Should I Declaw My Cat?

   

Ron Hines DVM PhD

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October 2015

In my experience, over 95% of cats can have their toenails clipped periodically by you or a trained professional. That is the advice I always give to cat owners. I also know it is politically incorrect to state that there may be occasions when this surgery is in the best interest of a cat-to-human bond. But those situations do arise - and probably always will. Immunosuppressed owners on chemo. Immunosuppressed multicat households with FIV or FLV virus among them. Aggressive Bartonella henselae+ cats. Eosinophilic cats that self-traumatize (ref). Intra-cat aggression in group situations, psychotic cats that attack their owners or other cats, folks or pets on mAbs or nibs or as a last alternative to euthanasia or abandonment whatever the cause. I have practiced long enough to have encountered all of those situations. When there is an alternative - use it. When not, make the decision that you feel is right for you and your cat. Not what some pompous stranger who knows neither you nor your cat's best welfare demands that you do.

It has become common to question whether this is ever a humane or desirable procedure. My cat, Orio, is not declawed. I put up with the scratched piano, and a shredded sofa and chairs. But I understand why owners who love their cats very much sometimes decide to have their pets foreclaws removed just as I understand why people have their cats spayed and neutered.

Declawed cat appears to live as happy and fulfilled a life as a clawed cat. They are just as playful and inquisitive. If an experienced veterinarian performs the procedure, right, no residual pain occurs.

Humane groups talk about the long term negative effects of declaw surgery. When a cat experiences chronic foot pain after the surgery, when the incisions fail to heal promptly or when a toenail regrows, it is the fault of the veterinarian - not the procedure. Also, as a substitute for better student understanding of claw anatomy, some veterinary schools trained their pupils to be much too aggressive in performing this surgery.

Some of the reasons the surgery is still occasionally performed are:

1) If, in a multi-cat household, a clawed cat is injuring a second cat in the household

2) If the cat has developed an incurable disease such as Lupus-like conditions where claws contribute to self-trauma and infection.

3) If the cat has developed personality changes that make it a threat to owners and children.

4) If an owner is immunosupressed due to chemotherapy, debilitating disease, heart valve infection or AIDS or in situations where a cat scratch could be life-threatening to an owner.

5) If blended households or new family members present ultimatums to other family members that “either the cat be declawed, kept outside or they leave". This happens all to frequently. I love small wild critters as well as cats and spend much of my time these days patching them up and setting them free after they have been mauled by cats. (ref)

Like the lady with the scales of justice, one should weigh all factors on the side of leaving the cat it intact or doing the surgery before making a decision. Often, I will clip the cat’s toenails at no charge and teach the owners to do this at home with a human finger or toenail clipper. This is a perfectly acceptable alternative to declawing your kitty if you and the cat have the temperament to do it. Adhesive nail guards are another good alternative that you should explore. (ref)