I first heard of “de-clawing the cat” as a medical procedure many years ago in Canada – I truly thought it referred to clipping an animal’s nails, like you would do for human or a dog.
“A cat manicure of sorts”, I thought. “Cute”. However, when a friend of mine told me that the procedure cost her $350, I was in shock: “I could do it for you for free!” Little did I know then that de-clawing is not a simple manicure, but an invasive surgery, often performed because owners feel that their feline pet would damage the expensive furniture. So, the solution they think is removing their cats’ claws.
As I always do, I went into my research mode to find out what exactly does it mean, what it entails and whether it is ethical and necessary to carry out.
What I found truly shocked me. According to the Humane Society of the United States, it is very common for people to think that de-clawing is really a simple procedure that permanently removes a cat’s nails, like a permanent nail trim. Sadly, once you understand how it is done and what is involved in the process, it really is appalling.
Essentially, de-clawing is amputation of the cat’s toes – to be more precise, it involves amputation of the last bone of each toe. If it was to be performed on a human being, de-clawing would be like cutting off each of our fingers at the first knuckle.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF), “Surgical de-clawing is not a medically necessary procedure for the cat in most cases…Scratching is a normal feline behaviour, it is a means for cats to mark their territory both visually and with scent, and is used for claw conditioning (‘husk’ removal) and stretching activity.”
Humane Societies across the globe, many other animal welfare organisations and individual veterinarians are fighting to outlaw the procedure as it is completely unnecessary and if you ask me, rather unethical and cruel surgery that provides no medical benefit to the cat.
“The standard method of de-clawing is amputating with a scalpel or guillotine clipper. The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue, and the feet are bandaged.
Another method is laser surgery, in which a small, intense beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporising it. However, it’s still the amputation of the last toe bone of the cat and carries with it the same long-term risks of lameness and behavioural problems as does declawing with scalpels or clippers.”
Several veterinarians that I have recently spoken to said that there is another “safer” procedure, called “tendonectomy”. Naturally, I looked it up and here’s what I found:
“A tendonectomy is a procedure in which the tendon that controls the claw in each toe is severed. The cat keeps their claws, but can’t control them or extend them to scratch. This procedure is associated with a high incidence of abnormally thick claw growth. Therefore, more frequent and challenging nail trims are required to prevent the cat’s claws from snagging on people, carpet, furniture, and drapes, or from growing into the cat’s paw pads.”
Essentially, the entire process of tendonectomy defies its original (and selfish) human need to stop the cat from scratching in the first place. Furthermore, according to many studies even with tendonectomy, the complications are grave and the cat who has been through it, may still require declawing later anyway. “Although a tendonectomy is not actually amputation, a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found the incidence of bleeding, lameness, and infection was similar between tendonectomy and declawing.”
The side effects of declawing are also rather staggering for the cats: severe infections, refusal to use a litter box, paw pain and permanent nerve damage, lameness, back pain, and behavioural changes. And when the argument for declawing states that cats who do excessively scratch and cause damage in the home will be more likely to be surrendered into the shelters or abandoned, the cat that pees outside the box or consistently ill, thus incurring huge veterinary bills – would likely be surrendered too.
There are rare times when declawing as a procedure may be medically necessary. For instance, AVMF states that “Declawing and tendonectomies should be reserved only for those rare cases in which a cat has a medical problem that would warrant such surgery, such as the need to remove cancerous nail bed tumors.”
Another example could be extra toes on cat’s feet, some of which could have deformed claws growing into the flesh. I had a black dwarf kitten with 7 toes back in Canada called Lucy and her extra toes never touched the ground, but they did have claws that grew around and back into her paw pads. We had them removed because they were causing ongoing problems.
If you fear that your cat is excessively using your sofa as a scratching post, provide other cat-appropriate scratching posts, toys and other suitable environmental enrichments to get your cat entertained. Remember that a cat’s nails, just like that of humans, can be trimmed; if you do not know how to do it, please consult your vet or come to Animal Mama and we will gladly teach you how to do it. It is very easy, especially if you do it regularly when the animal is very young. Finally, if it is determined that you cat is scratching due to stress or anxiety, there are synthetic facial pheromone sprays and diffusers that might be useful.
In short, unless it is in the best interests of the cat, declawing is unethical, unnecessary and cruel procedure that is illegal in many countries around the globe. If you are concerned about the well-being of your sofa more than about the welfare of your cat, you are just not ready to welcome the cat in your home in the first place.
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