Please note: This post is intended to educate cat parents with declawed cats but we do not support declawing cats. Still, it’s a complex topic and if you want to learn more about both sides of the argument, I highly recommend this article from the BBC.
Sometimes it seems like our cats don’t let the lack of claws slow them down for a second. Declawed cats still seem to do all the things that other cats do and some are even quite adept at catching mice.
But what about climbing? Can a declawed cat climb a tree, fence, or anything else?
While it is possible for front declawed cats to climb trees, fences and other objects it’s not easy for them. Not only does the lack of claws prevent them from gripping trees and other objects, but declawed cats are also missing the last third of each toe which makes their grip even worse.
Instead of the traditional leap, grip, and climbing technique that cats with claws use, declawed cats have to slowly try to shimmy up the tree or leap directly onto low-hanging branches. When it comes to fences, declawed cats usually don’t have much of a problem and they’re able to hold on to the top of the fence with their front paws, lock in with their back claws and then climb over.
But let’s take a closer look at what’s going here and how a declaw impacts a cat’s ability to climb.
Declawing Is Much More Than Just Claw Removal
Before we can really understand how a lack of claws can change a cat’s capacity for climbing, we need to understand exactly what happens during a declaw surgery.
While the name might make it seem like a quick snip of the claws, in reality, it’s way more than that.
The declaw procedure is more accurately described as a phalangectomy or the removal of the toes. In order to actually remove the claw, the entire last third of the toe has to be removed as well. That’s the equivalent of having your finger removed just after your last knuckle.
When you look at your own hand, it makes sense that it would have to be this way. After all, your nails are resilient and if you’ve ever had an injury where the entire nail was removed you know that it will grow back, however slowly.
The only way to take the claw is to take part of the toe.
That means declawed cats are also lacking roughly 33% of their toes which means they have a greatly decreased ability when it comes to gripping trees, fences, and other objects with their toes alone.
Can Fully Declawed Cats Climb?
In most cases, declaw surgery removes the front claws only.
But occasionally a cat will have all four sets of claws removed. Can cats without front or back claws climb?
Without any claws at all, cats will have a very difficult time climbing anything. Not only do these cats lack the ability to grip with their front claws but they also lack the ability to stabilize with their back claws. They have to rely primarily on their ability to jump in order to climb anything.
Most fully declawed cats will still probably be able to climb a heavily carpeted cat tree just by “hugging” their way up but smooth objects like fences or thicker objects like trees may be impossible to climb for fully declawed cats.
Most studies suggest that roughly 20% of cats are declawed and most don’t make a distinction between front only and fully declawed so exact prevalence of this is unclear.
How Does A Declawed Cat Climb A Tree?
The short answer?
Very quickly, or not at all.
For the longer explanation, we’ll need to first look at how a cat with claws climbs a tree. Check out this video of a determined cat trying to catch a squirrel:
The camera work is certainly a little choppy but it shows you just how powerful a cat’s claws can be when it comes to climbing. Notice how once this cat is “locked-in” with their claws they can simply sit and wait to make their next move. Without claws, this just isn’t an option.
In order to climb a tree, a declawed cat needs to move very quickly and use their momentum to reach the nearest branch. Assuming they have them, cats can use their back claws to propel themselves up the tree while using their front claws to guide them.
If the tree is thin enough for cats to wrap around it with their paws, they’ve got a much better chance of climbing it but for larger, thicker trees like the one in the video declawed cats will have an almost impossible time.
Many declawed cats will quickly learn to work around this and you may not even notice the lack of claws. But these cats will also have to be very particular about what trees they try to climb.
How Does A Declawed Cat Climb A 6 Foot Fence?
If a declawed cat can jump high enough, they should have no problem climbing a fence. Especially if they have back claws that they can use to latch on to the fence. For a better idea of what this might look like, check out this video of a cat with claws climbing a fence:
That handsome white cat doesn’t quite make it to the top of the fence but he does get close. With a bit more of a powerful jump, you can easily see how he could reach the top of the fence with his front paws and stabilize with his back claws.
While they can vary quite a bit, most residential fences are 6 feet (183 cm) tall, and according to PetFinder, most cats can clear 5 feet or more without a running start. That means with a little effort and athleticism even declawed cats reach the top of the fence with their front paws. Despite the lack of claws, these cats should be able to get a grip on the top of the fence- at least enough to finish the movement and reach the other side.
That means 6 feet is right on the edge of what’s possible for declawed cats to climb and anything taller will be much more difficult or even possible for cats without claws. Similar to the issue of climbing trees, declawed cats need to move quickly from the group to the top of the tree.
However, many declawed cats will have a very hard time jumping at all as a result of the declaw so you should expect to see quite a bit of variation between individual felines here.
Can Declawed Cats Climb A Cat Tree or Cat Tower?
Yes, declawed cats can still climb cat trees! Even if they have had all their claws removed, including the back claws, cats can still jump high enough to easily navigate their way to the top of the tree. If they have their back claws, cats can usually shimmy their way up by gripping the columns with their front paws and boosting themself up with hind claws.
Not only can declawed cats climb trees but they’ll also be happy to use them! We’ve put together a list of our favorite cat trees for declawed cats that are a bit easier for our clawless feline friends. These trees including plenty of platforms for navigating and even a few with ramps.
Declawed Cats Still Shouldn’t Go Outside
Just because declawed cats can climb doesn’t mean they should be allowed to go outside- it’s simply too dangerous for a declawed cat.
When cats are in a fight or flight situation, they have dozens of ways they can protect themselves (and some are a lot less elegant than others) but one of the most important is climbing. Cats need to be able to climb up a tree quickly and efficiently. They also can’t be picky about what fences or trees they climb.
Without claws, cats just aren’t able to confidently climb any random tree and that can truly lead to a life or death situation.
Not only that, but a cat’s front claws are one of their most important tools for creating distance between them and a potential threat. Teeth and back claws can only be used when the threat is very close to a cat.
But with front claws, cats can defend themselves from a distance. While it might not seem like much to us, creating a little extra distance with front claws can make a huge difference in a true fight or flight situation.
Some folks might be surprised to learn that declawed cats can climb anything, let alone tough-to-climb things like trees and fences. But our adaptable feline friends are more than capable of making it work- at least with back claws.
But if cats are completely clawless they’re going to have a very hard time climbing much of anything besides a cat tree.
Because they can’t climb as quickly or efficiently, declawed cats should not be allowed to go outside. It’s simply too dangerous for them! Still, not being able to climb is far from the main reason for avoiding declaw surgery. Not only is the procedure painful, but it can cause a variety of unwanted behavior problems as well.
Instead of declawing, it’s worth checking out all the possible alternatives to a declaw surgery before making that decision.