have very strong feelings about declawing — and rightly so — but we ask you to please refrain from making nasty comments. Any shaming or cussing will be deleted.

Mia is a front-declawed cat available for adoption through PAWS in Lynwood, Wash.

Mia is a front-declawed cat available for adoption (as of March 15, 2012) through PAWS in Lynwood, Wash. If you want a declawed cat, we recommend searching Petfinder or inquiring at shelters in your area. Click the photo to go to Mia's Petfinder page.

Thomas: There! Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business. In order to help you understand why your cat is in pain, we’ll explain what declawing surgery is: it’s the amputation of the third joints of your cat’s front toes. That third joint is like the joints on the ends of your fingers where your fingernails are.

Siouxsie: Dahlia, where are you? You’re late! …. oh, *sniffle* that’s right …

Thomas: There, there, Siouxsie. We must carry on. *sniffle*

Siouxsie: Yes, yes we must. *sniffle, sigh* Anyway, Brenda. Amputating the ends of a cat’s front toes results in a lot of pain, especially considering that cats carry about 60 percent of their weight on their front legs.

Thomas: The information we’ve read on recovery from declawing indicates that your cat really shouldn’t be reluctant to walk after about a week post-surgery. The fact that Samantha is still in such obvious pain after six weeks is a red flag to us: We think you need to call your vet and tell him or her what’s going on.

Siouxsie: Sometimes declawed cats develop infections in the paws.

Thomas: Another thing that can happen with declaw surgery is that if the cat’s nail bed isn’t completely removed, the claws can grow back, deformed, inside the paws.

A diagram of clawed vs. declawed cat toes.

Clawed vs. declawed cat toes. Click to embiggenate the picture for easy reading. Image courtesy of Little Big Cat

Siouxsie: A cat’s body undergoes a lot of changes after declawing. Removing that last phalange (finger joint) causes other tendons and ligaments in the forelegs to over-contract or over-expand, which can cause a cascading effect on other parts of the body.

Thomas: For more information about this, check out this article written by veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve about the physical consequences of declawing.

Siouxsie: We don’t know if your cat is big because she’s a big-framed cat like a Maine Coon or a Bengal, or if she’s overweight. One of the best things you can do to manage a declawed cat’s pain is to ensure that she’s not obese.

Thomas: If Samantha is overweight, please work with your vet to develop a diet and exercise plan to get her back down to an appropriate weight.

Siouxsie: Declawing is pretty much an American phenomenon. The surgery is banned in many other countries. In England, for example, the surgery is outlawed as inhumane and an unnecessary mutilation.

Thomas: We’re not saying this to make you feel bad. We’re more “hissed off” at your vet for not helping you to understand what’s really involved in declawing surgery. We think if you’d known, you probably wouldn’t have had Samantha declawed. After all, there are lots of ways to keep your cat from scratching furniture — or you — that don’t involve such drastic measures.

Siouxsie: Since you can’t make the declaw un-happen, though, the next best thing you can do (after you get her checked out by your vet, of course) is to make it as easy as possible for her to move around with minimal pain.

Thomas: Steps leading to her favorite places, for example, will enable her to walk up without trying to grasp with her now-nonexistent claws and exit without jumping onto the floor and causing pain to her feet.

Siouxsie: Work with your vet on pain management. Pain management is tricky in cats because NSAIDs, the most common non-narcotic pain relievers, are too toxic to cats to use long-term. Integrative medicine techniques like acupuncture can offer some relief.

Thomas: We hope you can get Samantha sorted out. If things have gone seriously wrong, there are veterinarians who do declaw repair surgery to correct the problems that lead to chronic pain in declawed cats.

Siouxsie: As for the rest of you — if you really want a declawed cat, there are zillions of them in shelters all across the United States. A quick search on Petfinder yielded 89 of them in one Seattle zip code — and that gorgeous orange cat at the top of this article is one of them.

  • Cheysuli and Bonnie

    Eons ago when the world was a much younger place and declawing was only starting to be discussed as inhumane, the Woman worked for a vet who did declawing. After that amount of time, yes there is likely something going on. It shouldn’t be a problem to have it checked out.

    However, depending upon her age (and six is older for this surgery) she might not be in pain so much as she is reacting to the fact that her paws feel wrong. She was used to things feeling one way when she did something and now it’s new. She isn’t sure what will cause pain and what won’t. She also isn’t sure why there is a change and she is favoring her toes to make sure that nothing else comes along and hurts her. Think about your own body after an injury–you protect that area a little bit more until you know it’s not going to hurt.

    Still we strongly recommend having a vet check it out to be sure there isn’t anything wrong.

  • Charlie

    We are firm believers in not declawing cats and have never had it done. As our little girls are a part of our family we have looked for ways to solve the problem. We buy old second hand furniture so if it gets ruined we junk it and buy another. We’ve learned to use extra sweaters etc when they give us a loving session. We understand why it is done but respect our girls to much . All the equipment Cats are provided with are natures bounty and should be looked at that way, Please take her to the Vet and find out what’s wrong we’ve heard of similar problems after declawing before and without a Vets help she may not survive

  • Meowmy

    Declawign a cat over 1 year cna be extrememly painful adn traumatic for the cat. Most vets refuse to do any cat byond 18 months old. No matter what side of the issue you are, if done as a kitten usually they heal much faster with less residual pain and get used to the new way of having to use those paws much easier. A vet check is definately recommended and probably some meds for residual pain if nothing else is found. I adopted a kitten 6 months old who had been declawed 6 weeks prior at th etiem he was neutered and he began limping. A vet check showed no infection but he was given some short-term pain medication and within 3 days was better. Glad to report all is well with him.

  • Anita Biers

    I always tell people to decide what is more important, their furniture or the animal. If you rent I know it is difficult. Many declawed cats do fine so I would take her back to the vet. Good luck.

  • Dee

    All I have to add to the parent of this precious kitty is please do not dump her at a shelter because her personality will never be the same. It alters the mental and emotional make up of a cat when declawed and so many are thrown away because of post declawing behavior. They have done nothing to deserve losing their home. Please do not do this to another cat in the future!

  • Critter mom

    I too made the mistake of having my first cat declawed by the advise of my vet.
    That was 15 years ago and I have never gotten any of my
    Adopted cats declawed since, however my declawed
    Cat walked with a limp until the day he passed away
    And when he got older the arthritis was awful
    But he was still the love of my life for 17 years
    Live and learn and take your kitty to the vet

  • Donna

    I hope your kitteh feels better soon!

  • Romeo the Cat

    I hope that Samantha feels better soon!

  • Pam

    Hi Brenda:
    I feel for you and your kitty. I agree with everyone else take you kitty back to the vet. I just had to have a stray we took in declawed two days ago. I have been trying for six months to trim her nails and she wanted nothing to do with being held. She used a scratch pad and not my furniture, but it was not helping with her nails and they were bothering her. Then when day she got startled and jumped up and put a gash in my face from my nose to my mouth requiring 4 stitches for me and a permanent scare. She did not do it on purpose so there was no way I would get rid of her. After talking to my vet and wanting to help her with her claws I had her declawed. She actually sounded like she was wearing high heel shoes as she walked across the floor. Anyway it is her 2nd day of declawing and you would not know she was even declawed, except for the shaking of the paws. I can’t’ even get her to take any more of the pain medicine. She is moving a little slower, but is already going up and down stairs and jumping up on furniture. I HOPE your kitty gets better soon and you have many years with her. :) Declawing is not always a bad thing. I do have another cat that is not declawed because I can hold her to clip the nails.

  • Kathryn

    My Mom declawed our cat at a time when declawing wasnt as questioned. We only declawed his front paws. However, I have heard of these silicon claw caps that you can put on your kitty’s claws to prevent them from scratching your furniture if you’re the type who would like nice furniture and be able to keep a cat at the same time. When it comes time to get another cat (our cat is a one cat type), we will invest in these silicon claw caps for the new kitty.

  • mama

    I had to declaw my cat. I was to either get rid of my child’s companion animal (she’s for severe separation anxiety, and the cat has helped so very, very much) Unfortunately I am a single mother of 6 (my ex walked out on us for another women and her children after 13 years of marriage. So I am not in these circumstances by choice) with my only income being minimum disability payment, no alimony or child support). So we have to live in government housing. The main reason was that the choice was to declaw or get rid of her because of the rules of where we live. Her only unwanted behavior was to attack everyone while they slept scratching faces, hands, belly, backs etc. which caused scaring on our skin that is very noticeable because of our skin tone. Locking her in the bathroom all night was hard on her and the rest of us. She is very vocal and stayed that way all night. If anyone needed to use the restroom she zipped out and a house hunt had to commence to find her. I believe that she attacked us because she was playing all night and the random, unexpected movements of sleep made an un-resistable reason for her to think we were playing with her. We were all very sad to have to make the choice but having our family avoid loosing yet another member was not what we choose. So we have a declawed cat, I’m not proud of it, but I am thankful we had the choice. We all work together to make her life as easy and nice as we can and she seems to be quite happy that we didn’t abandon her. Sometimes there are reasons people are forced to make decisions we normally never would have and some cat behavior is not just a matter of training or education.

  • Kat

    Im so sorry I had to declaw, but really I had very little choice. I adopted a beautiful stray kitten that my daughter found during a bad winter storm. I made her a room, planned for when she was 6 weeks old to take her home. I took her to the vet and signed up for qa wellness package, I researched everything or so I thought. I had 4 different types of scratching posts and soft paws. I could only get them on her front feet as she hated me touching her back feet and would bite. Then she chewed off several applications of the soft paws. The problem is you cant take them off once they are on, but they do randomly fall off too. One day She Ran across the couch because somethign caught her eye and she put a 4 inch claw gash on my lower leg,
    Then I put soft paws on her hind legs too, as they grew out, they would get caught on toys and carpet as she played and there was no way to know if one had fallen off, then I would get scratched by her random running. The problem is I am a diabetic, I cannot handle scratches, they swelled up and got infected.