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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Declaw Or Not?

The question of whether or not to declaw a cat is filled with debate and controversy. I talk to clients about this a lot, including a couple of times today. Here's what I talk about with them, and hopefully it will give you some insight if you have to make such a decision with your own pets.

Many people oppose declawing because of the pain and type of surgery. Those are some admittedly good points. Regardless of the method used to declaw, it is a painful procedure. We usually have to remove the last bone in the toe in order to remove the claw, which is a form of amputation. Even if proper pain control is used, the procedure produces more long-term pain than a spay or a neuter. It also has a higher risk of complication and infection because the patient is walking on the surgery sites. Recovery isn't as quick and simple as with most surgeries, even with all proper precautions. Because of these concerns, I don't think declawing should be a routine, standard, and expected procedure in cats.

Scratching and clawing is normal behavior in cats. It helps them remove the old nail sheath and is involved in scent marking. Even declawed cats will sometimes scratch at surfaces because of this natural instinct. This behavior can be directed in an appropriate direction by use of scratching posts and pads. Some cats will prefer one surface over another, so you may have to try several different ones. Trimming the nails every month can also reduce the need to claw, and will reduce any damage when the do.

However, sometimes there is a time and place for declawing surgery. If you have tried all other options and your cat is still being destructive, then consider it. In my opinion, declawing should be a last option, not a first one. However, it can come down to a decision between having the surgery done and giving the cat up for adoption. In cases like that I think it's a clear decision to have the declaw performed.

This isn't an easy decision for many people and shouldn't be done lightly. However, there are good reasons for doing it. Talk to your vet about the pros and cons before making the decision.


  1. Thankfully declawing is illegal in the UK.

    If furniture is so important and nothing else with added environmental enrichment or other ideas have worked rehome the cat.

    Declawing can bring on other behavioural problems that are often not recognised by the owner and some that are like FUS, as the method that the cat has as a natural behavioural outlet has been removed.
    Not to mention the pain of the operation.

    I also have the same feelings on cat claw caps, again totaly cruel. I know several cats that have had FUS because of the stress of them.

    Ear mutilation (clipping into shapes) is also illegal and only done on medical grounds, ie through damage.

    Tail docking is also meant to be illegal but that is still done again. It should only be done on 1) medical grounds 2) if confirmed the dog will be a worker.
    Unfortunatly people flaunt the law on that one including vets.

  2. I have not seen any studies that have proven the link between declawing and urinary problems. At this point I believe that to be speculation rather than proven fact. I've seen far too many cases of urinary disorders in cats with intact claws to believe that this is weighted towards declawed cats.

    I completely agree that other forms of environmental enrichment should be provided. However, not every cat will use these outlets.

    Honestly I'm on the fence about declawing being illegal. I can definitely see the reasons for it, and would not be upset if it became illegal in the US. However, I worry that more cats would end up in shelters or be forced outside if this wasn't an option. As I previously stated, I think that declawing should be a last option and only after other options have been tried. I always try to talk clients out of it, but I can recognize the need for it in certain cases.

    I do have some opinions about the other surgeries you mentioned, and I'll blog about them later.

  3. Oooo a very topical post as I was just talking about declawing the other day. Here in SoCal there have been many cities that have tried to have the practice banned (I think it has passed in at least one city but I'm not 100% sure). I think the hope is that there will be statewide ban but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

    I'm really not a fan of declawing for many of the reasons you already gave. Having gown up around cats all my life I really have never had a cat that couldn't be taught/swayed from clawing at furniture, carpet, curtains etc... (and I've had all kinds of breeds, different personality, etc...cats). Just by clipping their nails, having a scratching post/object around and discipling - everything in my home hasn't been a victim of constant cat scratching.

    Which makes me wonder if a lot of the scratching issues people have with their cats is due to them just not having the right tools at hand (obviously, I'm sure, there are situations where you try everything right and it still doesn't work...though after 25 + cats that have been in my life I've never experienced a cat problematic...perhaps I've just been lucky).

  4. Beverly Hills did ban declawing, but this ruling was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Such a policy is opposed by the California Veterinary Medical Association, at least if it's made by a non-veterinary organization. The argument they brought up is that a non-regulatory agency (the city council) was regulating the practice of veterinary medicine.

    I agree that the majority of cases of cats clawing inappropriately is related to them not having the right things to claw, as well as a misunderstanding of cat behavior by the owners. That's why I try to do my part with my own clients to get them to try other options.

  5. A cat's claws are a cat's defense. If a declawed house kitty happens to get loose outside, its ability to defend itself is severly limited.

    Dr. Chris I see your point about it being a last resort before giving the cat to the shelter...but the idea of declawing just seems wrong IMHO.

  6. You're not alone in your thoughts, and I agree to a point. That's why I'm undecided about making it outlawed. However, I do agree with you that if a cat has a chance of going outside, it should have its claws remain intact.


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