Declawed cats do not have more behavioral problems than cats with claws. Discuss.

It is claimed in a series of studies around 2015 that declawing did not alter the behaviour of domestic cats. In fact, the operation pleased the owners and it helped to prevent the abandonment of those cats to shelters. I would like to quote a few of those studies and then discuss the results.

Please read the whole article. I am publishing this to provide a balanced viewpoint. Personally, I hate the operation as it is anthropocentric (human-centered) and cruel.

It is an operation of convenience and it is degrading for the cat BUT I respect the views of others and must represent them. There are many declawing articles on this site; all are against it 💔. The cracked heart emoji represents the broken relationship between cat and owner when the cat is declawed by the owner.

Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment written by visitors. It is a way visitors can contribute to animal welfare without much effort and no financial cost. Please comment. It helps this website too which at heart is about cat welfare.

Not prone to more problems

The title to this article more or less comes from a study published in 2015: Feline Behaviour Problems: The Influence of Declawing by Melanie Morgan and Katherine Houpt.

The interesting point that comes out of this study is this: “A significantly greater percentage of declawed cats, as compared to intact cats, was reported to jump on counters or tables.” I don’t know if this is significant and I can’t think of a connection between declawing and jumping on counters.

The other major finding in respect of declawed cats was “that declawed cats are not prone to have more problems than do clawed cats.” Thais appears quite definitive. These scientists are saying that declawed cats behaved entirely normally and there were no negative consequences from declawing in terms of bad cat behaviour.

Not prone to biting

In a write-up of “Feline behaviour and welfare” by Garry Landsberg BSC, DVM, there is a segment on declawing and how it affects behaviour. He refers to studies conducted in the late 1980s. He says that “Studies performed to date, whether declawing causes an increase in behavioural problems has been examined. In each study, declawing was shown not to alter the cats’ behaviour. In fact, cats continue to scratch furniture after declawing, but did not cause substantial damage. In a study of more than 850 cats, declawed cats were no more likely to bite than were clawed cats. Results of declawing successfully met or surpassed the owner’s expectations for all cats, and more than 70% of the cat owners indicated that the cat-owner relationship improved following declawing. In a study of veterinarians in Ontario, it was estimated that more than 50% of owners of declawed cats would not have owned or kept their cat had those cats not been declawed.”

Comment: that paints a very positive view of cat declawing. There is nothing but benefit there for the owner and even for the cats because it prevented the abandonment of those cats. Being naturally cynical I wonder is this vet is biased in favour of declawing in order to support the practice and thereby assist vets make more money.

Declawed shelter cats not adopted

A further study titled: “Declawing has no effect on biting behaviour but does affect adoption outcomes for domestic cats in an animal shelter” is worth referring to.

This study makes the very interesting observation that shelters did not have a lot of declawed cats as might be expected if the declawing had caused behavioural problems in those cats and the cats abandoned as a consequence. And they found that there was “no significant correlation between declawing and biting behaviour”. They are saying that when a cat has been declawed, they do not bite more than a cat with claws, which is a claim made by people who object to declawing.

Also, they found that declawed cats stayed a lot longer in shelters than cats that were not declawed. Comment: this indicates that people who go to a shelter to adopt a cat object to cat declawing. This might be because they don’t like it on principle by which I mean moral issues or they have read about declawing and how it affects cat behaviour and come away with a negative viewpoint.

Owners of declawed cats are happy

A further study entitled: “Cat Owners’ Attitudes toward Declawing“, has some more interesting observations. All of them are positive about declawing. They said that, “Of the 276 owners of declawed cats surveyed for the study, all stated that declawing successfully met their objectives, and in many cases additional benefits were listed as well. Ninety-six percent of owners had a positive a very positive attitude about declawing and 70% reported that they had an improved relationship with their cat. Forty percent of the cats were allowed outside without problems after declawing but they found that cats declawed after one year of age had higher incidences of postsurgical discomfort and took longer to recover.

Back pain and botched operations

A further study contradicts some of his earlier findings. This study is titled: “Pain and adverse behaviour in declawed cats“. The conclusions were that, “Declawing cats increases the risk of unwanted behaviours and may increase risk for developing back pain. Evidence of inadequate surgical techniques were common in the study population. Among declawed cats, retained P3 fragments further increased the risk of developing back pain and adverse behaviours. The use of optimal surgical technique does not eliminate the risk of adverse behaviour subsequent to onychectomy (declawing)”.

Comment: this study reinforces the belief that declawing does affect behaviour and it can result in long-term pain. It also confirms what I’ve been told before that many declawing operations are botched living fragments of bone in the paw which cause pain and therefore affects their behaviour and their gait. It has to be said that it is very hard to reconcile this study which was published in 2017 with the others because if a cat is in pain it must affect to some extent the behaviour.

For example, it might make the cats averse to using the litter tray because the substrate is rough causing pain in their paws. This may lead to inappropriate elimination. And if a cat has to alter the way they walk it can have knock-on effects throughout their body’s joints and muscles.

Veterinarians want a ban

In a further study entitled: “Cat Declaw Bans Help Both Cats and Veterinarians“, the author of the study came to the conclusion that “a majority of 1200 veterinarians surveyed support legislative bans on declawing”. The survey found that most veterinarians in America want a ban on declawing which I find extraordinary bearing in mind that it takes a ban the stop declawing. If most veterinarians disagree with declawing, why don’t they just stop of their own volition? The study was published in 2023.

I think it is reasonable to believe that over the past six or seven years, there has been a change in attitude toward declawing and I would argue an enlightenment about the operation. This enlightenment has led to a greater number of cat owners in America and veterinarians disliking the operation.

Ethics

More importantly, and this is something that the scientists have never addressed, it is an immoral, unethical operation because it’s in violation of the veterinarian’s oath not to cause harm as the operation is conducted nearly every time for non-therapeutic reasons.

The moral dimension to declawing is a far greater factor in deciding whether it is right or wrong than any other aspect of the operation. If it is simply cruel, immoral and unethical then it must be bad and it must be banned.

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