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Facts and Myths about Declawing Cats

The below article was posted by The Paw Project, an American anti-declawing agency.  I feel pretty strongly about this issue.  I think cat owners love their kitties and would never choose to do something that negatively impacted them.  However, because owners may not have the proper information about what this procedure is and does, they are not able to make an informed decision about it.  Declawing isn't removing a nail - a more accurate term would be de-toeing, as this surgery actually removes the last joint of your cat's foot.  Would you take off the last joint of your child's fingers if they ruined your furniture?  It is not a simple or painless procedure - I saw it performed many times over the 8 years I worked in vet clinics and that is one of the reasons I support a declaw ban.

Your cat doesn't scratch to be destructive or to get revenge.  Scratching is a completely instinctive behavior and part of what makes a cat a cat.  Scratching is used for marking territory as well as a method for removing old, dead sheaths from the nails.  If you're considering declawing, please look at alternatives, such as frequent nail trims, soft paws and scratch post training.  There are many great articles on managing scratching - please send a message or check out my recommendations page for links to those sites.

Anyway, here's a great article with some insight into the issues and detrimental effects of this procedure.  I work with cats every day and many of them are not too happy about getting a hair cut or bath.  But I'd still rather get scratched to pieces (and I do!) than have a kitty lose their toes.  Please, please don't declaw your kitty.  Thanks!

DECLAWING CATS: MYTH VS. FACT

Myth: More cats will be relinquished to shelters and/or euthanized if declawing is not an option.

Fact: According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy’s Shelter Survey, destruction of household objects is not even in the top 10 list of reasons why cats are relinquished to shelters.  However, house soiling is, and it’s the number 1 behavioral reason for giving up a cat. Why is this significant? Because research suggests that after declawing, up to 15% of cats will develop litter box aversion/house soiling, a feline response to anxiety and/or pain.  Research has also shown that up to 18% of cats either start biting or bite more forcefully after their primary defense (claws) have been taken from them. In 2006, the Animal Rescue League of Boston reported house soiling and aggression to be the number 1 and 2 behavioral reasons why surveyed owners stated they would consider relinquishing their cats to shelters. There are no shelter statistics or evidence supporting the claim that declawing lowers the number of shelter relinquishments. There are, however, ample statistics showing its potential behavioral consequences are the biggest risk factors for cat relinquishment wherever they exist.

Myth: Immune-compromised people are more likely to contract illness if not given the option to declaw.

Fact:  Nearly all illnesses that may be spread from cats to immune-compromised humans, including toxoplasmosis, salmonellosis, intestinal parasites and fungal dermatitis, are not considered communicable by scratching. Cat Scratch Disease, the one disease that may be transmitted through a scratch, is caused by infected flea feces contacting any wound. Therefore, controlling fleas is the recommended and practical means of preventing this disease. Among so many effective methods the Cornell Feline Health Center recommends to prevent zoonotic disease transmission to humans, declawing is certainly not listed. According to the most recent medical review (an April 2015 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal entitled Reducing the Risk of Pet-associated Zoonotic Infections), the recommendation is: “exercise caution when playing with cats to limit scratches; keep cats’ nails short (declawing is not recommended).” The CDC, NIH, U.S. Public Health Services and Infectious Diseases Society of America have also authored a joint position paper on zoonotic disease and HIV, in which declawing was not advised to prevent cats from spreading disease to HIV-positive individuals.

Myth: Veterinarians are trained medical professionals and possess the discretion to make the best decision. They don’t agree with declawing bans and should not be told what to do.

Fact: In 28 countries and multiple U.S. cities, declawing is recognized as an illegal act of animal cruelty. Elsewhere in the U.S., it is a highly controversial procedure that is not freely condoned by any veterinary medical association. In 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association committee members unanimously “condemned” the same declawing procedure being performed on wild or exotic cats of any size, due to adverse health effects.  The AVMA and NYSVMS continue to refer to declawing of domestic cats as a “last-resort” procedure, but the AVMA itself simultaneously states that at last estimate, a whopping 14.4 million (25%) of U.S. domestic cats were declawed. With basic client education and so many sensible alternatives to declawing at the disposal of veterinarians, 25% underscores that “last-resort” is not the reality. Practicing veterinarians across the state and nation have expressed opposition to declawing; the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is opposed to the procedure, and it was U.S. veterinarians who spearheaded banning declawing in those cities where it is now illegal. The Paw Project, a veterinarian-founded, widely supported agency that educates on the negative effects of declawing, has active veterinarian leadership across the U.S. and in Canada.

Myth: Since so many cats “seem fine” after declawing, the extent of opposition to declawing must be unwarranted.

Fact: A quick calculation based on the aforementioned studies suggests that as many as 2.1 million cats in the U.S. develop litter box aversion after declawing, and as many as 2.8 million may have increased biting. Anxiety and pain are the major causes of these behavioral abnormalities in cats. Even the most frustrated owners are unlikely to make a connection with their cat’s declaw surgery if, for example, insidious arthritis reaches a threshold that manifests as inappropriate urination years later. Another crucial note is that cats have evolved to be a particularly stoic species and are known to withhold demonstrative behaviors even during severe illness. As just one of many examples, cats with Grade IV dental disease (the most advanced level of tooth decay) typically do not seem to act or even eat differently despite a serious medical problem.

Myth: Even though conventional declawing seems outdated and cruel, laser surgery does not have the negative effects and has brought the procedure into the 21st century.

Fact: Laser surgery reduces pain and swelling only in the immediate post-operative period; other short and long-term health risks (anesthetic risk, arthritis) as well as adverse behavioral risks remain present.

Myth: State and national veterinary associations do not support the declawing ban. They must have scientific evidence shaping their opinion.

Fact: Although post-declaw biting and house soiling are widely reported observations throughout the veterinary field, there simply are no strong published scientific research conclusions on the effects of declawing or its overall role in shelter relinquishments. Wording on the AVMA’s position page has given many a distinctly misleading impression that controlled studies have disproven the anecdotal reports of behavioral changes following declawing. In actuality, no entity, including the AVMA, has ever published even a single controlled study on this topic. In the limited, non-controlled scientific research studies we do have, a percentage of cats were noted to display multiple adverse behavioral changes after declawing.