Epidemic of Botched Cat Declaw Operations

On their Facebook page, The Paw Project Ohio provide the shocking results of a study they have recently completed into the proficiency of veterinarians carrying out declaw operations (technical term: onychectomy). Here are the results presented in an image which anyone is free to use. Please ask if you wish to use it as there is no right-click downloads on this website. Just leave a comment.

This is a hugely important piece of research. The importance cannot be overstressed. Please spread the word by sharing this post if you want to try and influence lawmakers wishing to ban declawing.

botched cat declaw operations
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Botched cat declaw operations study results

In words: there is a 66% failure rate on declaw surgery in respect of the cats checked. This isn’t 1-2 vets, they say – this is a 66% failure rate overall. The figures are too high to conclude that the problem of botched declaw operations concerns one or two vets. This is an epidemic! They say: please be patient and keep sharing. More shocking news to come…..

A thought: a person commented on the Utah Paw Project page.  They asked whether we can automatically assume that where there are bone fragments in the paws of declawed cats that the cat feels pain or at least discomfort.  I think that is a reasonably fair question to ask but common sense dictates that the answer must be Yes. Bone fragments are sharp and they are under the skin. What can one expect?

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In any case, these are botched declaw operations because we know that when veterinarians declaw cats they remove the last phalange of the toes of the cat.  This means that a length of bone at the end of the cat’s toe is removed at the point where that phalange of bone is connected to another length of bone.  In which case an incision is made through tissue that connects the bones together.  As I understand it, there is no need, therefore, for the veterinarian to cut through bone itself. This clearly indicates that veterinarians are being incredibly careless when they slice off the end of cat’s toes in declawing the cat.

Of course, in this post I am making no judgement about the morality of the operation itself (we all know it is a immoral). In this article we are simply looking at the skill of the veterinarians involved and on these results we have to conclude that there is very little skill evident.  If there is skill is not being applied and in which case we have to conclude that the veterinarians involved are being incredibly careless as stated.

I have read on the Internet that veterinarians carry out the declawing of the 10 toes of a forepaws of a cat in around 15 or 20 mins.  I would like a veterinarian to confirm this. For me, this supports what I stated that these “doctors” are being very, very careless and treating a cat’s toes as a vegetable that requires trimming!  It’s as if they’re trimming the end of a runner bean when preparing dinner….

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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33 Responses

  1. Cindy Shepard says:

    I have read with horror how awful this is. It is really shocking to me that it is such an obvious high level of cruelty. Dr Jean, what would be a vets excuse for performing this procedure and still be able to sleep at night?? I didn’t think I could detest declawing more than I did previously, but I do.

  2. Leah says:

    My God the more I read the more I cry with sheer anger and despair thinking about the torture that is inflicted on those poor cats that are taken to their fate by the very people who are supposed to protect them. And the vets! My God what I feel about them and what I would like to do to them isn’t suitable people to read here on PoC. Can you imagine what the waste bin looks like after a days ‘work’ bringing in all that blood money?!? All those necessary little toes just hacked off without a second thought!!! I hope all the blood and the cries of pain from those cats haunts them when they are dead and buried because one thing for sure it wouldn’t disturb their sleep because their conscience wouldn’t trouble them because they have no conscience they are damned evil through and through!! Evil animal abusers both vets and owners – all as bad as one another utterly sickening!!

  3. Jean Hofve DVM says:

    Resco declawing is very imprecise, and the outcome depends on the angle at which the instrument is placed. The blade rides in a channel, and the top of the guide is placed dorsally (at the top) between P2 and P3. That part is easy to position, and that’s what you see in illustrations. But the angle of the instrument will be slightly different on each toe. Regardless, the Rescoe always produces a straight cut that necessarily goes right through the P3 bone.

    It is physically impossible to get all of P3 with the Resco, so the options are to leave the fragment, or go in with a scalpel and dissect it out. Most vets do not retrieve that fragment, as Dr. Doub’s figure of 66% confirms. However, vets do not acknowledge that leaving a fragment P3 is painful, and in fact many would say it is less painful because it leaves the deep digital flexor tendon intact. If that tendon is cut, the foot flattens out and creates an abnormal gait (rather, I should say, even more abnormal).

    Depending on the angle of the cut, more or less of the P3 is left behind, and sometimes that piece also contains ungual crest cells that produce the nail, which is why scurs and regrowth are common.

    When I was in vet school we were told to remove the P3 fragment, but it seems that other schools and more recent grads have been taught to leave it. So yes, the procedure is more-or-less designed to be botched.

    • Great comment. Very instructional and it is so nice to be taught this stuff 😉 Love it. It is very useful for me because it provides insights. One point that comes to mind is that if P3 is cut through is is more likely that small minuscule fragments will be left behind while if the area between P2 and P3 is cut there would be no bone fragments as you are cutting soft tissue. Or is that simplistic. Is it possible that very small fragments are undetected?

      • Jean Hofve DVM says:

        If the Resco blade is sharp, it should make a relatively clean cut. A dull blade would do more crushing and splintering. Blades can be easily changed, but are they changed often enough? Who knows??

        I think it’s likely that microscopic fragments are left behind in many if not most cases, but do they cause a problem? Probably not. However, it may be helpful to know that the lower limit of what you can see on ordinary radiographs is about 5 mm. Fragments smaller than that wouldn’t be detected on x-rays, but something 2 or 3 mm in size probably *would* hurt. I sure notice gravel that size if it gets in my shoes!

        • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

          Ah there we have it! Somewhere on a recent article about declawing, I quoted a comment from an ex vet tech who told us that the vets she worked for very rarely changed the blade in the Resco clipper and never even sterilised it between uses.
          I can’t find the page now, will post it when/if I do.
          It seems to me there is NO way to humanely declaw a cat because it was never meant to happen.

          • Jean Hofve DVM says:

            Well, it’s the tech’s job to change the blade and clean it, so there’s a big problem right there!!

            • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

              Really Jean!!!! Well that’s shocking then that she didn’t do it!

            • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

              Found the quote:

              This was never intended for use as a surgical instrument and not able to even be autoclaved due to their construction. Some vets (such as the board certified feline specialist I had the misfortune of working for) don’t even bother to change the guillotine blade for every surgery, because a new blade costs a few cents…so lots of times, it might even be *dull* and it’s NEVER sterile’

          • Jean says that bits of bone 2-3mm in width are not seen by ordinary x-rays. And the bone could be cut by a dull blade. Even a sharp blade can cause small fragments. We are looking at millions of cats in pain at least potentially.

            Why hasn’t some research been done on the prevalence of bone fragments left in the paw? No one knows. Dr Doub is the first to ask. And I don’t know if she is using an x-ray machine that reads 2-3mm particles.

        • 2 mm is quite large and in my layperson’s viewpoint is quite likely to cause problems. So we have to conclude that a high percentage of declawed cats could be in pain permanently and yet the vets totally accept this. Staggering. Personally, if I was in charge I’d restart the whole veterinary profession in the same way one restarts a computer. It needs a rethink.

          • Jean Hofve DVM says:

            Oh, I’m quite certain they are *all* in pain, though not necessarily on account of bone fragments. The issue of phantom pain is huge, IMHO–yet all but ignored.

            In humans, 100% of amputees (regardless of age or manner of amputation) experience phantom *sensation* but for 80% those sensations are painful. Not constantly, but intermittently. Given 10 separate amputations, I admit my math is lousy, but that seems like about a 400% chance of phantom pain in one or more digits at least occasionally (and potentially much worse).

            Add that to the inability to stretch/contracture of tendons/frozen joints, which has to be uncomfortable at the least; and the altered gait leading to aberrant limb function and arthritis…none of which the veterinary profession has ever considered. They don’t want to. They have a strong disincentive to know. It’s just like the issue of emotions in animals. If science acknowledged that animals have emotions, they’d have to stop chopping them up in university and private laboratories…and it could put quite a little a damper on things like rodeos, circuses, factory farms…I’m sure you get my drift!

            But to end on a better note, there have been several fascinating studies lately on the recognition of animal pain using, of all things, facial expression. In general, we do a terrible job of assessing pain, but if this system becomes widely known–by both guardians and veterinarians–there’s hope that folks will begin to recognize how these cats are suffering. And, ultimately, that will be impossible to ignore!

          • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

            It’s even worse than we thought and that was very bad!

  4. Jean Hofve DVM says:

    Part of the problem is that there are two schools of thought about performing declaws, and many vet students are taught that it is *optional* to remove the P3 fragment. Some actually advocate leaving it intact, because removing it severs an important tendon needed for a normal gait. (Though this is more of a problem in big cats.) Plus, if you’re doing a Resco declaw, removing the P3 fragment requires going in with a scalpel to dissect it, which takes more time, is a hassle, and is probably more painful for the cat. The problem, of course, is that if P3 is not completely removed, there’s a chance for the nail to grow back, as well as the other problems cited in the article. So most vets would not agree that the surgery was “botched” because leaving the P3 fragment is an “acceptable” technique.

    • it is *optional* to remove the P3 fragment.

      Thank you very much for your interesting comment. I don’t want to impose on you but what does that mean? Does it mean that it is optional to remove bits of bone that are left over from the operation? Or does it mean that a bit of the third phalange is left over normally and it can be left in place?

      I think I see. The normal operation entails leaving a bit of the third phalange in place so it seems to me that the guillotine cuts through that bone. Yet all the pictures I see of the operation indicate that the incision is precisely between the bones.

      If the normal operation leaves a bit of bone in place which is painful then it would seem to me that the normal operation is designed to cause pain for a very long time, well beyond the timeframe during which painkillers are given.

      In which case the normal operation is by design a botch. A failure. If that is true it simply compounds this awful process.

  5. Amy says:

    Wow I am sitting here in tears after reading this article. This should be posted on every single internet site!! I have had countless cats in my 72 years and NOT ONE had their claws removed.!!! There are so many things out now for cats to do what comes natural to them. A simple empty box made of cardboard can give them entertainment and also serve as a place to use their claws. Upsetting article, yes, but one that needed to be written. Please continue to fight this battle.

  6. Reno says:

    Hi Michael, sadly each of them have crossed OTRB. Snuggles, the first declawed cat we adopted was 17 when she came to us. She showed no limping or pain issues with her feet. She was 21 when she crossed. Champagne, the second one was 14 when we adopted him and we have a wonderful year with him before he died suddenly of a kidney stone that lodged in between the kidney and the bladder causing complete renal failure….aggressive treatment didn’t help. Champagne did have fragments left, however, at his age my vet was leary of anesthesia. He was managed well on NSAIDs. 🙁 Jillian was 12 when we adopted her and, sadly, due to heart disease that the former owner never treated, she only had nine months with us. Due to the unstable condition of her heart, sedation was out of the question for her and she would not allow the XRays without sedation. 🙁

    • Leah says:

      What a lovely person you are to adopt so many not just ‘older’ but much older cats knowing they will most certainly have health issues. Wish there were more people around like you

  7. Reno says:

    I would NEVER declaw a cat. I have adopted several that had already been declawed and were suffering the consequences. It took some time and some extra TLC like changing litter brands to a more comfortable one for their deformed feet. I also had those that could tolerate pain medications on pain meds. Some could not have NSAIDs due to renal issues and for those we made extra provisions. I learned to “read” them and when they wanted to jump on or off something, I would simply lift them up or down. Once the “kinks” were worked out, they were wonderful little companions who (surprise, surprise) ALWAYS used the litter and NEVER bit us. 🙂

  8. kylee says:

    Well i dont know why anyone would declaw their animal. It sickens and saddens me that anyone would do that let alone a VET i hope those disgraced vets in america or anywhere else in the world wake up.

  9. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    More from Paw Project Utah….
    We promised more shocking news from Paw-Project-Utah’s study and here it is!
    Last week we learned that 66% of declaws are botched, leaving fragments behind. We know that these cats are more likely to have infections, nail regrowth, and osteomyelitis and other painful issues as a result of bone fragments being left behind. But what about the 33% with no fragments? Are these cats pain free? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
    The average number of positive pain parameters in our declawed cats were 5 per cat overall.
    The cats with no fragments had an average of 4.9 signs of pain per cat! One cat with no fragments had 11 signs of pain! The highest in our study!
    The cats with the largest number of fragments had a consistently higher than average number of signs of pain per cat, indicating that these fragments are contributing to more overall discomfort for these cats.
    Hard proof that declawing is painful to your cat for the lifetime of that cat.
    Our pain criteria (based on published AAFP and AAHA feline pain standards):
    A. Loss of normalbehavior
    Decreased ambulation or activity
    Lethargic attitude
    Decreased appetite
    Decreased grooming
    B. Expression of abnormal behaviors
    Inappropriate elimination
    Decreased interaction with other pets or family members
    Altered facial expression
    Altered posture
    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 resp rate
    Elevations of body temperature
    Pupil dilation

  10. Dee (Florida) says:

    I remember an article here where a vet stated that it would take him only 15-20 minutes rto declaw.
    I think it may be in the article about that hideous chop instrument that was used.

  11. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    This is shocking! It seems there are many shocking facts coming to light now and I hope this is the beginning of the end of declawing. That even one cat should suffer from this cruel surgery is bad enough, but millions of cats are suffering.
    How can someone even ask if bone fragments cause pain! Would they like shards of bone moving around in their feet?
    I’ve watched a videos of declawing and there is a sickening bone crushing sound as the vet yanks off the last toe joint. Vet techs have testified that even under anaesthetic some cats jerk as every joint is severed.
    How can this dreadful surgery still be legal these days? Thank goodness for the Paw Project vets who are determined to prove just how barbaric declawing really is.

    • Michael Broad says:

      It is both great news and v.sad news. I hope it is one more nail on the coffin of declawing in the USA.

    • I am a bit surprised that there are less comments on this page about the epidemic of botched declaw surgery. I think the study is very, very important because it demonstrates that American veterinarians are doing work on an unimaginable scale that is defective and not only defective – the work isn’t even needed! I think people should be jumping around about that, screaming and shouting.

      • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

        So am I Michael, I think these Paw Project offshoots proving with hard science how cruel declawing is, is wonderful news and every cat loving American should be celebrating the beginning of the end of vets making money from mutilating cats.

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