Cat declawing myths and truths

Cat declawing myths are legendary and they are disseminated by our beloved veterinarians who are charged with the responsibility of caring for our cats. Here are some myths that are portrayed as fact by the vets. I also present the truths as presented by cold research. Note: This page was written about 13 years ago, perhaps 12 but certainly a long time ago. I have republished it, Jan 10, 2022. It needs to be front and center in the lives of Americans. Sorry. And please don’t bypass the page. Don’t brush it under the carpet and forget about it. It is too important. I am not a fanatic or a mad animal rights extremist (there are none in truth).

It is just that when I think of declawing (something I try and forget) it pains me. I think of the agony, the fear and distress of the kittens who’ve had a vital part of their anatomy amputated at the convenience of their ‘caregiver’. Sometimes it is the first thing the owner does after adopting a kitten. What a start to the relationship 😢. It is sociopathic almost.

Declawing poster
Declawing poster. by Ruth aka Kattaddorra
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Myth – Declawing is a last resort and it saves lives by stopping the relinquishment of cats

The Truth: A study1 indicated that declawed cats are nearly twice as likely to be relinquished to a shelter than intact cats.

At recent hearings in Californian cities on the banning of declawing, one of the great clichéd phrases declared as being an immutable truth by Dr. Nunez (the spokesperson for the California Veterinary Medical Association) is that declawing saves the lives of cats. If it wasn’t for declawing many more cats would be relinquished, he repeatedly says. Gosh, the vets are doing a great service aren’t they, saving all those lives! They do it with such relish that they ignore their own association’s guidelines that state that there is an obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with complete education with regard to feline onychectomy.

All attempts should be made to avoid declawing….yet in a survey by Dr. Nunez’s own association it was found that 76% of cats2 were declawed at less than 8 months of age. I don’t see much in the way of attempts to find alternatives to declawing or much education going on.

Having read how the AVMA describes that declawing should only be considered after going over all the alternatives and educating their client etc. bla bla bla, it is no surprise to see that up to 40 million cats are declawed in the USA (up to 45% of all domestic cats). The vets are doing a wonderful job educating people aren’t they? And in a survey3, it was found that 78% of veterinarians would carry out declawing on request. What can you say? This is not a case of one or two rogue veterinarians but a nearly the whole lot who are in breach of the guidelines. The vets are ignoring their governing body and the governing body knows about it and does nothing. Or a better explanation is that the guidelines are a cynical piece of window dressing to try and pretend that they care!

People most often relinquish cats for so called behavior problems (actually they relinquish cats because they don’t like the normal behavior of cats but we shouldn’t mention that). If the behavior is not to some people’s liking they will abandon their cat. And the classic cat behavior that is disliked is inappropriate elimination (going to the toilet outside the litter).

In a proper scientific survey4 it was found that inappropriate elimination was twice as likely to occur in respect of declawed cats than for intact cats. Accordingly, declawing increases the chances of the relinquishment of a cat. So much for Dr. Nunez’s thread bare clichés (correction – bare faced lies).

Declawed cat
Declawed cat. Image in public domain.

Myth – declawing does not lead to behavioral problems that are over and above those normally encountered

Another myth peddled by those slippery vets is that….there is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups (link to AVMA guidelines). Unfortunately, I think it worth making the point again that the concept of “behavior problems” is very elastic because some people are initiating the problems themselves by creating an unsuitable environment for the cat, and/or they find normal behavior “problem behavior”. No doubt vets try to use this to their advantage to muddy the water in an attempt to support their otherwise transparently weak arguments. In fact, most biting and scratching of people comes from people provoking the cat because of a lack of education (the vets failing to do their job again) and/or a lack of sensitivity to the cat’s innate characteristics5

That said, there have been two long term studies on the effects of declawing on the behavior of cats that debunk the untruths of veterinary associations.

The Truth – In one conclusive study6 over a long five year period (most studies are short), research indicated that one third of declawed cats developed behavior problems (inappropriate elimination and biting) after the operation.

In another study7 more declawed cats (55%) were referred to a veterinary hospital than intact cats (45%).

In further research8 it was established that inappropriate elimination occurred more frequently in declawed cats (52.4%) than intact cats (29.1%).

These studies support the only possible conclusion, namely that declawing increases the chance of abandonment to shelters, which directly contradicts what the veterinarians consistently preach as their reason for declawing. Don’t believe them – ever.

Myth – declawing is carried out to protect people with suppressed immune systems and who are old and infirm etc.

Although, below, I quote studies that debunk this, it is frankly obvious that this is nonsense and it is wholly unsupported by evidence. Actually, declawed cats tend to bite more9 than intact cats and bites are more problematic than scratches. That alone turns the vet’s argument on its head. I have already mentioned that cats are often provoked by a person. Don’t provoke – don’t get scratched/bitten – simple. And even on the extremely rare occasions that a vulnerable person is bitten how serious is this? I see no evidence to support the fact that such a bite or scratch is nothing more than a passing inconvenience.

The Truth — In fact, declawing and/or tendonectomy is almost exclusively done to protect furniture10. Three other studies support this. In one study11 the conclusion was that 95% of the time the operation was carried out to prevent “household damage”. In more research12 scratching household materials was the main reason.

Myth – cats recover quickly after surgery etc.

The Truth – 35% of 320 vets surveyed13 reported long term problems! Up to 80% of cats had complication(s) post surgery14. 17% of cats suffered cat claw regrowth causing more complications including 19% of cats becoming lame15.

OK that will do for the time being. There is more. I would like to thank Jean Hofve, DVM for researching the material and which can be seen on this page (the source for this article)

Fr om Cat Declawing Myths and Truths to Declawing Cats

notes

1 Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:582–588

2 So Cal Vet Med Assoc. Pulse. 2009 Nov:4

3 Landsberg GM. Declawing is controversial but saves pets. A veterinarian survey. Vet Forum 1991;8:66-67.

4 Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:582–588

5 American Academy of Family Physicians, FamilyDoctor.org

6 Yeon SC, Flanders JA, Scarlett JM, et al. Attitudes of owners regarding tendonectomy and onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:43-47.

7 Bennett M, Houpt KA, Erb HN. Effects of declawing on feline behavior. Comp Anim Pract 1988;2:7-12.

8 Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:582–588

9 Yeon SC, Flanders JA, Scarlett JM, et al. Attitudes of owners regarding tendonectomy and onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:43-47

10 Bennett M, Houpt KA, Erb HN. Effects of declawing on feline behavior. Comp Anim Pract 1988;2:7-12.

11 So Cal Vet Med Assoc. Pulse. 2009 Nov:4

12 Yeon SC, Flanders JA, Scarlett JM, et al. Attitudes of owners regarding tendonectomy and onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:43-47

13 Landsberg GM. Declawing is controversial but saves pets. A veterinarian survey. Vet Forum 1991;8:66-67

14 Vet Surg 1994; 23:274-280

15 Martinez SA, Hauptmann J, Walshaw R. Comparing two techniques for onychectomy in cats and two adhesives for wound closure. Vet Med 1993; 88:516-525

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