Wednesday, March 23, 2011
My Case Against Declawing Cats
Most people who adopt a pet intend to treat the animal with great love and care. Sometimes, through lack of information, or based upon having done so to another cat in the past, an owner will decide to have a cat declawed. The owner might not realize that prevailing thought about declawing cats has changed greatly over the years, or might not realize what the surgery actually does to the beloved pet. Declaw surgeries are still being performed in the United States despite the growing outcry of many veterinarians and cat lovers that the procedure is cruel and outdated. The ASPCA, Cat Fancier’s Association, World Small Animal Veterinary Association, Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), American Humane Association, and the Humane Association of the USA have all issued position statements which oppose declawing cats for the convenience of their guardians. If each pet owner will not declaw his or her own cats and not patronize vets that perform the procedure, much needless suffering will be averted. Each owner who chooses to be humane will help declaw surgeries fall from favor and eventually stop altogether. The declawing of cats is a complex, painful, mutilating surgery causing frequent medical and behavioral complications; since there are humane and non-surgical alternatives to keep cats from damaging household goods with their claws, no caring owner should declaw his or her cat.
Many owners who opted for declaw surgery on their cats say later that they were not aware of what the procedure entailed (Syufy, 2011), nor were they counseled as to non-surgical alternatives to counter the cat’s natural instinct to scratch. Some veterinary offices tell their clients that declawing is a fairly simple, relatively painless and routine surgery for the cat. But this procedure actually consists of “amputating not just the claws, but the whole phalanx (up to the joint), including bones, ligaments, and tendons! To remove the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated.” (Christianne Schelling, Technical Facts) Dr. Schelling writes that the surgery is not at all simple but includes ten separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe. She compares the surgery to cutting off of a person’s fingers at the last joint of each finger. Sometimes clinic staff will deliberately misinform owners that declawing removes only the claws and is a minor surgery, but removal of the claws is not sufficient to declaw the cat, the bones must be removed to prevent the claw from growing back. (Christianne Schelling, Technical Facts) Declawing is considered so inhumane that it has been banned entirely in a number of countries, (Christianne Schelling, Outlawed Countries) or is used only in cases of medical necessity such as a toe being injured so badly it must be amputated.
Laser declawing surgery is often promoted as painless by vets who have purchased the forty-five thousand dollar laser machine. Regardless of the method used for the surgery, the result and after effects are the same. The toes of the cat are still cut and mutilated. The laser burns the tissue and bone off rather than requiring the vet to do as much cutting by hand. Some people feel that the cost of the laser machine gives veterinarians a financial reason to promote declaw surgery even though they know of the painful aftermath. (Jan's Kitten Kids) A vet with the machine may suggest clients declaw at the same time as neutering the cat. This practice is a form of cross selling as the vet tries to recoup money invested in the equipment. Veterinarians who decline to mention the severity of the surgery also do not mention the severity of the recovery. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, DVM has written that “cats bounce off the walls in recovery cages because of the excruciating pain after declawing, as opposed to neutering surgery recoveries which are fairly peaceful.” He further says that partial digit amputation (declawing) is so horrible that it has been used as torture for prisoners of war. (Syufy, 2011)
The declawed cat now must deal with a very painful recovery. The rate of complication after declaw surgery is relatively high compared to other procedures. Direct complications can include excruciating pain, nerve damage, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, painful regrowth of deformed claws inside the paw which are not visible to the eye. Chronic back and joint pain is common as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken because the cat was designed to walk on the toes which have been amputated. Abscesses can also form. (Christianne Schelling, Technical Facts) . Studies quoted by Dr. Schelling and published in peer-reviewed veterinary journals note that “fifty percent of the cats had one or more complications immediately after surgery.” The studies also noted that many cats suffered a loss of balance because they could no longer maneuver well on their amputated stumps. (Christianne Schelling, Technical Facts)
Even after its paws have healed, a declawed cat frequently has behavioral issues due to the surgery. Grooming is important for feline mental and physical health. A cat cannot groom fully without claws. The cat can learn to use its teeth more, but it cannot scratch and groom itself in the region of the head, mouth, neck, and ears. Anyone who has ever had an itch that cannot be scratched can sympathize with this dilemma! Scratching and stretching its claws are pleasurable activities which are also taken away from the cat. Any cat has a natural love of climbing that is impossible to switch off. Without claws, the cat will slip and fall, causing confusion and disbelief. The simple act of climbing up to a chair or window perch may now prove to be hazardous. A declawed cat must never be let outdoors. If the cat ever found itself lost or homeless, it would no longer be able to hunt and would die of starvation. A declawed cat will frequently resort to biting when confronted with even minor threats. The cat becomes very insecure with no claws with which to defend itself. All cats have an instinctive need to scratch in the litter box which is also frustrated by declawing. A high percentage of animals surrendered to shelters for behavioral reasons are there because of misuse of the litter box, not clawing. Of cats euthanized for behavioral reasons, seventy-five percent are declawed. (Jan's Kitten Kids) Declawing is also reported to have changed cats’ personalities, though the medical community does not recognize this side effect. (Christianne Schelling, Home: Written by Veterinarian, Dr. Christianne Schelling) Each person knows his or her own pet, personality change can be a very subjective observation. Just one frustration can cause behavioral issues in any cat, while the declawed cat has many challenges to overcome.
Owners sometimes mention fear of the cat scratching household furnishings as a reason to declaw. However, there are many non-surgical alternatives to declawing that will protect household goods. Claws are fairly easily trimmed by the owner of even the most difficult cat with a bit of practice. Even claws of reluctant cats can be trimmed by an owner using a cat bag or enlisting a helper. Cats gain comfort from the act of scratching. Providing scratching posts and pads rubbed with catnip train the cat to scratch on the scratching post and not on the furniture. Multiple scratchers throughout the house give the cat acceptable places to scratch whenever the desire occurs. Double sided tape can be applied to furniture to train the cat not to touch an area, cats really hate the sticky feeling on their paws. Aluminum foil over a surface also discourages cats from scratching inappropriately. Cats climbing curtains can be immediately cured by using a loosely attached spring tension rod. The cat will climb it and the rod will fall down, often requiring only one effort to teach a cat not to climb or scratch the draperies. Another alternative is a product called “Soft Claws”. These are vinyl tips that are glued to the claws of the cat to protect furnishings. They are widely available, easy to apply, and stay on four to six weeks. Cat trees and gyms are fun alternatives, cats love to climb and scratch on them, leaving the furnishings in the house untouched. Sprays are also available to deter scratching, and squirt bottle training works well to prevent scratching inappropriate items. Dr. David E. Hammett, DVM said it well: “home furnishings are expensive, but a cat’s well-being is priceless.” (David E Hammett)
It is important for pet owners to educate themselves about the care and well-being of their pets, and to choose humane options for them. Owners that consider declawing a cat should be aware of the extent of this complex, major, mutilating surgery. They should be aware that declawing is denounced by most animal organizations and banned in many countries as inhumane. Owners should explore all the non-surgical alternative methods available to keep the cat from scratching furnishings. Owners should not believe a vet’s assurance that complications occur only occasionally or that the cat will recover and be able to walk just fine, since statistical and anecdotal evidence does not agree. Owners that say they have tried alternative measures to declawing and that declawing is being done so that the cat’s life may be saved often have not sought help or used sufficient effort to train the cat to change its behavior. If they lived in a country which bans declawing, owners would find ways to train the cat or provide alternative places to scratch. Polls have been publicized in which a small percentage of owners say they would surrender their cats if they could not declaw them, suggesting more euthanasia deaths of pets. But rather than creating more euthanasia deaths, those owners might not adopt a cat at all if they knew they were unable to declaw it, or would use alternative methods of training the cat if declaw surgery was unavailable. Inconvenience of the owner for a time does not begin to compare to the pain and behavioral issues of the cat recovering from the amputation of its toes. Cats grace the lives of the people around them with charm, beauty, intelligence, and companionship. It is up to cat owners to make the best, most humane, choices for their care. Scottish veterinarian James Herriot said, “I hope to make people realize how totally helpless animals are, how dependent on us, trusting as a child must that we will be kind and take care of their needs... [They] are an obligation put on us, a responsibility we have no right to neglect, nor to violate by cruelty.”
ASPCA. (n.d.). Position Statement on Declawing Cats. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from ASPCA: http://www.aspca.org/Sites/CMS/Layouts/PrintViewDisplay.aspx
Christianne Schelling, D. (n.d.). Home: Written by Veterinarian, Dr. Christianne Schelling. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from Declawing: What You Need to Know: http://www.declawing.com/
Christianne Schelling, D. (n.d.). Outlawed Countries. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from Declawing: What You Need to Know: http://www.declawing.com/htmls/outlawed.htm
Christianne Schelling, D. (n.d.). Technical Facts. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from Declawing: What You Need to Know: http://www.declawing.com/htmls/declawing.htm
Jan's Kitten Kids. (n.d.). Laser Declaw: Is it really better? Retrieved March 15, 2011, from Jan's Kids: http://www.janskids.com/laser.html
Patrick, C. (n.d.). Declawing As Seen by a Shelter Volunteer. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from About.com Cats: http://cats.about.com/od/declawing/a/ucfeature7.htm
Syufy, F. (2011). Declawing: Disclouse and Wait. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from About.com Cats: http://cats.about.com/cs.declawing/a/disclose_wait.htm?p=1