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Declawing Cats: Risky Procedure or Simple Manicure?

By Jennifer Viegas

Declawing Cats: Risky Procedure or Simple Manicure?

San Francisco is a self-described “pet-crazy town.” It’s impossible to walk down its hilly streets without seeing happy dogs on leashes and cats warming themselves in windows. Cats are so loved in the City by the Bay that this year the organization CATalyst Council named San Francisco one of the “top ten cat-friendly cities in the nation.”

But a debate on cat declawing has the city’s fur flying, with concern spreading throughout the state of California, the country and even abroad. At immediate issue is a California bill, SB 762, which becomes law on Jan. 1, 2010. The law prevents California cities from restricting procedures performed by veterinarians. As a result, animal rights activists across the state are scrambling to ban cat declawing.

Proponents of the Ban
San Francisco’s Animal Welfare Commission crafted the city’s proposal to ban cat declawing. Member Sally Stephens says, “It comes down to animal cruelty and mutilating an animal for the convenience of its guardian.” Armaiti May, DVM, a veterinarian in Santa Monica, Calif., is supporting a similar proposal in her city. She echoes Stephens’ view. “Declawing is a completely unnecessary procedure,” says Dr. May. “It causes pain, complications and behavioral problems like litter box aversion.”

What Exactly Is Cat Declawing?
Santa Monica City Council member Kevin McKeown says that cat declawing is a misnomer. “We are not talking about a pampering manicure for cats,” he says, explaining that the procedure involves amputation of the last bone in each of the cat’s toes.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) supports McKeown’s assessment. A fact sheet concerning declawing that was issued by the society mentions that if the procedure was performed on humans, it would be comparable to cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.

Three Methods of Declawing
At present, there are three primary declawing procedures.

  1. Onychectomy This is the more traditional surgery, involving standard surgical equipment. Most pet hospitals are capable of performing an onychectomy. It is usually the least expensive declawing option.
  1. Laser Declawing According to the HSUS, “a small, intense beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporizing it, meaning there’s less bleeding and a shorter recovery time.” But the laser is simply a replacement for a steel scalpel blade, the HSUS adds.
  1. Tenectomy A tenectomy doesn’t remove claws, but it deactivates them by severing the tendons that extend the toes. Since cats cannot properly maintain their claws after the procedure, owners must watch out for ingrown nails and infection.

Tenectomy supporters have claimed it results in less pain for cats, but studies suggest otherwise. Sylvie Cloutier, a research assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University and her colleagues examined cats that underwent either of the two procedures. They found no evidence to support the view that tenectomy is less painful than onychectomy. In fact, both cat groups experienced “peak pain” after the surgeries.

Opponents of the Cat Declawing Ban
Many San Francisco residents were surprised when the city’s SPCA did not support the proposed ban on declawing. The SPCA’s position statement says, in part: “Our mission is to save animals’ lives, and we understand that, in some instances, this procedure may be the only way to prevent abandonment, relinquishment or euthanasia.” It continues: “We are cognizant of the fact that, unlike the SF/SPCA, a number of animal welfare agencies do not have the resources to address behavioral problems in shelter cats and the cat-owning public, thus making euthanasia an unavoidable option.”

Alternatives to Cat Declawing
Unless a cat is suffering from an underlying health condition, such as a cancerous nail bed tumor that would warrant declawing of a paw, my hope is that if you are considering cat declawing, you will seek out what Lindsay Pollard-Post of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals calls the “many humane and effective ways” to prevent cats from damaging furniture or causing scratches.

The single most important thing you can do is to regularly trim your cat’s nails. This simple task will allow you to examine your pet’s paws for cuts, infections and other abnormalities.

PETA recommends these additional alternatives:

  • Buy or construct two or more scratching posts If your cat has attractive options for maintaining its claws, it should avoid other areas for scratching.
  • Consider purchasing a “scratching box” These are inexpensive boxes, often made of sisal or cardboard, which you place on the ground. My cats love them.
  • Use double-sided tape products Cats don’t like the sticky feel and will avoid the taped item.
At the end of the day, the decision will still probably rest in yours and your veterinarian’s hands, with your cat’s health at stake. As Jennifer Conrad, DVM, director of the The Paw Project mentions, she has “an obligation to do what is best for the animals, and not what is most convenient for their owners.”

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.


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Posted on March 18, 2012

Isabel says: I thought I read smhewoere that you could have a more expensive surgery where they actually just remove the claw instead of taking off the whole toe tip.Just to let you know My husband and I are huge animal lovers. When we closed on our 1st house, we went out and got Yuri (male malamute/German shepard mix BEST DOG EVAH! We miss him.) from the shelter that day before furniture. We got Stella (female longhair tortie cat) later that week. We had lived in an apt. that didn't allow pets for a year the longest either of us had gone without furry companions.Fast Forward to now: Yuri passed last year. Stella passed this Thanksgiving. About 3 yrs. ago Chupa (short for Chupacabra a female bengal cat mix) adopted us. She was the only pet we had left.We have a 2.5 yr. old son and our daughter who's living with us (finally!) is due with our grandchild any day (I'm 40 my son was my first, my daughter's actually my bonus daughter, but she's been mine since she was 4).Now Chupa's a good cat too talkative (crazy making actually but we encouraged it early on), but she wasn't getting the attention she used to before my son was born. She has her claws and was always good with them. Our son is really good with her but we ended up banning her to the basement when he wasn't up asleep in his room because she would let him pet her and then sit back, fake him out then go to smack him with the claws.We are going through some really challenging times right now (just like the rest of the country) SO we decided that Chupa needed to live smhewoere else, where she would get the attention she was used to. So we have a more peaceful home (at least in that respect), she's happier and we are no longer suckers because in my old, grumpy, stressed opinion I have now decided that cats were designed to void themselves outside, and that the inventor of the cat box is laughing at all of us.Just an example of a former pet loving couple who could never imagine life without pets WE HAVE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY TO ONLY DEAL WITH HUMANS (and human poo, and hair, and puke). Just sayin'.

Posted on November 4, 2009

ana says: I can't believe people are even considering this inhumane practice. Wake up! We're in the 21st century! Might as well take their teeth out (in case they bite you) and remove fur (stops fluff on your precious carpet). Or perhaps these people shouldn't keep cats in the first place.

Posted on November 4, 2009

Stephanie says: I have 4 cats - all of them have their claws intact. I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't want to put them through any unnecessary pain. Yes, sometimes they claw the furniture, but it's usually the kitten and she is still learning. I only have one cat that I have to trim her nails on a regular basis because she is bad digging her claws into you when you hold her. I feel that it is unnecessary to declaw your cat unless there is some medical reason behind it. YOU can train your cat to not claw the furniture or you. It's not difficult and it's way cheaper that cutting off their toes.

Posted on November 15, 2009

Jan says: I was worried about my furniture when I got my cat, but I happened to get a sofa made of microfibre fabric when I got my cat and she can't scratch it - she has never even tried. She has scratched up an old chair made with regular fabric so she is a normal cat, but I would highly recommend getting microfibre furniture to prevent the whole problem in the first place. I would never declaw my cat - how would you like it if someone pulled out your fingernails!

Posted on December 15, 2009

hraft says: I have 2 cats and would never declaw them. However, I don't judge others. My grandmother has a cat she loves very much. She had her declawed both front and back. She did this not to torture her Precious baby but because she is diabetic. A small scratch could result in loss of limb or death. She has to go to doctor to have her owns nails cut. Her choice was to either get rid of Baby or get her declawed. Baby loves my grandmother. To be so judgemental is sad. My Grandmother is 88years old has out lived 2 husbands whom she was married to each for 25years. All her sibling are dead and 2 of her 3 children. I don't think she should be denied her kitty. Again I personally would never declaw either of my cats for any reason unless it was medically necessary. Don't be so judgemental. Being that close minded shows your ignorance as a human. All living things are precious.

Posted on December 29, 2009

Zebulon T.C. says: If it's medically necessary as in your granny's case, I say then have them declawed. But 99.9% is for the owners convenience. They'd rather mutilate their cats than buy them scratching posts of some kind. Our two cats use the scratchers we provide and have never damaged the furniture.

Posted on January 11, 2010

scott says: why cant people just get soft paws. just take your cat and your self so you both can pick a color you " BOTH " agrea on. its easy and painless!

Posted on February 14, 2010

JIMA says: I've always disliked the convenience declawing that seems to happen all too often. Thanks to hraft though for the insight, as I was not aware that there were medical necessities that would require it. I'll try to keep it in mind before I judge, but I do see it happen waaaay to often that people like to shape nature to convenience their decour. I can never understand why people think that their humanity and precious furniture gives them the right to mutilate something so wonderful and unique as a cat. My cat is a responsible claw-owner and while we do have discussions about the couch clawing occassionally, she never uses them on people, and heck, she doesn't even unleash them on dog noses! (great website btw)

Posted on June 2, 2010

Agnes COOK says: Really interesting post u got here. I'd like to read more concerning this matter. Thanks for sharing such material.

Posted on January 10, 2011

Brian says: The final straw that led to our cat getting declawed was when she lodged herself under the car seat when my wife and I were on a trip to see my parents and it took half an hour to get her out. Leaving her there until she came out on her own was not a option, or she would have overheated and died. Indoor cats don't need claws, and now that we have a baby in the house, I'm even more glad we had them removed. Kiki didn't even notice, she still tries to claw at things, it just doesn't do any damage anymore. Declawing is far less invasive and painful than spaying a female cat, and in most cases no more unnecessary, since most people keep their cats locked up inside. I still think that having your animals fixed is a good idea, and well worth the week or so of pain that it causes them, and getting a cat declawed is worth the two days of pain it causes.

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