Categories: ethicsUncategorized

Spaying and neutering is ethical while declawing is not

Sometimes I see the argument that cat declawing is no different from de-sexing; the spaying and neutering of cats. They argue that they are both mutilations for the benefit of people. This is a poor argument.

There are two sides of the coin with respect to spaying and neutering domestic cats while there is only one side to the coin with respect to cat declawing. Declawing is only about harm to the cat for the convenience of the owner.

Declawing is unethical and de-sexing is ethical. The picture on the left is a declawing guillotine and is in the public domain while the picture on the right is after a female cat has been spayed and is published under a creative commons licence.


Declawing has been likened to debarking. They are both mutilations of companion animals to modify the animals to make them more desirable to people. It is a consistent trait of the relationship between humans and domesticated animals that if an animal does not meet all the requirements of the human they tend to try and modify the animal a bit like customising a favourite car.

Selective breeding is another way that cats and dogs are altered in appearance and, indeed, their character is also altered at the secondary level. Selective breeding can also cause health problems because it can bring to the fore recessive genes which carry detrimental health effects for the animal. Or an individual cat with a mutation can be a founding cat of a new breed such as a hairless cat. Breeding from that starting point is considered unethical because the cat loses their coat and a natural part of their being and therefore their behaviour.

To return to declawing, the only benefit gained from the process is to suit the owner’s personal choices and desires. Those benefits are heavily outweighed by the pain that the operation causes, the possible long-term health issues that declawing can cause via complications, the behavioural changes that declawing can cause all of which are negative and finally the distress and obvious suffering that a declawed cat is forced to undergo at the convenience of their owner. Obviously, from all angles, declawing is about suffering for the cat, while on the other side of the coin are the benefits that the owner enjoys.

Legislators in most European and other countries have banned declawing including in Israel and in eight cities in America. It is generally perceived by legislators (or it should be if they switched on their brains) as cruel, unjustified and ready to be banned. It’s just a question of will by the politicians to see the job done.

Spaying and neutering

Spaying and neutering brings benefits to both the cat, the individual owner and on a wider scale. This is where it differs to cat declawing. It is such a commonplace and necessary surgical procedure that it is not referred to as a mutilation but as a beneficial operation.

Although it has to be said that spaying and neutering, like declawing, does alter the natural behaviours of a cat because it prevents them procreating. On this point some people resist the need to spay their female cats. They want the cat to enjoy having a litter of kittens. They argue that it is a psychological necessity. There is no science to substantiate this.

The benefits to the cat is that for females, if the operation is carried out before her first heat, it reduces the chances of her developing mammary tumours by 90%. The chances of her developing uterine cancers and infections is eliminated.

For males, the cat also enjoys benefits as they are less likely to wonder and get involved in fights. Also spraying urine to mark territory is also often eliminated. Neutered cats often become more affectionate and more oriented to the company of people.

As mentioned, there are also benefits to people. It is also argued that spaying and neutering cats helps to keep them in the state of suspended infanthood. This suits people.

Looking at the wider picture, spaying and neutering prevents unwanted cats. This prevents a lot of potential and actual misery occurring for those cats born to people who don’t want them. They have sometimes little value and are treated as such. They might find their way to shelters if they are lucky where they can be redistributed to owners who want them. Often they end up as strays or feral cats, live relatively short lives and suffer at least potentially throughout their life with illnesses which are untreated.

I need to mention the wonderful volunteers who manage feral cat colonies under TNR programs. The cats who enjoy their care do not necessarily suffer miserable lives. I want to make that point clear. The argument for killing feral cats is that in doing so you prevent their misery. I don’t find this a very attractive argument and it is an insult to those volunteers working TNR programs.


The positive arguments about spaying and neutering cats are, admittedly, imperfect but in this imperfect world and because of human fallibility, the operations to spay and neuter are ethical. The problem is that there would be no need to spay and neuter if people were more responsible (excluding the health benefits of spaying). But this would be a perfect world. You have to take a pragmatic and practical viewpoint although ethics and morality are purists concepts.


The conclusion is that there are benefits all round to spaying and neutering; for the cats, for the people and for future cats who won’t be born. Yes, there are downsides in that it is a mutilation of both male and female cats but the benefits outweigh the downsides and therefore the operation is ethical.

With respect to declawing, as mentioned, is impossible to escape the conclusion that it is a cruel, abusive operation carried out solely for the benefit of unkind people who want the cat to fit into their world while disregarding natural behaviour, pain and suffering, discomfort and in more occasions than they care to consider, long-term complications due to botched surgery. It is unquestionably unethical.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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