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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.