Does your Veterinarian Declaw Cats as a Quick Fix for Behavioral Problems?

Your cat has been energetically using her claws scratching your brand new furniture. What originally was a beautiful couch now looks tacky, your carpet is threadbare and your curtains have been shred to ribbons.

Picture of cat's claws. The cat is Razzy

You’ve become increasingly frustrated with your cat’s destructive and unacceptable behavior as you watch your expensive furnishings going down the tubes. In desperation you call your trusted veterinarian for advice to prevent your kitty from wrecking your home. Happily your veterinarian offers you an immediate solution by recommending a “routine” surgical procedure; having your cat declawed.

You love your cat and would never want to hurt her and seek comfort by imagining that “declawing” is just removing the kitty’s claws; similar to a deep pedicure. However, considering that you have not been fully informed about what this surgery entails and the methods used to perform the procedure, or informed about its humane alternatives; since it seems like a simple quick fix, you quickly take your veterinarian’s advice and immediately schedule the surgery.

The day following the procedure, you take your kitty home. You get some post-surgical instructions, and perhaps a day’s worth of pain control medication. And as the weeks pass, your cat appears to be healing well, is beginning to act somewhat more normally; so you don’t give the declaw surgery another thought. That is – until your cat stops using her litter box- seems depressed and withdrawn and won’t let you touch her paws. Is it possible that your cat is actually suffering excruciating pain?

While it’s obviously too late; here is the information you should have been given first about how the procedure is performed before you made that wrong, irreversible decision.

The last bone of each of the ten front toes of your cat’s paws are removed, along with the ligaments, muscles, tendons, nerves and everything in between. Basically there are two methods used to perform the procedure. One is using a “guillotine” (Rescoe type nail trimmers) and the other is the “excisional” method, which is generally done with a scalpel blade or a laser; with the entire bone (P3) removed although there is a debate about whether only part of P3 should be removed.

Although the laser is touted as more humane, there are no real differences between the two. The scalpel cuts the cat’s skin and the laser burns it which is even more painful. The guillotine method severs the P3 bone in half, removing the claw and end part of this bone; and may also possibly cut through the toe pad.

Because cats are both stoic creatures and hide their pain as a survival strategy, it makes it difficult for owners to recognize their cats are hurting. Since it’s essential for kitty owners to recognize when their cats are in pain, and assess its level, this list of pain symptoms, based on the Feline Pain Standards published by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, (AAFP) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) is a very important resource.

A. Loss of normal behavior

  • Decreased ambulation or activity
  • Lethargic attitude
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased grooming

B. Expression of abnormal behaviors

  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Vocalization
  • Aggression
  • Decreased interaction with other pets or family members
  • Altered facial expression
  • Altered posture
  • Restlessness
  • Hiding

C. Reaction to touch

  • Increased body tension or flinching in response to gentle palpation of declawed paws
  • Increased body tension or flinching in response to gentle palpation of non-declawed paws

D. Physiologic parameters

  • Elevations in heart rate
  • Elevations in respirator rate
  • Elevations of body temperature

Dr. Kirsten Doub, Director of Paw Project Utah, studied and analyzed a sampling of declawed cats in Utah shelters. Doub reported that the results were “shocking”. She discovered that of the 29 declawed cats analyzed in these shelters, 66% had left over P3 fragments from declaws improperly performed.

What’s even more alarming is at least one 33% of these 29 cats have more than 5 fragments, 45% of these cats have onr fragment larger than 5 MM, 28% of these cats have a declaw that was performed 100% improperly, meaning that a large 5 MM fragment remains on all the declawed toes.

This data translates into a 66% overall failure rate. And it isn’t the result of one or two culpable practitioners. Dr. Doub says that the percentage rate is too high for so few vets, “Which means it’s an epidemic”.

If your situation is similar to my opening illustrative scenario, before scheduling declaw surgery for your cat, explore the wide selection of amazing, attractive alternatives, such as scratching posts and cat trees. Your kitty can readily be trained to use them in preference to your furniture.

After all isn’t a living, breathing cat more precious than inanimate possessions? If you disagree please don’t adopt a kitty.

Tell us how you feel about declawing in a comment.



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Does your Veterinarian Declaw Cats as a Quick Fix for Behavioral Problems? — 17 Comments

  1. Although you cover some familiar (to the regulars) ground what I like is the way you have introduced the idea of cat behavioral problems and declawing as a quick fix.

    There seems to be a tendency to find quick fixes to any problem rather then looking for the better and long term solution.

    In respect of the quick fix declawing is somewhat similar to behaviour changing drugs such as the tranquillisers.

    Both do damage to the cat and are poor alternatives to more humane and long lasting solutions to what is nearly always a people problem, not a cat problem.

  2. What I can’t understand is why so many American people say their cats ‘destroy their furniture’ and ‘tear their house up’ and they might ‘scratch people to bits’ or ‘scratch the babys or dogs eyes out’
    None of these things happen in our country where all cats are fully clawed.
    I think it’s a huge exaggeration to say that American cats do those things. Do their ‘owners’ not provide scratching posts and pads from being a kitten and teach the kitten gently and patiently how to use them and not the furniture? No, why should they bother about that when their vet is willing, in fact encourages them, to have their kitten’s toe ends amputated instead!
    Michael is right, it’s a people problem, they want a quick fix and don’t even consider the consequences to the cat.
    Well I hope the day is coming when all declawing vets and all pro declaw people wake up and realise life isn’t like that, if you want something right, you should earn it.
    Millions of cats are suffering because of the quick fix attitude and even when declawing is banned, ROLL ON THAT DAY, there will still be a backlog of declawed cats living lives of pain. Will the people who paid a vet to cause their pain, pay again to try to get help for their cat from vets like Kirsten who want to help them? I hope they do! They could afford to have their cat mutilated, so they should afford to have his/her suffering alleviated by a vet who cares about the quality of life of all cats.

    • You’re right we don’t get the same moans about “destroying furnishings” or being scratched to pieces. Perhaps Americans are more house proud. I doubt it. It is just a question of attitude. It seems Americans are less tolerant of the domestic cat.

    • Sorry, but not all us Americans are “house/home proud” or the like. I know a lot of people, and I myself, who would never get the cat’s declawed. I have even started educating people on the reality when someone suggests it. My mother gets furious when the cats scratch up our wood door frames, but says she would never go get their claws removed. Even more so when I informed her on what the procedure actually entitles.

      So in all that respect I would love it if people wouldn’t throw insults at “those Americans”. Acting like we are all uncaring of our animals. (One of mine who is actually climbing all over me as I type this,lol)

      There are some who aren’t, but those of us who do care will try to educate and help our little kitties not fall harm to this unnecessary procedure.

      Anyways, this article is very nice. I like how informative it is and how it actually takes about the ways cats are declawed.

      • Jessica, I completely agree with you. There are millions of wonderful American cat lovers who always do the right thing. For some weird reason (money – the vets) the idea of declawing caught on in the USA. It should never have happened. Thanks for sharing. Any future comments you make will be published immediately.

        P.S. I was very impressed with the 9/11 Museum and the Memorial/Opening service yesterday. Wonderful and moving.

      • Jessica, it is the Americans that are doing the declawing and it appears to me the statements made are in reference to why the declawing is being performed. According to the Paw Project and other surveys on the subject, the number one reason for declawing was that Americans said they wanted to protect their furnishings. So, if it is taken as an insult, it is one of our own making.

        As an American, I am ashamed that our society cares so little about the care and comfort of such a magnificent animal that they would willingly mutilate it for life.

        I am not proud of Americans for thinking this is acceptable.

        • Well said Cindy. Thank you. On this website we are not point scoring and were not willingly criticising. All we’re doing is trying to improve the lives of the domestic cat anywhere in the world and this is one world and as far as I’m concerned we have a right to think about the welfare of any cat anywhere. We don’t wish to insult anybody or upset anybody. We just wish to stop the unnecessary amputation of part of the 10 toes on the front paws of the domestic cat. It is not much to ask.

          The only people that I feel should be criticised are people who should know better and who are educated: the veterinarians. The cat owner often does know better but often they are in the hands of the veterinarian who advises and regrettably misleads. The victim in the middle, the domestic cat, is the one that loses out.

  3. I agree with you both, Ruth and Michael. It’s very depressing and will continue to be until people get it into their heads that all cats’ lives are precious and FAR more important than a damned couch.

    Sorry- it just doesn’t equate. Idiocy I think!

  4. “…After all isn’t a living, breathing cat more precious than inanimate possessions? If you disagree please don’t adopt a kitty.” WELL SAID, Jo, and it should be illegal for such people to do so.

    With a beautiful home full of beautiful furniture as well as scratching posts and pads and cat furniture in almost every room, we do not have any problem with “inappropriate” clawing; but if we did, your quote above would apply, as our FAMILY MEMBERS are far, far more important than any inanimate objects ever could be.

    Too bad vets don’t offer a “two-fer” incentive to the heartless people seeking to declaw: Sure, we’ll do it, and we’ll throw in hacking off YOUR finger and toe joints, too! 😉

    • People who look after a cat should not be too house proud or too involved with show home mentality. They should be people who take a more intelligent approach to life and who are concerned with the genuinely important things. Obvious I suppose. You could say that there is a mismatch between person and cat if the person agrees with declawing. No one who thinks declawing is OK should have a cat. None.

  5. well im happy what my animals do. Ive had a new couch for a few years its soft and made of good material it doesnt bother me at all if its not in right condition. The important thing for me is my cats are NOT declawed and the animals are safe and happy.

  6. Our vet does not de-claw unless it is an extreme case and then she is hesitant. If it comes right down to the very worse scenario then she will do the surgery but she takes her time and does it right and she charges LOTS of money. She prefers to teach the cat’s family about other options. She is also an advocate to making de-clawing illegal in the United States. There are a group of us cat owners, vet included, that are lobbying the New York State Senate to outlaw de-clawing among other practices. It is so easy to teach a cat not to claw where they shouldn’t. Thanks for this article. We need to reach as many cat families as possible to spread the word.

    • Thanks for your support. Your vet seems like a nice lady actually even though she does declawing sometimes. There is quite a lot of pressure on vets to follow the herd. It is hard for a vet to become an outsider. Nearly all vets in the USA declaw cats.

    • Thanks so much Deb. Great to see you visiting PoC.

      We are all praying that declawing will become a thing of the past, and are working hard to help make that happen. Together we DO make a difference!

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