Musings of a Veterinarian

Updated: To Declaw or Not to Declaw? That is the Question…of Ethics?

January 20, 2009 By: Dr. K Category: General

It’s a procedure receiving increased scrutiny and notoriety in the 21st century. It has also been highly publicized during various Ate attempts to outlaw it.  It’s the cat declaw. Many heated opinions and myths surround the procedure. When I discuss declawing their kitten with owners, I anticipate one of two responses: “Can you do it today!?!” or “Oh no, that’s so cruel.” That’s hyperbole but it illustrates there are two greatly opposed positions on the matter. I’m not much of a middle-of-the-road minded veterinarian Veterinarian’s but this topic certainly falls in my gray zone.  Here’s to controversy: I perform declaws and I am not ethically opposed to the procedure. And here’s why:

Common Myths:

  • Declawing removes the entire toe.
  • The bone is always cut during the procedure causing tremendous pain.
  • Declawing causes life-long pain.
  • Declawing is painless.
  • Declawing breaks the human-animal bond.
  • Laser surgery is painless surgery.
  • The cat will begin biting because it has lost its defenses.
  • Most declawed cats will develop cheap mlb jerseys some type of severe behavior complication wholesale nfl jerseys as a result of the surgery.
  • The cat will certainly get an infection post-operatively.
  • Cats cannot be trained to use a scratching post. They will definitely destroy your furniture if you don’t have them declawed.

The Facts:

  • Declawing is painful. There is no such thing as a painless declaw. The degree of discomfort is up for debate.
  • Declawing removes part or all of the 3rd phalanx (P3), or tip of the toe.
  • The bone and claw can be spared with a tendonectomy, a procedure that cuts the tendons supporting the nail, though cats are more likely to get their nails wholesale mlb jerseys caught in scratching materials due to lack of the ability to retract their claws. With this procedure there is a chance the nail, when not properly trimmed, can curl into the toe pads.
  • Declawed cats usually completely recover in 1-2 weeks but in rare cases discomfort can be seen for up to two months following surgery.
  • Most veterinarians are conscientious of the varying degrees of pain declawing may cause and use strict prolonged hospitalization and pain medication protocols. My own practice requires a three night stay with cats receiving continuous narcotic pain patches.
  • Having had laser surgery myself, I assure you it is not painless. It may allow for decreased pain or a faster recovery time, but it is NOT painless. Laser surgery is more expensive due to the cost of the Máy technology.
  • Most declawed cats have no idea they are declawed. Felines credited with advanced cognitive ability are the same ones standing up “scratching” the molding, sofa, drapes.  Perhaps a higher thinking human would resort to biting, cats generally do not. No significant correlation has been shown between declawing and inappropriate behaviors like biting and urinating outside the box. This was shown in a 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. (1) Plenty of anecdotal evidence circulates the web concerning development of severe behavior problems, but to the best of the author’s knowledge, no scientific evidence has been reported.
  • There is a small chance of complications following surgery. Infection, excessive bleeding, and an extended Euthanasia recovery period are rare.
  • Older cats tend to take longer to return to normal function than younger cats. Extra weight probably makes weight-bearing more uncomfortable in the initial post-op period.
  • Scratching is a natural behavior all cats engage in and that behavior won’t be stopped, however, a cat can be trained to scratch on appropriate substrates. It is typically easier to train a kitten than an older cat who may have developed an affinity for furniture.

The Procedure:  There are multiple ways to perform a declaw but whatever way you choose proves a simple procedure. I prefer the disarticulation method using a scalpel blade to incise the digit on the soft tissue fold at the joint between the 2nd and 3rd phalanx. I cut the ligaments on either side of the joint. When performed properly, Toronto the bone itself is not cut unlike what can occur using the guillotine method where P3 is cut at the base removing the nail but sometimes leaving a small piece of the bone behind. P3 is then completely removed and surgical tissue glue, sutures, and/or  bandages can be used post-op. Laser surgery involves burning tissue and sealing the hemorrhage while cutting through the digit.

The Opinion: Declawing cats is an elective procedure. Most owners know whether or not they want to declaw their cat before the surgery is discussed. For those who don’t and seek an opinion, I offer the above facts and myths concerning declawing. I encourage them to begin trimming their new kitten’s nails regularly, encourage scratching posts, and encourage environmental enrichment prior to making the decision. I always address the surgical procedure in depth with my clients. Once the decision to declaw is made, I recommend declawing at spay/castration in order to minimize the number of anesthetic procedures and because kittens/young cats recover faster.

It is critically important to ensure proper pain management post-op. Because we can never be sure how painful the procedure truly is, all cats who are declawed should have post-op pain medication.

The temporary discomfort post-op far outweighs relinquishment to the shelter because the cat is destructive. Having been in a shelter situation in the past, it is heart breaking to see owners relinquish their pets due to destructive behavior knowing those animals have an equal shot at certain death versus a new home. The discomfort even outweighs making the cat an “outdoor” cat who runs the risk of being hit-by-car, contracting FelV or FIV, coming home with bite wounds, or not returning home at all – all things I see much more commonly than severe post-operative complications from a declaw.

The Alternatives: Nail are trims every couple of weeks and appropriate scratching substrates are the two easiest ways to squelch inappropriate scratching. These are best implemented in young kittens who are learning behaviors. Another alternative is the application of nail caps, the most popular brand called wholesale jerseys Soft Paws, which are glued on the nail and fall off after a period of time much like a woman’s acrylic nails. These work very well in cats patient enough to sit through the application process. Soft Paws are not always the answer. The major issues I have encountered with them include: cats removing caps, individual caps falling off leaving some nails exposed and some capped, and the length of time it takes to apply them. If you have a cat patient enough to sit through a Soft Paws application, you most likely have a cat who will tolerate a nail trim instead. Nail trims are much easier and less time consuming.

(1) Attitudes of owners regarding tendonectomy and onychectomy in cats., , , , Journal of  the American Veterinary Medical Association Jan 2001, Vol. 218, No. 1: 43-47.

6 Comments to “Updated: To Declaw or Not to Declaw? That is the Question…of Ethics?”

  1. Jan Plant says:

    i have thoroughly researched the procedures used to perform declawing.The one you state in your article,that you use is not the best(as if that’s possible).The laser technique is said to be the fastest and less painful of the three, according to the seven vets I researched.also the cost is not inexpensive.Here in Texas the cost start at $100.00, this is not including all the other things that go with it.Type of anesthetic,amount of time in surgery,or God forbid any complications.Or costs of recovery in hospital stay.
    You Sir,as a vet know,or should know that cats are digitgrades and walk on their toes.Amputating them can and does cause severe pain and severe behavioral problems.
    Do you explain to the owners the procedure? That you will be AMPUTATING the cats toes?Yes sir,I know it is amputation of the first joint, and not the complete toe,but it might as well be.There is nothing sir,in your article that could possibly change my mind,or the minds of INFORMED cat lovers everywhere that what you are doing is barbaric,sadistic,and in fact mutilation of one of the most well loved and beautiful creatures God created.I find it also hard to believe that you do not encourage this procedure in order to further line your pockets.

  2. Michele S. says:

    Another biased article written by a vet who puts client convenience and personal financial gain ahead of the welfare of their patients.

    Have you ever wondered why it is that vets in at least 38 countries refuse to declaw on the grounds that it IS a form of animal cruelty? Instead they prefer to educate clients to accept natural behaviour and provide appropriate outlets for scratching – something that you make no mention of as an alternative to declawing

  3. Your comments spurred me to clarify some points in my post so above is an updated post that may be modified even more in the future.

    The fundamental belief that declawing is cruel is completely dependent on personal perspective. I don’t believe it’s cruel when performed under the pain control recommendations I made above. The anti-declaw supporters have the loudest voice, in part, because the average person who elects to declaw their cat doesn’t shout it from the rooftops. Perhaps these public eviscerations encourage the declawing public to stay mum in order to keep the peace.

    Jan: Personally, I describe the declaw procedure in depth to anyone seeking a declaw whether they want to hear it or not. Some clients then opt out of the surgery and others go forward.

    Michele S: Prior to revisions, I had mentioned scratching posts, scratching substrates, and environmental enrichment as alternatives to declawing on two separate occasions in addition to discussing nail trims/nail covers. Since you missed it, I wondered if others would as well. I added some more information about cat behavior and scratching posts. If you have any relevant material or links on how to train a cat to use these materials feel free to post them.

    Finally, there is nothing I can say to change the minds of folks who believe veterinarians are only concerned with money. Quite frankly, we earn a fraction of the salary of MDs and MBAs who have equal or less education than we have and rarely do we complain about it. When is the last time your general practitioner was accused of only practicing medicine for money? Because veterinary medicine is a cash business, bills tend to bite a bit more than a $20 copay. Many vets volunteer or give away services and allow payment plans for unforeseen expenses without interest for several months. We must remember that practicing veterinary medicine requires running a business. There is no government subsidy, grant, or bailout to keep a hospital afloat. Therefore, prices must meet the financial need of a hospital to continue practicing and growing.

    Mike Richards, DVM, from Vetinfo.com puts it best,

    “Perhaps you have never really considered how a veterinary hospital is funded and what that means for your pet. Human hospitals are supported through government assistance, including programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, tax-relief if they are non-profit and other subsidies. They often have auxiliary organizations providing equipment and volunteer help. Veterinary hospitals are not usually eligible for non-profit status. They are not supported through government assistance, third party insurance payments or community donations in most cases. Veterinarians provide the entire funding for their hospitals through the profits from pet owners who use their services and through accepting much lower average salaries than physicians, despite having nearly identical college requirements and skills. Veterinarians subsidize almost all surgeries, extended hospital stays and especially spay/neuter procedures through the profits from other areas of the hospital, including vaccinations and medications dispensed.”

  4. @Jan Plant. I have recently had my cat declawed, and she is the same cat as before. still cuddles, still plays, and still leaps off my fridge when I catch her getting into her treats. She is in no way crippled, or having any behavioral issues. Being the animal “advocate” you believe yourself to be, what would be worse, taking her to a shelter because she was ruining my furniture/belongings, where she could suffer depression and even euthanasia, or 2 weeks of discomfort so she can stay in her home with her family?

    Dr. K thank you for putting up this article, it is so hard to find someone that will put up an HONEST and unbiased FACTUAL article on this procedure. I searched a long time to find someone like you, because I had to sift through the PETA nonsense. Keep up the good work!

  5. Thank you!

  6. Vincent says:

    Dr. K… thanks for the article, confirmed a lot of what I was thinking.

    Nice responses on those two anti-declaw people… I wouldn’t have been as nice that’s for sure.

    This entire debate really reminds me of what’s going on today (in 2017) with liberals and conservatives. I’m a conservative and believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. Unfortunately liberals (for the most part) believe only their opinion matters and if you think differently you should be shouted down.

    I believe if you think declawing is wrong for your kitten/cat… then don’t do it. And if you believe declawing is right for your kitten/cat… then do it.

    Too bad we have people who feel only their opinion matters.

    By the way… we LOVE animals. I have always had in the back of my mind when I go to a place like PetSmart… if these ‘Pet Haven’ type companies that own the cats took out the nasty-type threats in bold print about YOU CANNOT DECLAW THIS CAT UNDER PUNISHMENT OF XXXXXXXXXXX then so many more of those cats would find homes! I know we were really close to buying one of those cats and decided against it because of the really bold statements about no declawing and how barbaric it is.

    Like Anon said… a couple days/couple weeks of discomfort so the cat can have a home???

    I recently thought about buying a kitten. Guess what the ‘penalty’ is by chance I declaw the kitten..?..?…? $10,000.00!?!!?!!! Come on… really? Do they really think that’s enforceable?

    Lastly… I would like to add… imagine if one of your children lost their eye to a cat scratching them in the face. That almost happened to me at the age of five… I have the scars to prove it. The cat was sitting at the end of the bed, legs folded under… when I proceeded to jump up and scare the cat like the little idiot that I was. It’s what kids do… stupid things. Had the cat been declawed nothing would have happened. I ended up with 15 stitches and was fortunate the cat didn’t get my eye.

    Anyway… thank you for your article/blog.


Leave a Reply