Runaway Claw: Regrowth Occurs After Declawing


The story of a claw resurfacing in the top of a declawed cat’s paw sounds like a myth. When we adopted Laverne – a previously declawed cat – this summer, we had no idea she would show us just how real this painful experience can be.

As I write this entry, Vernie is in surgery. I accidentally discovered a problem when I was petting a paw gently with one finger and felt something odd, then saw the claw and realized this was a front foot and the top of the foot at that. She hissed at me for the first time and ran off. By the time I was able to get a really good look, she had pulled the claw out, leaving only an inflamed area barely visible between and above her front toes, under her fur.

I’d been concerned from the time we adopted her after noticing her paw pads did not look as even and balanced as the other declawed cats I had seen. She had probably pulled the claw off many times before; the vet and I both checked her paws on previous occasions and did not find any visible issues.

If my original cat, Kisses, had not arrived declawed 10 years ago, I probably would have declawed her based on the misconception I still hear often: “That’s just what you do with indoor cats.” Since then, I have learned not just about the surgery, which severs toes at the first joint, but also how unnecessary it is. It’s easy to give Kitty a chance at keeping her claws while you keep your furniture intact, and I have additional tips for anyone with an already-clawless kitty.

How to Keep Those Claws

First, ignore the short scratching posts available at many pet supply stores. Walk away! Cats need a full stretch, and the best way to protect your furniture is to give them a more attractive option for stretching and scratching. Some posts will tip over easily, which is not fun. You want, and they want, a tall, sturdy post.

If you’d like to build a post, consult the Cats International Web site. Instructions are also offered by Pam Johnson-Bennett in her books “Cat vs. Cat” and “Think Like a Cat,” with the latter containing more detailed directions.

Feline behaviorists have recommended several scratching posts, and we own two of the three towers mentioned below. The prices are higher than most short posts, but these effective, durable products are worth the investment.

• Felix Katnip Tree, recommended by Anitra Frazier in “The New Natural Cat.” Felix produces a large, 28-inch, four-sided post wrapped in sisal (including the top of the post) plus other scratching products.
• TopCat, recommended by Johnson-Bennett in “Cat vs. Cat.” A full 32 inches tall, the TopCat has a small indentation on top for holding a toy.
• Ultimate Scratching Post by SmartCat, recommended by Kirsten Kranz of Cats International and Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue. A padded red perch can be added to the top of this post.

Another suggestion about scratching posts: stick with sisal or rope coverings. I have seen some contraptions with multiple posts of carpet and wood, but such a smorgasbord of scratching surfaces may be a bad idea unless you want to teach Kitty how fun it is to rip into your carpeted floor or wooden table legs.

Soft Paws can be applied by you, your veterinarian or groomer. According to a Cats International article, “Many apartment managers who previously required cats to be declawed are accepting Soft Paws vinyl nail caps or the evidence of a good scratching post.”

Deterrents such as “Sticky Paws,” a double-sided tape, can make furniture and other surfaces unpleasant to Kitty. More ideas are available from the resources mentioned above.

If you are planning to add a cat to your feline family, focus on compatible personalities, not whether one cat is declawed and another is not. Laverne is from a multi-room shelter which crated the cats only at night and for naps, and most of her roommates were clawed. Her Persian “sister,” Beatrice, will never be declawed, and the two get along well.

As she shimmies up her scratching post like a monkey, flexes beautiful intact paws and captures her toys in one swat, Beatrice displays abilities Laverne can no longer fully enjoy.

Help for an Already Declawed Cat

Clawed cats naturally exercise their front muscles through their scratch-and-stretch behaviors, and inviting a declawed cat to mimic these motions can be pleasant for the cat as well as beneficial. Consider a cardboard scratching ramp available from many pet supply stores and easily laced with catnip or a tall, inviting sisal post designed for a clawed cat.

Obviously, never let a declawed cat outdoors since it will be virtually defenseless, unable to claw an attacker or run up a tree.

Checking your cat’s paws is a good habit, whether the cat is clawed or declawed, and your vet can offer a more detailed inspection particularly if the cat is already anesthetized for teeth cleaning or another procedure.

Longhaired cats are good at hiding skin-level issues, and with their wild roots, felines are particularly gifted at hiding suffering. (Hiding pain is a defense mechanism designed to keep predators from spotting weakness and vulnerability). Laverne never limped, but perhaps some of her jumpiness may have been inspired by pain rather than a nervous temperament.

My vet said he has seen claw regrowth but never from the top of the foot like Laverne’s. He believes she had a “nontraditional declaw,” perhaps using a single instrument like a clipper or cutter. I just spoke with his office and learned her surgery went well. She’ll be home soon.

Photo of Vernie: Candace Schilling

10 Responses to “Runaway Claw: Regrowth Occurs After Declawing”

  1. angela says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! Many cat owners just aren’t aware of the potential problems declawing can and does cause for cats.

    I hope Laverne is feeling better soon!

  2. Jason says:

    Thank you for the declawing story. Majority of veterinary associations only recommend declawing as last resorts. Data shows that only 40% of cat owners own a scratching post (of those 40%, who knows how many of them keep the scratching post at an inconvenient place for their cats). I have multiple scratching posts and pads around my house and I have no problems with my cat, Slinky. Slinky’s favorite scratching pad is a door-hanging-catnip-filled-carpet pad. I was able to get it for under $6 at one of the big box pet stores. Since he is a large cat (over 3 feet long and 14 pounds) he has learned to leverage his size and strength to open doors. We now are careful what doors the scratching pad is connected too :0).

  3. Linda's Cats says:

    I only know of one case where i felt declawing was a “viable” but as you say, very very last resort option.

    An acquaintance of mine has “controlled” AIDS, in that he’s on meds but has not gone into full remission. Due to the bacteria under the nail, cat scratches caused the whole area of the scratch to become extremely painful, puss infected, and require emergency medicine. The infection put his life at risk if he was in a vulnerable stage any given time of the year. Unfortunately, this was in 1997, and they didn’t have “soft paws” back then. and i know he’d have done that rather than declawing.

    Thank god for soft paws, by the way. They are such a good way to prevent small (the cat is scratching my furniture) and large (the cat scratched my cancer-sick child) problems with cats scratching.

  4. Linda's Cats says:

    By the way, i remember in teh 1980s, when i was a teen, that owners of dogs used to have noisy dogs “debarked”. is this *ever* still done? or was it a rare thing that quickly went into the “that’s just torture” bin?

  5. The Lioness says:

    Linda’s Cats, I sure hope not!

    I’m glad Vernie’s surgery went well.

    Thank you for this informative article.

    I, personally, would never DREAM of declawing, but I know that once in a while, a declawed cat comes into our lives. It’s good to know how to help them.

    ~The Lioness

  6. anon says:

    I regularly trim my cats’ (eight kitties) claws with a clipper designed just for that. Sometimes you’ll find that some trimmers aren’t as sharp as others, but since they’re very affordable keep looking/purchasing until you find one that snips claws cleanly and neatly. If you do this from a very young age they don’t mind at all. It’s also a great way to have some personal time with kitty to check/clean ears, teeth, coat and skin. It’s like a mini spa/health check for kitty. Stay calm, speak lovingly, and ensure you don’t cut the quick.

    It’s also amazingly easy to design and construct your own scratching post. Go to your local, or big box, hardware store to purchase rope or sisal. Wrap tightly around a scrap board or sturdy cylinder. Anchor safely so kitty doesn’t tip it over. Rewrap as needed.

    Sorry to relay horrible news to you, Linda’s Cats, but yes–there are those who still “debark” their dogs. It’s an atrocious practice. I also think the shock collars used to silence dogs are disgusting. Assertive, consistent, positive behavior training (and exercise) is the way to go if your pet has barking issues.

    Thanks for the article, Candace Schilling. Get well soon, Vernie.

  7. Cate says:

    I have tall scratching posts in our den, living room and the cats room (converted guest bedroom). I also have the cardboard incline scratchers in those rooms as well as one that hangs on the door of the cats room.

    As for debarking dogs, if you read about puppy mills you will find that most debark their dogs and they don’t do it as veterinary procedure - they use a pipe down the throat.

  8. Detrius says:

    Question: I have two cats, one is clawless and the other with claws. Is this safe? I’ve notice recently that the cats continue to fight and the clawless cat is always crying out for help. Should I just give the claw cat to another family member?

  9. Donna says:

    Oh my gosh, go ahead and say it “It’s your own fault”. I know my cats claws are trying to come back in and the vet took xrays and said he couldn’t see anything wrong with them. She has has this ungodly drainage for over three months. No meds help nor the black drawing salve they gave me. Now it’s going up her leg , he skin is falling off and it’s in her lymph node under her front leg. I don’t have a job and can’t pay to get her help. I feel like someone should shoot me or the landlord I had and can’t handle telling the kids that someone will have to put her down. She is a russian blue, 18 lbs , bundle of love and just not herself. She eats, goes to the bathroom like normal but I know she is suffering so much that is hurts my heart. The vet also did the parasite, bacteria swabs and nothing is there so what else could it be. Her foot was HUGE at first and now is down to half the size of her other front foot. Can anyone help me ? Advice on free health care ? My life sucks and so does her’s. I haven’t had nor been able to find a job since November and I fear I will find her laying dead somewhere. God help me please !!!

  10. everycat says:

    Donna, you urgently need to go to another vet. Find one who does not do declawing as only a vet who refuses to mutilate cats can be trusted to find out what is really wrong with your poor cat. Vets who declaw don’t ever give an honest appraisal of the terrible problems this mutliation causes. I hope you can find a way to help your poor cat. Please find a non-declawing vet asap - today! Borrow the money from family or friendsor sell stuff to pay to help your cat.

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