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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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I can’t think of any one topic that is more controversial in the feline world than declawing. The arguments that fly back and forth remind me of the debate surrounding abortion. Two sides with extremely strong opinions that seem completely unwilling to look for a middle ground.
 

On the one hand (or should we say "paw"), we have the anti-declaw zealots. They say declawing is uniformly cruel, citing pain, disfigurement, altered behavior, and the possibility of surgical complications up to and including the possibility of death.

Other cat owners consider declawing to be something of a feline rite of passage, with the declaw occurring at the same time as the spay/neuter, regardless of the cat’s behavior. Risk the upholstery on the new loveseat? Never!

Veterinarians certainly fall into these two camps as well. Some will perform declaws whenever an owner requests while others refuse all such surgeries on ethical grounds and chastise owners for even bringing up the topic. But most vets — and owners, I suspect — fall somewhere in the middle, but avoid speaking up lest the wrath of the two opposing camps come crashing down upon their heads. Let’s call these folks the muzzled majority.

Can’t we all agree that declaws are justified under certain, limited circumstances? Consider a cat that is quickly becoming an unwelcome member of a loving family because he or she has destroyed virtually every chair in the home. Is it better that this cat be confined to the basement or relegated to the outdoors? Should we send it to a shelter where its chances for adoption are slim at best? Or what about the situation where a cat is injuring an elderly owner’s fragile skin with its claws? Do you want to be the one to break the bond between these two old friends?

I’ll admit it. I’ve performed declaws, but only after heartfelt discussions with the owners:

  • Why are you considering a declaw?
  • Are you aware of and willing to deal with the potential down sides of the surgery (e.g., pain, infection, damage to the legs from bandages or tourniquets)?
  • Have you tried other options, like behavioral modification, weekly nail trims or rubber nail caps?
  • Can you guarantee that your cat will remain indoor-only after the surgery?
  • Will you allow (and pay for) post operative hospitalization so your cat can receive the best pain management possible and then follow up with continued pain relief at home for as long as necessary?

Properly done, a declaw does not have to be any more painful, disfiguring, or risky than a spay or neuter. It is a valid option when it offers potential benefits to the pet in question … just don’t get me started on the insanity of cropping a dog’s ears!

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: sleeping cat by Liz West

Comments  28

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  • 05/10/2012 12:17am

    As a feline veterinarian, I too am baffled by your failure to list the many humane alternatives to declawing. There is no non-medical reason for declawing that can't be fixed by behavioral solutions. Here are ideas that will still protect both human and feline health, as well as sofas and Persian rugs:

    -Scratching posts, mats, corrugated cardboard, logs, softwood boards, sisal rope
    -Training (yes, cats CAN be trained!)
    -Regular claw-trimming
    -Rotary sanders (Peticure, Dremel)
    -Nail caps (SoftPaws, Soft Claws)
    -Emery scratching boards (Emerycat)
    -Double-sided sticky tape (Sticky Paws)
    -Non-stick furniture protectors (Corner Savers, Fresh Kitty Furniture Protectors)
    -Pet repellent sprays
    -Access restriction (upside-down vinyl rug runner)
    -Remote aversive devices (ScatMat, Ssscat)
    -Phermones (Feliway)
    -Furniture covers (blankets, towels—anything loose will not be appealing to your cat!)

    Those who absolutely insist that no cat of theirs will have claws, can adopt an already-declawed cat (there are many of them in shelters and rescues).
    With a little effort, patience, and time, one or more of these alternatives will work for any cat; making it unnecessary and inhumane to use a radical, irreversible surgery to solve a behavior problem.

  • 04/30/2012 07:04am

    So you are saying the amputation of a cats last toe joints by burning them off is acceptable where other methods are not?

    By whichever method used by the vet breaking their oath to cause no animal to suffer, the cat is left disabled for life!

    Declawing is banned in 39 countries so far for a reason, that reason is that it is unnecessary and cruel!

  • Withholding judgement
    04/29/2012 02:13pm

    For a very long time I did not necessarily agree with declawing a cat. I have had cats all my life and rarely encountered a problem with scratching, however the two recent kitty additions to our family are the exception to my long standing non-clawing encounters. I tried alternative approaches such as, scratch post, trimmings, and the caps, although none of these methods work for my cats. They use the scratch post along with the carpet. Normally I am not one to place my things over the welfare of my pets, however when they have begun to destroy the property we are leasing, it becomes a necessity so my children do not end up without a place to live when the landlord refuses to renew the lease. Not to mention the loss of a good rental reference.

    I can understand both sides of this argument, however I really believe individuals should withhold judgement on the choices of others because you do not always understand the circumstances behind them. For us we had too choices, get rid of our beloved cats, or eventually end up needing to relocate and pay for an extreme amount of property damage. What would any of you have done?

    It is easy to sit back and judge others based on personal ideals, but remember while you are judging others, someone is judging you just as harshly!

  • 04/29/2012 05:52pm

    You say your cats used the carpet as well as their scratching post. Was the scratching post surfaced with carpet material? If so, it was causing confusion for your cats in regard to which surfaces were OK to scratch on and which were not. To a cat, carpet is carpet. This is one of the reasons many scratching posts on the market are completely ineffective and inappropriate. A better choice would be a corrugated cardboard pad or a post covered with a material like sisal rope, so there's a clear sensory distinction to the cat. I'm not judging anyone for not knowing this ahead of time, but it is one reason some people may feel they have "no choice" but to resort to declawing. This is why education by vets is so vital.

  • 05/02/2012 10:59am

    It was the rope material so I do not believe it was confusion. I tried everything for three years before making this decision, so believe me, it was not made lightly.

  • 04/30/2012 06:57am

    I tell you what I would have done were I so unfortunate as to live in a country where mutilating cats is legal, I'd have moved Heaven and Earth to ensure my cats didn't suffer 10 amputations and have to face the many physical and/or mental problems declawed cats are at risk of for the rest of their lives.
    Any cat can be trained to use a scratching post and to leave the furniture and carpet alone, it only takes a bit of time and patience.
    Declawing is too easily available in the USA, vets who do this surgery break their sworn oath to cause no animal to suffer.

  • 05/02/2012 10:58am

    How fortunate for you to live in a country that has banned this procedure, it is unfortunate that your country has not taught its citizens how to look at things without the ethnocentrism! l I will tell you what, when it is between my children being forced to uproot potentially moving away from all their friends, safety of a good neighborhood, and potentially moving school districts, a parent tends to do what they must. I am glad you would move heaven and earth for your pets, as would I, because if I had to adopt them out due to this issue, another pet owner may not have been as tolerant and they may have ended up being put to sleep. Sometimes decisions are not so cut and dry as you obviously seem to think!

  • Declawing never justified
    04/30/2012 06:32am

    You ask the question what would any of us have done, well I for one can state categorically that I would never, ever under any circumstances consider declawing kittens, as you have done,for doing something that is natural for them to do.You say you tried "alternative" approaches such as a scratching post but I say a scratching post is an essential piece of furniture for a cat not something you fleetingly try before resorting to surgery and it seems to me a huge and hard to believe co-incidence that after a lifetime of cats with no problems you now suddenly find yourself with not one but 2 scratchers!I think you've compromised your former integrity for convenience, how much easier is it to pay to have the kittens toe ends surgically removed than to spend time teaching them with a proper scratching post where it is acceptable to scratch and where not. And please don't play the sympathy card "so my children do not end up without a place to live", you are in fact teaching your children that abusing animals is ok if it's convenient to the human! I certainly won't withold judgement I think what you have done is horribly cruel and inhumane, if you lived in one of the countries where declawing is rightly banned you would have had to work to find a solution other than amputation, declawing is too readily available and too easy an option and it makes me sick!

  • 05/02/2012 11:07am

    Well you can believe what you want, I really don't care. I know what I did was right, and I did what I needed to do for my family. I really don't care what you think because it is easy to sit there all opinionated while judging others off of a one paragraph post just to protect some idealized point of view. I also do not teach my children to abuse animals, so do not pretend to know this or assume this because you do not know me.

  • 05/02/2012 11:18am

    Quite right I do not know you, thank God, though of course I would make a point of not knowing anyone who abuses animals.

  • 05/02/2012 11:34am

    Just as I do not make it a point to associate with close minded judgmental individuals.

  • Article Fail
    05/03/2012 02:54am

    I can’t believe a veterinarian would compare declawing to either abortion or ear cropping. That’s like comparing apples to oranges. It demonstrates a dog-centric attitude and an appalling lack of concern and knowledge about all the issues surrounding declaw surgeries.

    Your straw man argument that this topic is comparable to the abortion debate is purposely absurd. Your article is probably designed to be inflammatory to generate site visits as well as promote this money-making procedure. While a logical fallacy is committed when emotion is used to cloud objective facts, you choose to skip over the issues and facts if they are inconvenient to you. Veterinarians and advocates who have taken time to research this are upset by veterinary professionals who choose to ignore all the problems associated with declawing, including the lack of client education about alternatives and behavior modification, and ethical concerns about promoting the procedure by “supersizing” a spay/neuter as well as failing to obtain true informed consent about the nature of the procedure. This not only makes declawing an animal cruelty issue and an ethical concern, but also a consumer protection issue.

    The overwhelming evidence is that declawing causes unnecessary harm and suffering and contributes to preventable problems. Declawed cats are more than twice as likely to be relinquished to shelters with problems compared to cats with intact paws. Declawed cats are frequently re-homed privately or euthanized due to health and behavior problems. Such cats that do end up in shelters and rescues could still end up being euthanized because of these problems or because shelters don’t have good adoption, pet retention programs, etc. This also makes declawing an issue for taxpayers who are paying to kill shelter animals.

    These documented problems and factual data lead to banning declaw surgeries in eight cities in California. Such bans need to be extended to the rest of the U.S., Canada and the world. This documentation and information is readily available. The evidence that declawing causes long-term physical complications is there to see for those who choose to stop ignoring it.

    Chris H.

  • Zealots Ain't Bad
    05/03/2012 04:52pm

    According to Merriam Webster Dictionary,"zealot" "is a person who has very strong feelings about something (such as religion or politics) and who wants other people to have those feelings"

    Because many people who have their cats declawed don't know how the surgery is performed, they have no idea that it is an amputation of the first joint of the kitty's toes. And since cats walk on their tippy toes, when this part of the paw is amputated, kitty has to walk in a manner in which his/her body was not designed to do. I have spoken to folks who have declawed their cats and learning what the surgery entailed were horrified and will never do it again.

    Jennifer, when you say "Properly done, a declaw does not have to be any more painful, disfiguring, or risky than a spay or neuter." Cats do not walk on their uteruses or their testicles. They walk on their paws. So how can you possibly compare these two surgeries.

    Most importantly neuter and spay surgeries are health enhancing procedures, and help to keep feline population down. It is a GOOD thing- cats do not suffer as a result of those surgeries. In fact, they thrive, live healthier and make better pets.

    To compare declaw surgery to a rite of passage for our kitties is totally off the charts crazy, unless it is compared with some tribal rites of passage where young boys' hands are thrust into gloves filled with stinging insects and must endure suffering the pain. It might be close- it is excruciatingly painful- but the young boys who make it through are honored and instantly become men,

    As a veterinarian you are well aware of feline anatomy and how cats ambulate. Humans would not fare well losing their first joint of their fingers- but we don't walk on our fingers. How would we manage losing the first joints of all our toes? Would we be able to balance correctly?Of course not.

    Cats need their toes, therefore their claws... they are used to scent mark... to dig in and stretch stretch... it is their first line of defense. Please tell me that an indoor only declawed cat has never escaped and had to survive? Promise me this will never happen?

    But the fact of the matter is the surgery is not necessary. Cats can and do learn to use scratching posts and trees IF they are the right height and made of the right material. The cat has to like it- be attracted to it, or the post will remain useless. I have one of those trees- the cats never use it. The sisal rungs are too short- great for kittens. But the other tree I have- with rough texture and tall sisal bars is slashed to ribbons in places. Our cats are always on it- AND they never touch our furniture. We placed it right next to the end of our couch and they far preferred its texture and its height. Great place to observe their environment.

    Cats scratch often when they are bored, so giving them an enriched environment also helps to prevent damage to furniture and carpets. learning if a pet cat is horizontally focused or attracted to vertical objects is also helpful in providing just the right scratching device.

    But to be purrfectly honest, I don't care if our cats would stop using their posts and scratch our furniture.It would be up to me to find out WHY they are doing it and correct my error.

    Our cats are far more important and precious than a piece of furniture. Their welfare, their health and their comfort is far more crucial to us.

    I won't repeat what the other "zealots" have posted. But it is only by educating folks politely, about the surgery and how the surgery is so debilitating to the cats they love (which MANY vets don't offer- instead they offer bargain rates to declaw at the time of neutering/spaying- without even giving young kittens the opportunity to learn to use scratching posts, etc.) that folks can make a truly informed decision.

    Take a moment to watch Jackson Galaxy- The Cat Daddy's informative video about declawing. He doesn't berate folks, he doesn't call them names- he only educates.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_7oTlocGSw

    Thank you for listening.


  • Let's de-bark dogs too!
    06/19/2014 11:37pm

    Dr. Coates. I believe your reasons for declawing are driven by your desire to pay off your vet school loans or want of a new car. Its OK to declaw cats that scratch furniture? Are you serious? Dogs can do damage to furniture as well, rip up couches, chew on wood legs - should we remove their claws and teeth? A lot of dogs bark too much - should we offer de-bark surgeries for those who may have gotten a ticket for excessive noise. What happened to training? What happened to responsible pet ownership. You disgust me.

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