Why is this procedure so controversial?
People have fingers that are super dexterous: used to grip objects, give high fives, type, play instruments, write, mould/sculpt/draw/paint art, play video games, tactile senses etc. Cats have paws with only basic functions of ambulation, digging/covering their excrement, playing with toys, catching prey, and defense. Their toes are very important for each of these functions. Removing the nails actually removes the last bone of each toe because they are fused together. Imagine going through life without the tips of your fingers. Now imagine having to bear your body weight on the tips of your stubs.
Cats are considered digitigrade, meaning they walk on their toes versus people who are plantigrade, we walk on the whole foot. Taking away the tips of cats toes changes the way they walk. Their digital pad is resting right underneath the 3rd (distal) phalanx, the one that would be removed with an onychectomy. Cats need to still be able to walk, so they learn how to distribute their weight unnaturally on their 2nd phalanx. This change in stance can cause arthritis and joint pain which is a chronic condition, often progressing as they get older. As housecats can lead sedentary lives, they are more prone to obesity, further perpetuating the pain.
If a cat associates pain when performing a certain activity, they will try to change the way they do that activity to relieve or minimize that pain. The pain in the toes can lead to not wanting to touch kitty litter to cover up their excrement thus creating inappropriate elimination habits. Immediately after the procedure when they have holes in their toes, a larger size litter is best (Yesterday’s News, shredded newspaper) so as to not get small granules stuck inside the incision and cause an infection. Many cats get too stressed if the litter is changed from what they’re used to and can be prone to inappropriate elimination from that as well.
One of the stipulations of owning a declawed cat is they are now limited to living indoors only. If by some unforeseen circumstance where someone leaves a door open, a storm comes through and damages the house, you get into a car accident while transporting the cat, or the cat expertly sneaks through when someone is coming or going, that cat is pretty much defenseless outside. They have no way to catch prey, let alone their inability to defend themselves or even climb a tree out of danger’s reach. Even inside a building, other household pets, children, and other people with poor handling will be bitten instead of scratched as their only remaining form of defending themselves. This can lead to nasty bite wound infections, very stressed out cats and owners, and severe aggression when in stressful circumstances such as a trip to the vet.