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Declawing Cats!

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Introduction

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) believes that all cats have an intrinsic right to be treated humanely, to have each of their individual needs met, and to live in safe, enriched environments free from pain, force, and fear. Scratching is a natural feline behavior. Declawing cats for owner convenience or in an attempt to protect property, people, and other pets is both inhumane and unnecessary given that there are highly effective alternatives available to manage the behavior more appropriately and less intrusively. Studies have also shown that declawing a cat increases the risks of behavior problems, such as house soiling, biting, and aggression.

Feline Behavioral Considerations

Cats use their claws to defend themselves, balance, climb, and hunt (Bahr, 2017). Cats also scratch to communicate (by leaving scent and visual marks), remove old nail sheaths, display assertiveness in view of less assertive cats, stretch and exercise their forelegs, and express excitement (Grier & Peterson, 2005). Rodan and Heath (2016) characterize scratching as a normal cat behavior that is undesirable to cat owners (e.g. when household items such as furniture, carpets, rugs etc. are preferred outlets for the behavior), as opposed to a “problem behavior.” This important distinction emphasizes the need for greater owner education in terms of redirecting the behavior and/or modifying the cat’s environment to encourage the scratching of items cat owners deem appropriate, such as customized scratch posts.

What Is “Declawing”?

Declawing is “an elective surgery that renders cats unable to scratch.” (Clark, Bailey, Rist & Matthews, 2014). Medically defined as onychectomy, it involves amputating all or part of the last bone in each toe (the third phalanx or P3) of the front paws (or sometimes all four paws) using a sterilized guillotine nail trimmer, scalpel, or laser (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2016). Because a cat’s claws grow from the last bone, the bone must be removed to prevent regrowth. Regardless of the tool used to perform the surgery, tendons, nerves, and ligaments are also severed in the process. In human terms, it is analogous to cutting each finger off at the last joint or knuckle (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2016).

A less commonly performed procedure is tendonectomy, in which the deep flexor tendon that controls the claw is cut on the underside of each toe to prevent grasping motions. The claws remain, but the cat cannot extend them (Mills, von Keyserlingk & Niel, 2016). Cat owners still need to regularly clip the nails of a cat who has undergone tendonectomy because they will continue to grow, possibly excessively (Yeon, Flanders, Scarlett, Ayers & Houpt, 2001).

Medical vs. Surgical

No matter what method is used to declaw, the objective is to permanently remove a cat’s ability to use his claws naturally. Declaw surgery is irreversible; there is no treatment to replace missing bones or repair the permanent injury done to nerves, tendons, and ligaments during a declaw procedure. Medical reasons for declawing include removal of tumors or infection from the nail bed (Martell-Moran, Solano & Townsend, 2017) or irreversible claw damage or claws that do not retract (Wilson, 2017). Usually, however, declawing is not medically necessary, but, rather, an elective surgical procedure (Clark et al., 2014; Mills et al., 2016; Patronek, 2001). In such cases, the primary reasons for declawing are:

  1. To protect furniture or other household materials from damage (95% to 99%) (Landsberg, 1991a; Patronek, 2001).
  2. To protect people from being scratched (Patronek, 2001).
  3. To protect other animals in the home from being scratched (Mills et al., 2016; Munera, 2014).

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