Public Opinion Is Turning Against Declawing Worldwide, and This Vet Approves

 |  Dec 14th 2011  |   21 Contributions


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This cat is glad to have all its claws.

I have written about declawing, ear cropping, and tail docking many times over the years. During that time, my message has always been the same: These procedures, which only in extremely rare instances benefit the animals that suffer them, are doomed in the long run.

Declawing draws particular revulsion from many cat lovers. The procedure involves amputation of each digit at the level of the last joint. There are several commonly performed techniques, some of which are better than others, but even the best technique carries a real risk of pain or behavior changes.

However, a legitimate debate about declawing should not succumb to absolutism. I have never performed a routine ear crop or tail dock (although I have amputated tails and ears out of medical necessity). In contrast, there are very rare instances in which declawing a cat may be a reasonable last-resort option.

Consider the most recent declaw surgery I performed, about 8 years ago. I declawed a cat owned by an elderly gentleman who was affected by diabetes. The cat was not aggressive, but the man's skin was extremely friable and his immune system was weak. He had been sent to the hospital repeatedly for infections after his cat had kneaded kitty dough on his lap.

Trimming the cat's claws did not prevent the injuries. The man was not capable of applying Soft Paws (rubber covers that can be glued over nails). He was homebound, so he could not transport the cat to a facility to have Soft Paws applied.

The gentleman's doctor had ordered him to get rid of the cat. After some soul searching, I decided that performing a declaw surgery would be in the best interest of both the man (who would be able to keep his beloved companion) and the cat (who would remain in a loving home). I performed the procedure, using the most comprehensive pain control protocol that I could devise.

I have been asked many times since then to perform declaw surgeries, and I haven't performed one. When a client brings in a kitten and asks for a routine spay and declaw, I simply say no to the declaw and offer tips on behavior modification instead. I've lost a few clients this way, but I'm able to live with myself.

Public opinion worldwide is turning (or, in many places, has fully turned) against the procedures. As a result, the procedures are now illegal in many places. Time recently reported on Israel's newly enacted declaw ban. From the article:

Late last month, Israels legislature passed a bill that outlaws the practice of declawing cats, a move that is a win for animal activists but devastating to fancy couches and rugs across the country. And the letter of law comes with a hefty pricetag — a $20,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

While declawing has become a common practice in the U.S. — its estimated that about 25 percent of American cats are declawed — the procedure itself is actually quite gruesome, which is why Israel joins countries such as Europe, Australia, and Brazil in enacting a ban against it.

The article goes on to discuss the controversies of and arguments against declawing. It concludes with the following quote:

So far, only a few California cities have banned declawing in the U.S., and for now it looks like it will stay that way. However, as more countries and advocacy groups join in on the ban, perhaps more people will think twice before declawing. Just think how much sales of scratching posts will go up.

It is not just cat owners who are thinking twice about declawing cats. Veterinarians also generally are increasingly reluctant to perform the procedure. In veterinary school, I went out of my way not to learn how to crop ears or dock tails, although I did learn how to perform declaws. As a result, I have never cropped an ear or docked a tail, and I have performed declaw surgeries only in those rare instances in which I could convince myself of the need.

I wonder whether current veterinary students are learning any of these controversial procedures. My hunch is that few are. As those of us who know how to declaw cats retire or die off, it will become increasingly harder to find someone to perform the procedure, even in the dwindling locations where it is legal.

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