I think, therefore I harm
A number of cat owners consider declawing as a solution to a common problem. While they bring their lot of joy, cats have this major annoyance, they scratch.
While declawing seems like the ideal solution, please read on before you take your decision.
The main reason people wish to declaw their cat is to protect the furniture. Some also do so by fear that a cat might harm someone, in particular babies and young children.
Known in the wild as declawing, the procedure is called onychectomy by veterinarians. The h is not pronounced, it sounds like ‘onikektomi’. It comes from Greek meaning nail excision.
The surgery consists in the removal of the claw along with the distal phalanx (the end bone at the tip of the toe). This is necessary because, unlike human nails, the root of the claw in cats is within the bone. Without the removal of the bone, the claw would grow again. The surgery is classified as an amputation.
The surgery is extremely painful and is therefore executed under anesthesia. Upon awaking, the animal is in extreme pain. Analgesics may be used, but are not always used.
Onychectomy is purely for aesthetic, for comfort of humans. It serves no medical purpose and does not provide any advantage to the cat.
Unlike humans, cats walk on their toes, rather than on the sole of their paws. Their entire body is designed so that the weight of the body is balanced over all of their toes, whether they are walking, running, jumping or climbing. By removing their distal phalanges, their balance is broken. Declawed cats feel discomfort in doing most of their activities. They also get back problems due to their imbalance, just like us when using old uncomfortable shoes.
While the toes begin to heal after a few days, the pain may remain for several weeks. However, cats are good at hiding their pain, because of an instinctive trait. In nature, showing any weakness would make them a sure target for predators.
A number of problems occur frequently immediately or soon after the surgery. Among these, some require a second surgery. Some of the frequent complications are claw regrowth, bleeding and infections.
It is estimated that direct postoperative problems occur in about 50% of cats, though some of these can go completely unnoticed to humans, or takes years to occur.
Cats are known to drastically change their behavior as a result of loosing their claws. Here are some of these changes.
Unfortunately, a growing number of cats are being turned to shelters or euthanized because of these new unwanted behaviors, which are worst than the original unwanted behavior that declawing was supposed to fix in the first place.
Scratching posts are not just luxuries, they are required by cats. Scratching is a need for cats, it is part of their instinct. Actually, even declawed cats will spend some time every day trying to scratch something. Scratching provides them comfort and helps them keep their claws under control.
Scratching posts are inexpensive and last for years. Alternatives are cardboard pads or simple pieces of cardboard left around in the house. Some people like to give cardboard boxes to their cats, which serve as play and sleep places in addition to a great scratching device.
Scratching cannot be avoided. It can however be redirected to suitable places, such as scratching posts, and away from furniture. Training your cats from an early age will help in fixing this behavior.
Trimming your cat’s claws should be part of a routine, just like feeding your cats or cleaning the litter box. It is very easy to perform, using either trimming scissors or rotary sanding devices.
If performed from early age and regularly, nail trimming becomes part of the cat’s routine and goes smoothly. It is necessary to trim the claws every other week in young cats, however in older cats, only once every 3-4 weeks may be enough. Since back claws don’t grow as fast as the front claws, many cat owners will only trim them half as often. It is a good idea to give a treat to your cat while you trim their claw, or right after you are done, ideally providing a treat that the cat don’t or seldom get in other circumstances.
In cases of cats which cannot tolerate the few minutes it takes for the procedure, a trick is to trim just a few claws every day, just as many as the cat can tolerate in one sitting. Trim just one, if that’s all the cat can tolerate, but trim one every day. Eventually, all the claws will be trimmed.
If claws are trimmed short regularly, the cat will not damage any furniture, even if trying. Be aware that trimming does not replace the need for a scratching post or a scratching pad, as the cat will still need to scratch even if the nails are trimmed very short.
If you are not comfortable with trimming the claws yourself, you may ask a friend or family member to do it for you. Also, many veterinarians and pet accessories stores will do it for you for a very low price or even for free.
More information about trimming claws here :
Trimming Your Cat Nails by Lidia at Cats & Co
A newer and lesser known method is the use of specially designed vinyl nail caps. These are sold by a few manufacturers and available in many pet accessories stores, or over the Internet. Nail caps make the claws soft and prevent the cat from scratching the furniture, people or other cats. These are usually inexpensive. Depending on quality and cat scratching habits, these may last 3-6 weeks before they need replacement. These are either transparent, or of different colors so as to provide some aesthetic appeal.
Nail caps do not replace regular trimming though, they are in addition.
Declawing a cat is very popular in North America. It is estimated that a quarter of American cats are declawed. While a few veterinarians refuse to perform onychectomy, most will perform it regardless of their own opinion for various reasons.
However, declawing for no medical reason is considered inhumane or even illegal in many countries.
Among others, onychectomy is illegal in these countries: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Switzerland. It is disallowed in a few US states, though legal in most of the United States.
Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents a zoonotic risk for its owner(s). The AVMA believes it is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with complete education with regard to feline onychectomy.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) strongly discourages onychectomy (declawing) of domestic cats for routine purposes. Surgical amputation of the partial digit prevents cats from expressing normal behaviours and causes pain. Veterinarians should inform clients of the potential negative consequences of declawing and educate them about tools and techniques available to prevent and minimize personal and property damage so that the procedure may be avoided.
CFA perceives the declawing of cats (onychectomy ) and the severing of digital tendons (tendonectomy) to be elective surgical procedures that are without benefit to the cat. Because of the discomfort associated with any surgery and potential future behavioral or physical effects, CFA disapproves of routine declawing or tendonectomy surgery in lieu of alternative solutions to prevent household damage.
While cats bring their lot of joy to any house, they sure come with their few problems. Scratching is probably their worst one, but as you should have seen it is actually very easy to take care of that behavior in ways which are non painful and non destructive to the cat. A cat should never be declawed, except for rare medical conditions.
The term declawing in itself is deceptive, but once you know what the surgery really is about, any cat lover should avoid this painful procedure.
It is easy to keep your furniture from significant damage by using the simple methods provided above.
Also, cats are not normally aggressive toward people, if taken care of correctly, and are even less dangerous toward babies and young children. It is normal for new parents to fear dangers to their newborn, however unlike the common myth, I have yet to see any documented event of a cat attacking or eating a baby. On the contrary, cats are known to tolerate actions from babies and young children much longer than they would if they were from adults, such as pulling their hair and tail. In the event where a cat has had enough, their warnings would most often be softer when it comes to a baby than it would for an adult. This is because a cat recognizes a human baby as a baby. This said, if you still fear aggression from a cat toward a baby or infant, following the simple methods proposed above (trimming claws and using nail caps) should make your cat inoffensive.
As a veterinarian, you should know what onychectomy is about. No veterinarian could possibly support this surgery. While educating your clients and trying to have them change their mind should be the very minimum that you should do, the only clear step would be to refuse to perform the surgery.
There are a number or reasons why veterinarians perform onychectomy despite their disagreement. They could perform it for financial reasons. They could do it because their boss want them to do it (presumably for financial reasons). A veterinary clinic may do it because they feel that if they refuse, their clients will simply go to a competitor. Veterinarians are often lured by clients to declaw a cat to prevent if from getting sheltered or euthanized.
In reality, none of these reasons really stand when you think carefully. While I do not work in a veterinary clinic nor have any knowledge of their financial structure, I doubt onychectomy has any significant role in the income flow of a clinic. But if that is the case, you could sell more scratching posts, vinyl nail caps and trimming devices instead.
Talk to your competitors. They probably perform onychectomy for the very same reason that you do, because they fear to lose clients to competitors. Contact all of your direct and indirect competitors and tell them that you have decided to stop performing onychectomy. Hopefully, they will decide to stop performing it as well.
In an attempt to lure you to declaw their cats despite your disagreement, a client may tell you that they will be forced to abandon the cat if they can’t have it declawed. In reality, no statistical figure supports this. In jurisdictions where onychectomy is illegal or in areas where it is otherwise not available, there are very few cases of cats being abandoned for that reason. Also, educating your clients as to why you refuse the surgery and about alternatives should help calm them down and take better decisions.