I often read comments by people who don’t like cats (or cat lovers) which confidently state that there is no difference from an ethical standpoint between declawing a cat and sterilising a cat. They boldly question why we don’t criticise the sterilisation of cats when we criticise declawing. We are hypocrites they argue. In their eyes they are the same sort of operation but in my eyes they are not.
The ethical dimension behind these two quite different operations distinguishes them, one from the other.
Declawing is almost always done for non-therapeutic purposes. There is no benefit whatsoever to the cat. In fact, quite obviously, there is a huge detriment to the cat for all kinds of reasons which have been discussed many times on this website. Many of the operations are botched leaving the cat in permanent discomfort (until repair surgery is carried out). There are often medical issues arising out of the operation such as arthritis and there are often behavioural problems (biting) despite what the veterinarians who support declawing say. A cat’s claws are a vital part of their anatomy serving many purposes. In short, declawing is done for the benefit of the person who owns the cat. Declawing is an operation of convenience at the behest and for the benefit of the human. But in an ironic twist declawing can also negatively affect the health of the cat’s owner!
By contrast, sterilisation, both neutering and spaying, is done both for the benefit of humans and for the benefit of cats. Yes, there is a benefit for humans arising out of the sterilisation of cats. It prevents cats procreating. There are too many unwanted cats. We are unable to deal with the unwanted cats adequately which is why several millions are killed annually at shelters.
But, and here’s the big difference between these two operations, preventing cats procreating also benefits the cat because the life of an unwanted cat is not a very pleasant life and, as mentioned, it frequently ends up in an early death. In addition, with respect to feral cats sterilisation, it is a humane way of controlling population numbers (through TNR) which both benefits the cat and the person. The life of a feral cat is often very difficult and harsh and therefore it is humane and civilised to prevent unnecessary births. Humans do not want cats brought into the world to live miserable lives and die early deaths and therefore sterilisation of feral cats is a civilised thing to do and it benefits the cats ultimately – this is the important difference between the operations.
In addition to preventing procreation the spaying operation of female cats also improves the health of the cat. There appears to be no detrimental effects upon male and female cats after these operations which is in complete contrast to the declawing operation which sometimes leaves the cat in a bad way often for a very long time and sometimes permanently.
One of the reasons why the declawing operation leaves cats in a bad way is because the operation is often done so quickly that it is botched leaving shards of bone in the paw causing great discomfort. Also there is sometimes regrowth of the claw within the mutilated paw causing more discomfort. The gait of the cat can be altered which can cause arthritis. I have a page on the complications of the declaw operation which covers many more points than I cover here.
I don’t want to go on. I think I’ve made my point. There is a huge difference ethically between sterilisation of cats and declawing of cats which is what people who support declawing fail to recognise.
For example the troll Ralph Karmick recently wrote in a comment:
But you have no problems at all with cutting-off their gonads or opening them up with knives to scoop-out their reproductive organs, some even slicing-off their ears. And this contradiction of yours doesn’t bother you? I guess it’s okay to cut-up cats in the socially-acceptable manner that you’ve decided on but no others. Oh, the unending hypocracy [sic] of cat-fanatic never ceases to amaze the thinking person.
Such blatant ignorance, I’m afraid to say but typical of many people who wish to criticise people like me who fight against declawing. They blur the boundaries between the two operations and totally cut out of their argument the huge differences behind the operations in respect of morality and ethics. They miss the ethical and moral dimensions which I think is quite telling because it informs us that these people lack a sufficient level of morality and ethics in their lives. They are unable to factor in these very important elements of decision-making.
Note: a lot of people also are unaware of the seriousness of the declaw operation but that is another issue.
Associated: Ruth’s comparison.