American veterinarian criticises fellow vets for doing non-essential surgery such as declawing and tail docking

Michael Petty DVM is a graduate of the veterinary school of Michigan State University. He owns the Arbor Pointe Veterinary Hospital. In an article which has been posted on Facebook, he criticises his fellow veterinarians for conducting non-essential surgery: cat declawing, dog tail docking and ear cropping. It is very rare for a veterinarian to criticise fellow veterinarians. He’s brave and good.

Dr Mike Petty DVM.
Dr Mike Petty DVM. Image:
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Years ago, I remember asking a UK veterinarian to criticise American veterinarians over declawing but he refused to do it. They just don’t want to rock the boat but Dr. Petty has and it is wonderful to read his article.

He refers to non-essential surgery which is otherwise known as non-therapeutic surgery or even cosmetic surgery.

He starts off by reminding everyone of the veterinarian’s oath. This is a topic that I written about several times, many years ago. It occurred to me, then, that all American veterinarians who declawed cats were breaking their oath in a most blatant and shocking way.

Dr Mike Petty DVM

It’s important to note, also, that Dr. Mike Petty, DVM, is a highly qualified expert on pain management in animals. He is the author of Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs: the Complete Medical and Integrative Guide to Treating Pain. He is a certified veterinary pain management expert and acupuncturist. He is the past president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management and the co-author of the AAHA/AAFP 2015 Pain Guidelines. He is a frequent speaker and consultant. He has lectured both nationally and internationally on pain management and rehabilitation topics. In short, he knows what he is talking about.

Vets’ oath

Here is the oath (he spells it out in full in his article so I think I will as well)

Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.

I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.

I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

When a veterinarian declaws a cat or cuts off a dog’s tail they are in breach of that oath in several places. It’s that bad.

He starts off by discussing declawing, my pet hate. Whenever I write about declawing my anger level rises as the thermometer rises on a hot summer day.

He admits that when he first qualified as a vet, he declawed cats. He was taught how to do it at veterinary school and in employment cat owners and employers expected him to do it.

He then became aware of the pain that it causes and “the behavioural problems exhibited by declawed cats”.

He then “took to heart my obligation to prevent and relieve animal suffering and stopped offering the procedure.”

Well done to Dr. Petty but without wishing to be too critical, it took him a little while to realise that he was breaking his oath day in and day out as a veterinarian in those early days. Or perhaps he realised it early on but was forced to do the operation by his employer.

Then and now he spends time with cat owners to educate them on alternatives to “mitigate some of the damage declawing can cause.”

In a nice touch, he gives his clients a button which says, “I love my cat more than my couch“.

Cat immediately after the declawing operation.
Cat immediately after the declawing operation. One of the most poignant images concerning declawing taken by a vet tech who let me use it.

Declawing vets are blind or bad

He gently criticises veterinarians who tell him that they know how to manage the pain of declawing. These veterinarians say that they don’t see long-term complications. He says that these veterinarians are not “looking at their patients critically enough”.

Painkilling protocols are inadequate

He says that there is “no known analgesic protocol that adequately provides pain relief during the time from the start of the declawed procedure through full recovery.”.

He refers to one study which showed that surgical methods cause pain (obvious I guess) and another study looked at a dozen different analgesic protocols. That study concluded that all of them were inadequate. I think we need to stress that point. He is saying that the painkilling protocols in veterinary clinics are at least often inadequate.

Early days no painkillers

It is also worth noting that in the early days of declawing, veterinarians did not administer painkillers to their patients because they wanted to prevent the cats from walking on their feet because it might open up the wound. Can you imagine that level of callousness in a veterinarian?

RELATED: Origin of Cat Declawing


He also mentions an alternative operation to declawing which is simply chopping off the last phalange of each toe, which is tendonectomy. This cuts the tendon in the toe which prevents the cat extending the claw. He says that that operation isn’t the answer “as they can have more complications than declaws”.

RELATED: Cat declawing myths and truths

Neuropathic pain

He says that declawing has a very good chance of causing neuropathic pain after the surgery. And this is difficult to diagnose. He makes the important point that in people neuropathic pain is self-reported. That’s because people feel the pain and tell their doctor about it. But cats can’t do that and therefore it is under diagnosed and under managed in veterinary medicine.

He goes under say that in his practice he quite often treats declawed cats for persistent post-operative pain. And he says that it can last for years. The treatment is complex and it has a high failure rate with only 10-20% of cats receiving pain relief using his “many phantom pain/neuropathic pain protocols”.

The immunocompromised

And finally, he criticises the veterinarian who declaw cats by saying “what about immunocompromised caregivers”. He is referring to those caregivers who have weak immune systems and therefore cannot tolerate being scratched by their cat. This is one reason why they are declawed. His strong argument is that, “Given declawed cats are more likely to bite this argument is specious, as a bite is much more serious than a scratch, immune-compromised or not.”

2 thoughts on “American veterinarian criticises fellow vets for doing non-essential surgery such as declawing and tail docking”

  1. I wish the AKC would stop making people cut off tails and ears in order to show a dog. Now dew claw are okay because they get caught on fences and blankets and other things and have no use.

    • Yes, for me is it shocking that this No 1 dog association accepts this abuse. This vet has bravely spoken out. Not many vets would do that. You can count them on the fingers of one hand I suspect. Dr Petty would disagree with you about the declaw! It is not a vestigial piece of canine anatomy but still serves a purpose. It should be left alone according to Petty. He should know.


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