Currently, declawing cats is illegal in 30 countries, along with tail-docking, ear-cropping and debarking. Fortunately, these countries have decided not to allow a painful and unnecessary procedure if it is being done for human benefit rather than for the pet. Sadly, the US is not one of the 30 countries, but we can still change, if we tell our vets and breeders we don’t approve and won’t support vets who continue to offer these procedures.
The Unkindest Cut: A Case Against Feline Declawing
G. Mark Norman DVM
As a veterinary medical professional, I am opposed to routine declawing (onychectomy) of domestic cats. Fortunately, I am not alone. Many of my colleagues in this country choose not to declaw, and my colleagues in twenty-five countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Israel and Australia are legally prohibited from doing so.
Feline claws are a vital part of cat anatomy. The feline claw provides a variety of functions including a means of escape from predators (up a tree or over a fence), protection from predators as an accurate defensive weapon, a means of catching and holding prey, helping to facilitate normal grooming behavior, and allowing the tendons and ligament of the forearms to stretch.
These extensions of the cat’s fingers are extraordinarily sensitive and well innervated. Removing the claw is akin to amputating your own fingers at the last joint (above the nail) ten times (one amputation for each finger). Can you imagine having to use your hands the same day your ten fingertips were surgically removed at the joint? Talk about severe pain. If the veterinarian does the very best job possible, the procedure can still have (and does have) a high percentage of complications including post operative pain (of course!), post operative bleeding, post-operative infection, long term pain in some cases, and occasionally an otherwise affectionate cat will become a behavioral nightmare developing biting, elimination problems, etc. While I have personally witnessed every one of these complications, the worst-case scenario is regrowth of the nail caused by poor surgical technique, for example, not completely removing the entire part of the bone where the nail growth occurs. This mistake will necessitate additional surgery to adequately remove the affected finger bone.
In my experience, most cats can easily be trained to reduce their desire to utilize furniture, curtains, etc. as scratching sites. Cats need access to a scratching post or mat where they can employ their natural tendencies to exercise their arms and fingers. Frequent nail trimming can help. In some cases, nail covers can be attached to the front claws in order to reduce damage to fabrics. It is my belief that by using one or more techniques of behavior modification, damage caused by cat’s clawing can be greatly reduced or eliminated in the majority of cases. As an alternative to a surgical procedure that is performed for human benefit, it seems the most humane choice.