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Thursday, June 23, 2011

No More Declaws

One of my earliest posts on this blog was on the pros and cons of declawing, posted back in November 2008.  At the time I had a good discussion, partially by email, with one of my UK readers on the good and bad of it.  At that time, I didn't like the procedure but was willing to do it.  Well, I have to say that since then my opinion has changed.

It's interesting how you can think about things differently as you get older and have different experiences.  When I first graduated from vet school I had no problems with declaws, seeing it as a routine procedure and not harmful to cats.  I even had my own cat declawed before I started vet school.  As I practiced and performed this surgery, I started to realize that it was uncomfortable and had a higher risk of complications compared to other surgeries.  However, I continued to do it, though I started to more openly stress the potential problems.  Fast forward a few more years and I had read more articles on how cats don't walk the same afterwards (even though it may not be noticable to the naked eye), pain control was more important, and it was illegal in many countries.  So I started really trying to talk up the bad parts of declaws and convince clients not to do it without just saying "don't do it".  I still saw it as a better option than ending up at a shelter because of destructive clawing.

My first major turning point was just after my blog post in 2008.  In the discussion with the reader, she pointed out that we don't de-bark dogs that are constant barkers because it is unethical.  Clawing is a natural behavior of cats just like barking is a natural behavior of dogs.  If we de-bark dogs, we're treating a behavioral problem with surgery, and the veterinary community as a whole has a consensus that doing that surgery is unethical.  It was a bit of a surprise as I realized the hypocricy of my declaw position...I was okay with doing it, yet I was ethically opposed to a comparable procedure in dogs.  I was using surgery to correct a behavior, and this went against my views as someone with a strong interest in behavior.

Even then I didn't stop doing declaws, though I was increasingly uncomfortable with them.  Over the next couple of years I starting having more post-operative complications in this surgery, mostly with cats getting their bandages off and the paws bleeding.  It was never life-threatening blood loss, but it certainly looks horrible and is a mess to clean up, and I hated thinking how my patients felt that would make them uncomfortable enough to really pull at the bandages.  I modified my technique, trying every method I knew of to remove the claws and seal the incision, short of a laser (which I've never had access to).  Almost 12 years of doing declaws with minimal problems and then it seemed like every second or third surgery had issues.  I began to really, really dread whenever I had to do the surgery.

Finally, about four months ago I decided that I had simply had it.  The more I thought about it the more I had problems with the "necessity" of declawing cats.  Yes, I know they can be destructive.  I have three cats of my own, all with claws, and we have claw marks on furniture to prove it.  However, I would never de-bark a dog because of barking, or declaw a dog, rabbit or other animal because of destructiveness.  I would never do a full-mouth tooth extraction in a pet to prevent damage when biting.  There are serious ethical problems with each of these.  So why would I be comfortable doing a declaw?  I decided that I wasn't.  And I told everyone that I would never do one again.

I'm actually very comfortable with my decision, and haven't seen it affect my practice at all.  It makes me feel more comfortable as a vet in how I care for my patients, and gives me a sense of relief that I never have to deal with the complications in my own patients.  I also have swung to the other side of the debate, and wonder how others can easily do the surgery without consideration for all factors and without considering the stance on similar procedures that we won't do.  I think that declawing in the US has become so commonplace that many vets never really think about the ethics behind it and what we're really doing to the cats.  I'm not going to condemn my colleagues who still do the surgery as I remember what I thought years ago and I want people to come to decisions themselves.  But personally I would have no problem at all with it becoming illegal in the US.


  1. That's really interesting that you changed your position. As a cat owner, I would never declaw my own, but have tried to be nonjudgmental towards those who choose to have the procedure done. I hate the idea of a cat being loose and not being able to scale a fence in order to get away from a predator. But, yes, we have had furniture/carpet damage from our cats' claws. It's just that the furniture is not as important to me as their well being. Oddly, 2 people I know with declawed cats have really shabby furniture, messy houses--I can't imagine why they'd care about a little claw damage!

  2. Good for you. I hate declaws. None of our cats are declawed and fortunately are well behaved. I probably won't ever fully refuse to do it but if I had my own practice I would have significant counseling with the owner before doing it. I'm also super close to refusing tail docking of any kind. I hate it.

  3. Bravo to you! I work at an animal shelter and while we do allow our adopters to pursue declaw on young kittens, we always discuss the alternatives with them and I always make sure to graphically explain in detail what exactly happens to a cat in a declaw. I don't know statistically how many of them end up changing their mind and letting the kitten keep their claws, but at least I've planted that seed of doubt in their mind.

    I look forward to the day when this procedure is outlawed. It's part of having a cat -- and I mean come on, how pristine are our houses if we have pets? I gave up on that one a long time ago. lol

  4. As an animal lover and forever "mom" to two pugs and two indoor cats, I want you to know I love you for your stance on this issue.

  5. Dew claw removal, ear cropping, and tail docking were banned by the Veterinary Association in Nova Scotia last Sept. In my opinion they did not go fair enough and ban declaws as well. Glad to see you you are no longer doing them.

  6. Elizabeth-I wish all that stuff was banned here. Debarking as well.

  7. I am amazed that people ask vets to do this and am even more amazed that vets undertake this horrendous task. It is cruel and unnecessary. If you don't want torn furniture then have a cat claw sharpening pole or better still have the animal outside where it should be - cats love to have freedom to roam and do what cats do - climb and hunt among other things. I have never heard of declawing until this post - I assumed you were referring to removal of dew claws (another thing I don't agree with even though it was a nuisance to constantly have to bring my golden retriever to have his clipped as they grew at a phenomenal rate and I did not want to attempt cutting them myself in case i cut too short and they bled).

    Someone mentioned debarking - I understand (and am open to correction) that dogs in Switzerland who are nuisance barkers have to have the dog's voice box removed or have the dog with company or removed when owners not around to stop the nuisance barking.

    Glad to hear Chris that you no longer perform this awful surgery (declawing). Docking tails and ears are similarly horrendous and if not banned in US should be.

  8. Several years ago, I had to move to an apartment with a woodwork-clawing cat. The choice was declaw or give away the cat. My vet did declawing by laser & the cat did splendidly. No bleeding, little obvious discomfort, can't tell it was done. Sometimes in real life, it really is a choice of doing it to keep the pet.

  9. Anonymous said, "better still have the animal outside where it should be - cats love to have freedom to roam and do what cats do - climb and hunt among other things."

    I have to disagree with this. Statistics show that outdoor cats live a significantly shorter life than that of their indoor counterparts. Living outside and being hit by a car or killed by another animal is no way to go. Our pets belong indoors with their families -- Why else would you have one if not to enjoy their companionship?

    And to the second "anonymous" poster, there are always options other than declawing or giving up your cat. The first would be to find a living space that doesn't come with stupid rules. The second would be to go with an alternative, such as SoftClaws or other similar soft plastic caps that cover the nails. It would require ongoing maintenance, as they need to be reapplied every 4-6 weeks, but I consider that far preferable to removing the ends of the cat's digits.

  10. You don't condemn others, but think it should be illegal . . . that's a bit oxymoronic isn't it? If you want it to be illegal, you DO condemn . . . enough to want them to be stopped by law. You believe it to be so horrendous that you think people that disagree with you should be forced to act in compliance with YOUR beliefs or face legal consequences.

    I don't personally have a problem with people who make the choice to declaw - although I don't declaw my own. I think it's an unnecessary procedure - as someone else said similar to removing dewclaws - which I also don't have done. However, I don't think it is something that should be forced either way through the law.

    These are not issues for government. It is a private issue that should not be dealt with at a government level. I have no problem with veterinarians, or human physicians for that matter, refusing to participate in a medical procedure or treatment that they disagree with on any level. In fact, I commend them for it. However, when they, or anyone, thinks it's a problem that needs to be dealt with at the government level, I have to disagree. No democratic republican government should interfere with medical choices of private citizens - for themselves, their children, or their pets. When they do, that is where the ethical/moral problems start.

    I still say kudos to those who are willing to make the choice as to what they, personally, are willing to participate in, medically or otherwise. You should stand your ground regarding your own beliefs. Just don't try and force everyone to agree with you through the law.

  11. I applaud Dr. Bern for doing this and I wish more vets would do the same.
    LMSK in response to your post, I have to disagree. The government should interfere when people show that they can't regulate themselves and unfortunately, many veterinarians have shown that they can't when it comes to this issue.
    Declawing is very lucrative and vets can make a lot of money off of it. A significant amount of them declaw without trying to inform the guardians of what really goes on. This is in violation of the 2007 amendment to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) guidelines. Some admit that they know that if they did give the facts to the cat guardians, they would choose not to declaw. There have even been reports of vets who have done declaws even after the guardian had stated that they didn't want it done.
    There is no reason for it to be done. Several countries have banned it and the US is one of 2 civilized countries that still do it. There are now 9 cities within the US that have banned it and the Califonia branch of the AVMA was so concerned of the implications that the 2003 declaw ban by West Hollywood could have on the financial interests of California veterinarians that they first challenged it in court, which ended in faliure. Then they helped pass a law (SB 762) in order to prevent a statewide ban.
    The CDC, US Public Health and NIH all do not recommend it for immunocompromized people because it has been shown that declawed cats are more likely to bite and less likely to use the litter box. Simply put, Declawing often causes worse problems than it solves.
    The US has a history of abusing rights and it is only through laws that the corruption can be controlled.

  12. An interesting blog post. Though I am saddened it took you so long to realise how appalling declawing truly is, I am glad you did get there in the end. I wonder though, since it appears you now work for Banfield, whether you are in fact now able to keep that pledge not to make any more cats victims of declaw?

  13. It's been 3 1/2 years and I haven't declawed a cat since I made this decision in 2011.

  14. If I may ask, have you been asked to declaw in that time? Were you able to dissuade the owners, or did you have to have another vet perform the amputation?

  15. I have been asked to declaw, and probably 90% of those times I can talk the client out of it. I actively try to do so as I no longer believe in it and my view against it has only strengthened over the years. However, since it's not illegal and doesn't violate any state veterinary practice acts or the AVMA position on the procedure, I can't keep other vets from doing it. Of the three of us doctors at my clinic one does do declaws. She doesn't like doing it but I can't talk her in to refusing the surgery. She's very good and careful about it and requires the clients talk to her before scheduling, so if anyone's going to do it I think she's a good choice. But the other doctor and I simply don't do it. I wish more veterinarians would simply stop doing it like I did. I think the profession is moving in that direction and in my lifetime I expect to see it essentially outlawed. However, there are a LOT of mind that need to be changed since it's been ingrained in and accepted by the profession and clients for so long. Veterinarians have done such a good job of convincing the clients that it's a routine, harmless procedure that most clients don't understand exactly what goes into it until I explain it in detail.

  16. As a Brit I'd never even heard of declawing until I came across it on the internet almost 10 years ago. I was horrified by what I learnt and just couldn't imagine why anyone would ever want to have their pet declawed.

    Vets here in the UK and most of Europe never performed declawing even before it became illegal, that's why so many people here have never even heard of it. Generations of people have grown up accepting that cats come with claws and will need scratchers to help them learn claw manners. As you say, the practise has become so commonplace in the USA that people don't understand exactly what the procedure involves or how easy it can be to encourage cats to use scratchers. Perhaps if procedure were more aptly re-named de-toeing then that might give them a more immediate understanding of what they're actually doing to their pets.


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