Many veterinarians in the U.S. routinely de-claw young cats. It’s part of the package when they come in to be spayed/neutered. Many cats suffer as a consequence. The operation entails more than simply removing the claws, (onychectomy) under general anesthesia. It entails removal of the first digit (digitectomy, or de-knuckling). It’s like you having your toes and fingers removed at the first joint.
Cats are very dexterous, and this operation essentially eliminates their dexterity, greatly reducing their behavioral repertoire when it comes to grasping and holding. It also hampers their ability to groom and scratch themselves normally. Their ability and self-confidence when it comes to climbing and general agility are similarly crippled. Their first line of defense—their retractable claws– is eliminated, which could make some cats more anxious and defensive.
De-clawed cats tend to walk abnormally back on their heels rather than on their entire pads because of the chronic pain at the end of their severed fingers and toes. They often develop chronic arthritis and as the front toe pads shrink, chronic bone infections are common.
Many cats find it painful to use the litter box, develop a conditioned aversion to using the box, and become un-housebroken. This is why many de-clawed cats are put up for adoption or are euthanized. They may also bite more, and become defensive when handled because their paws are hurting and infected.
I strongly advise all prospective cat owners, and those people with cats who are contemplating having the entire first digit—not simply the claw—removed surgically from their cats’ paws—never to have this operation performed on their felines.
Cats need their claws to be cats, and the routine surgical amputation of all their first digits is considered unthinkable in the UK and many other countries where people love and respect their cats. They know that properly handled and socialized cats quickly learn not to scratch people, and will learn to enjoy using a scratch post and not destroy upholstered furniture.
According to the Paw Project (www.pawproject.org), de-clawing has become fairly common in the US and Canada in the past three decades. Before that time, it was rarely performed. In most countries, de-clawing is considered unethical and is not performed by veterinarians. De-clawing is illegal in many countries, including Austria, Croatia, Malta,
Israel, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.
I wrote the following letter on this topic to my colleagues which was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Feb. 15, 2006, pages 503-504.
The article by Drs. Curicio, Bidwell, Bohart, and Hauptman (JAVMA, January 1, 2006, pp. 65-680) provides an “Evaluation of signs of postoperative pain and complications after forelimb onychectomy in cats receiving buprenorphine alone or with bupivacaine administered as a four-point regional nerve block.” While the consideration given to pain alleviation in this surgical procedure is necessary and laudable, the ethics of performing this procedure as a routine practice to the extent that almost a quarter of the cat population in the US, (14 million) is declawed, according to these authors, surely need to be examined. This is especially pertinent considering the evidence of the painful nature of this procedure, and associated postoperative complications of chronic pain, infection, and suffering. Surely the justifications for performing forelimb onychectomies trivialize concern for cats’ welfare and psychological well being. Part of being a cat is to have claws. Out of respect for the nature of cats and their basic behavioral requirements in the confined domestic environment, caring and responsible cat owners effectively train their cats to use scratch-posts, scratch-boards and carpeted “condos” rather than resort to routine declawing, that amounts to a mutilation for convenience. As a profession, are we not giving a mixed message to the public in advocating companion animal health and welfare on the one hand, and not abandoning such practices that are considered unethical by veterinarians and their clients in many other countries?
Michael W. Fox, BVetMed, PhD,DSc, M.R.C.V.S.
De-clawing cats as a routine preventive measure, just incase they might scratch people or damage furniture, is a service of convenience to cat owners that I consider professionally unethical for veterinarians to offer and perform as a routine procedure on all cats that come through their doors. It is nothing less than a mutilation that takes away from cats’ an essential part of what makes them cats—a form of physical deprivation with often profound behavioral and psychological ramifications, the risks of which far outweigh the benefits to uninformed cat care-givers.
In an excellent review of the risks and benefits of de-clawing cats which included the results of a telephone survey of cat owners, veterinarian Dr. Amanda F. Gerard and co-authors presented some significant findings in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Sept 15th, 2016, (Vol 249: p 638-643). Cats who had undergone this surgery and who lived in a multicat (3 to 5 cats) household were more than three times as likely to have house soiled as were single-housed cats with intact claws. The less traumatic surgical technique of carbon dioxide laser rather than other methods of claw removal resulted in a lower incidence of house soiling but this was still an issue in all cats subjected to de-clawing regardless of the technique employed. The authors cite references indicating a 4.4% increase in the number of cats being de-claws since 2001 to almost 25% of the owned cats in the U.S. today.
Veterinarians Dr. N. K. Martell-Moran and associates published their clinical assessment of cats who had been declawed and concluded that: Inappropriate elimination, biting, aggression, and overgrooming (barbering) were more prevalent in declawed cats compared with a control group of cats with claws. Significantly, and most disturbing, was the finding that declawed cats were almost three times as likely to be diagnosed with back-pain, potentially due to shortened, abnormal gait and/or chronic pain in the front paws causing compensatory weight shift to the hind limbs. (For details see Martell-Moran NK, Solano M and Townsend HGG. Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. J Feline Med Surg. Epub ahead of print 23 May 2017. DOI: 10.1177/1098612X17705044 ,
While I receive a few letters from cat owners who say their declawed cats have no problems and seem fine, one cannot rely on such non-professional assessments considering the fact that a survey of people owning flat-faced dogs ( brachycephalics) found that they felt that their genetically and physically compromised dogs had no problems and seem fine.
The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association posted an announcement in November 1st, 2017 ( Vol, 251, p.991) that the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has revised its 2015 position on declawing cats to strongly oppose declawing or onychectomy, an elective procedure. For details from the AAFP, veterinary practitioners can go to www.catvets.com/scratching and cat caregivers can visit the AAFP consumer website, The Cat Community, at www.catfriendly.com scratching for information.
American Association of Feline Practitioners Announce End of Elective Declawing Procedures For Cat Friendly Practices®
BRIDGEWATER, NJ (January 6, 2021) – The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), trusted leader in the veterinary community, is proud to announce a policy update ending elective declawing procedures (onychectomy) for felines in all designated Cat Friendly Practices® (CFP). This announcement aligns with the AAFP’s 2017 Position Statement that strongly opposes declawing of cats as an elective procedure. In making this exciting announcement, the AAFP continues supporting high standards of practice, continuing education, and evidence-based medicine.
This update rolled out January 1, 2021 to all Cat Friendly Practice® locations across North, Central, and South America and will be standard in all new practices that wish to earn the designation moving forward. The AAFP and the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) established the Cat Friendly Practice® program as a global initiative elevating care for cats. A CFP designation is a recognized symbol of excellence showing a practice’s commitment in treating feline patients gently and with respect. Cat Friendly Practices® set themselves apart by providing the highest standards of care and offering the best practices in feline medicine.
Feline declawing is an elective and ethically controversial procedure that is not medically necessary in most instances. Many regions throughout the world, including portions of North America, have banned declawing procedures unless there is a necessary medical reason. Many cat caregivers may not realize scratching is a normal and essential feline behavior that relieves stress and allows cats to fully stretch their bodies. With proper education provided by CFP’s, cat caregivers will have a better understanding of the procedure and potential risks associated with it.
In an effort to provide resources to veterinary professionals and support every Cat Friendly Practice®, the AAFP developed a Claw Friendly Educational Toolkit, located at catvets.com/claw-friendly-toolkit. There are many alternatives to declawing and the AAFP has created supportive resources to assist veterinary teams and cat caregivers in being informed and living with clawed cats. The comprehensive Toolkit contains:
Review and summary of scientific literature Scratching resources such as claw counseling Implementation plans to end elective declawing at practices Experiences from practices that have stopped elective declawing Two complimentary webinars FAQs for veterinary professionals and cat caregivers Phone scripts Client resources
Additionally, the AAFP’s Cat Friendly Homes website contains resources to assist cat caregivers. This includes educational brochures, flyers, and information about how scratching is a natural feline behavior, declawing alternatives, nail trimming, scratching posts, and more at catfriendly.com/scratching.
Guided by evidence-based information, this decision reflects the AAFP’s commitment to cats and gratitude to be able to take this step towards improving feline welfare.
The Claw Friendly Educational Toolkit is endorsed by the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), Cat Healthy, and CATalyst Council - all dedicated to improving the health and welfare of cats.
DE-CLAWING AND OBESITY
Obesity is a widespread cat health problem today: a crisis which causes much suffering and chronic deterioration. Exercise is part of the treatment (and prevention) all experts advise so I must add an additional observation to the many down-sides of de-clawing cats from seeing and hearing our rescued (from TNR) cat Fanny digs her claws into our carpeted floor and stairs for traction and jets off like a rocket chasing our dog and during her upstairs-downstairs “evening crazies.” Cats’ evening and sometimes early morning “crazies” are associated with the innate hunting cycle of being hyper-alert and physically active, seeking, stalking, rushing and pouncing on prey.
Ethologically, a function of having claws is in addition to dexterity, agility and self-care ( grooming/scratching) is to be able to take off at great speed, the claws serving like a sprinter’s cleats by providing greater traction and momentum as the body is propelled forward.
Without her claws Fanny would have less traction and likely be less active, eventually developing weaker muscle tone and becoming lethargic, depressed and more susceptible to obesity if her weight and food intake were not closely monitored. So I am suggesting that de-clawing is a significant contributing factor in the current feline obesity epidemic and not simply biologically inappropriate kibble diets and over-feeding because de-clawed cats cannot be as physically active and nowhere near the same intensity as those who have all their claws.