The following photos showcase complications in declawed cats. Though cats are excellent at hiding their pain, they inevitably suffer from many complications from being declawed. Here is what I found during my veterinary examinations of my patients.

I performed these examinations in an SPCA over a few months. While a common argument in favor of declawing cats is that it may protect them against pet abandonment, 25% of cats relinquished to the shelter by their owners were declawed.

Let's start with a head-on view

Here are 10 observations from examining the paws of declawed shelter cats.

  1. Bony protrusions
  2. Calluses
  3. Cysts
  4. Growths
  5. Inflammation
  6. Cutaneous horns
  7. Lacerations
  8. Plantigrade stance
  9. Swollen fingers
  10. Tendon contracture
  11. Bonus: sutures left behind

Bony Protrusions

A declawed no longer has its last phalanx. Without the claw, the tip of the second phalanx, rather than the digital footpads, becomes the point of contact with the ground, creating unnatural stress that thickens the bone (hyperostosis). The bone is visible under the skin.


While calluses are common in cats, declawed ones tend to have an abnormal amount at their amputation sites.


These bubbly structures appear where the claw would normally exit the cat's finger. They are called cysts. Cysts are fluid-filled masses that have many causes. It is plausible that repetitive stomping from the cat walking on their amputation site can lead to fluid build-up.


Growths at the amputation sites have many origins. They can be a portion of unremoved claw regrowing, microabscesses, bone remnants left behind during the surgery, etc.


Any surgery will cause tissue injury, which inevitably leads to inflammation. These photos show inflammation may be present years after the traumatic event. Inflammation is a very reliable indicator of pain.

Cutaneous horns

Cutaneous horns are common in all cats. They consist of abnormal keratin accumulation. They can eventually cause discomfort during locomotion; much like a plantar wart would in people.


Some animals show visible laceration of the digital footpad. Normally, declawing should leave these sensitive structures intact. An overly ambitious stroke of the scalpel is the cause of this painful complication.

Plantigrade stance

Declawing the cat involves the laceration of a tendon that joins the tip of the fingers to the beginning of the forearm. Plantigrade stance occurs because of the biomechanical changes created from declawing. The cat can no longer recruit its muscles properly, causing a collapse that affects the paws and its grip strength. The result is a weight transfer from the fingers to the palm of their paws.

Swollen fingers

Swollen fingers explain in part why many declawed cats are reluctant to have their fingers manipulated. Deep pressure palpation of these swollen appendages often provokes cats to withdraw their paws. Possible causes include infection, bone remnants, claw regrowth, osteoarthritis, etc.

Tendon contracture

Declawing involves the laceration of the tendons that attach to the tip of the fingers. These tendons are responsible for flexing the fingers. The surgery leaves them dangling, to scar in mechanically inefficient locations. Sometimes, the muscles that connect to the tendons contract, creating a curled finger, incapable of extension.

Bonus: sutures left behind

It is a surprising sight for skin sutures to persist several months after the surgery. Normally these sutures should be removed between 10-14 days post-operatively.

The complication rates of declawing vary wildly, anywhere from a small fraction of 1% all the way to 50%. Given that there are millions of cats declawed every year in the United States and Canada combined, post-surgical complications must also be in the millions per year.

Declawing consists of multiple amputations that cause pain, acute and chronic, and prevent the expression of natural behavior by restricting the cat's ability for movement.

When a tendon is damaged, it necessarily weakens the muscles adjoining it, and this also reduces the stability of the joints associated with it. Higher muscles groups must compensate for these deficits, changing the dynamics of every other structure involved in the movement while also decreasing coordination of the paws. Studies have shown that declawed cats have a greater rate of spinal pain than non-declawed cats.

Any pet is reliant on the benevolence of its caregivers; pet owners and veterinarians alike.