The Cruelest Cut: How Cat Declawing Became the Next Battleground for Animal Rights

Critics say the common cat surgery is painful and can lead to other problems.

In surveys, pet owners tend to express a high degree of satisfaction with the immediate results of declawing. Lavizzo acknowledges that some cats seem to recover from the surgery comparatively well — at least in the short term. But he has also seen a mounting pile of distressing posts on veterinarian discussion boards about declawing problems: practitioners seeking guidance when confronted with a wide array of complications, reports of nail regrowth occurring years after the surgery, confusion and conflicting advice about the best way to perform the operation and manage the pain, and so on.

"Some cats do fine," he says. "But who has the right to decide it's okay for some but not others? We don't know which cats will have complications. To me, one is too much."

When Conrad began looking into the scientific literature on the impacts of declawing, she found it to be surprisingly thin. There was hardly anything in the way of a long-range study tracking the welfare of declawed cats. "On a procedure that's done on 25 percent or more of American cats, there are fewer than 30 articles about the surgery," she says. "I later came to think that people don't want to know the truth about it."

More than a toenail: The equivalent of declawing in humans would be cutting off a finger at the last knuckle mark.
More than a toenail: The equivalent of declawing in humans would be cutting off a finger at the last knuckle mark.
Dr. Aubrey Lavizzo says he began doubting the wisdom of amputations after some bad outcomes.
Philip Posten
Dr. Aubrey Lavizzo says he began doubting the wisdom of amputations after some bad outcomes.

Proponents of declawing claim that what research has been done supports the practice — and they cite the supposed absence of studies reporting negative effects as another point in their favor. For example, the AVMA policy on declawing states, rather cagily, that "there is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups."

Hofve, the holistic vet who's working with Lavizzo on a Colorado ban, views that statement as misleading on several levels. A short-term comparison with a control group is a lot less useful, she argues, than a detailed, long-range analysis of an individual cat's behavior before and after surgery. And one 2001 peer-reviewed study, the only one involving a five-year follow-up period, found that 33 percent of the cats in the study group developed serious behavior problems after being declawed. Another study found that "inappropriate elimination" is twice as likely in declawed cats as in those that hadn't had the surgery; apparently, using the litter box can further irritate sore paws. (Biting, a separate but often related behavior problem, tends to increase in declawed cats because of the loss of their primary means of defense.)

"There's plenty of data," Hofve insists. "But the vet associations don't want anyone telling them what to do. Who's going to fund a long-term study of something they don't want to find out?"

Hofve points to other studies and surveys that challenge the American veterinary establishment's position on declawing. The AVMA policy indicates that the surgery should only be considered as a kind of last resort, but the available research suggests that 70 percent or more of declawings are done before the cat is a year old — hardly a sign that the owners have exhausted all other approaches to the scratching problem. (Promotional videos used in Conrad's documentary capture vets urging clients to have the procedure done on kittens.) And surveys reveal that the vast majority of pet owners who are considering declawing will change their minds when given facts about the nature of the surgery, the potential complications and non-surgical alternatives.

Those results, Hofve says, indicate her colleagues are doing a piss-poor job of educating their clients about basic expectations and obligations involved in having a cat as a pet. "Veterinarians aren't telling people that when you get a cat, you're supposed to get a scratching post," she says. "As of 2012, 48 percent of cat owners still didn't know that. We've also failed to educate people about what declawing really is."

During her first five years in practice, Hofve did her share of declaws. Then, like Lavizzo, she stopped. "I was never any good at it because I hated it so much," she says.

Even after she gave up performing the procedure, she continued to see cats that had been declawed elsewhere and were suffering complications — in some cases, many years after the surgery. She saw a ten-year-old cat that had been declawed as a kitten and was experiencing painful nail regrowth from bone fragments that had been left behind, similar to the nuggets removed from under Drifter's skin in Conrad's surgery. If one in three cats that are declawed are manifesting obvious behavior problems, such as biting and pooping outside the box, Hofve believes the percentage of those experiencing complications of one kind or another is much, much higher; we just don't know about them because of the highly stoic nature of the species. No one knows, for example, to what extent cats may experience the kind of "phantom limb" pain associated with human amputations.

There's a good reason, Lavizzo adds, that nobody is declawing dogs: "When we see pain in dogs, we react to it. Cats are different; they don't show pain like dogs do. They go off and hide, and we just think they're being independent. We don't have the same kind of reaction to a cat's pain because we don't really know what's going on with the cat."

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30 comments
gloria77503
gloria77503

I'm trying to find a vet in Harris County that does NOT declaw.  That is where I'd like to spend my money.  

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

anyone that follows the  pseudo-science of  Richard J. Herrnstein's philosophies does not deserve to have a computer nor do they deserve to critique anything until they come out of the ass backward way they think. In essence herrnstein was racially profiling people and absolutely refused to have his work peer reviewed until it was published.  stating that African-Americans low test score are due to heritage and breeding. as well as stating that environment has no play at all what so ever in Intelligent decision making. perhaps you should figure out whom the real ass clown is spewing a racially biased social scientist.

roguebotanist
roguebotanist

And while you're at it, stop the cutting off of dog tails and cropping their ears.  How vain can you be to mutilate an animal and showcase it around?

Michael FunkyButt Peck
Michael FunkyButt Peck

Elderly are starving, 14 year old girls are being pimped out in this town, and we are dedicated to cats. We deserve each other

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

I LOVE CATS. ESPECIALLY PICKING THEM OUT OF THE RADIATOR.


Anastasia Molodtsova
Anastasia Molodtsova

I feel so guilty, that I allowed my relative to declaw my kitty. I made a research the next day and was crying and crying. Thanks God, she feels good now, no pain, aggressivity or defects. But in general I think it's interfering with nature.

Judith Cruz Villarreal
Judith Cruz Villarreal

my cat is declawed but I found her that way. i took her in over 10yrs ago. she hates when strangers touch her paws.

Jessica Byerly
Jessica Byerly

I will NEVER make my cat defenseless and in pain...there are products to keep cats from scratching furniture...buy a water bottle and a scratching post people...

Marco LopeZ
Marco LopeZ

This is a cruel thing to do. Its like cutting your fingers off at the first joint. How about taking your cat to the vet to trim their nails. It cost 15 bucks plus you won't be a asshole.

Sheila Flores-Crabb
Sheila Flores-Crabb

And this is why as MUCH as I'd like not to have torn up stuff I still can't do this to my cats. :(

Houstess
Houstess

It's amazing to me how many animal rights activists go way over the top on stupid issues like this, targeting a humane and painless (yes I said painless) way to provide a good home to a loving family for yet another cat that someone did not spay.  By the way, spaying is surgery, and just as not painful as declawing.  These same folks, many of them, stand with Wendy to advocate the dismembering of a fetus over the gestational age of 20 weeks in utero (extenuating circumstances not limiting the thought process).  Not saying this is the author's stance, but largely, the animal "rights" activists also advocate late term abortion.  To say I just don't follow the logic is an understatement.  SMH

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

Have a problem with your cats claws? Clip them, with a flat tip they can't exact any damage on anything or anyone, just be sure you know what you're doing so you don't clip the bloodline/quick. This declawing crap is cruel and unnecessary.

slumpville
slumpville

I had a cat that would scratch herself raw. Just to give you an idea of how horrible it was, our walls were splattered with blood all over the house. We tried all sorts of medications and changes to try to help her. Nothing worked well enough to stop her from hurting herself. We declawed her. It greatly improved her quality of life. She did not seem to have any problems. I can't imagine declawing to save my furniture but I have never had cats thats ruin furniture. My current cat was not allowed unsupervised with the couch until we were sure we had taught her that this was not an okay place to scratch.

Kaf1958
Kaf1958

Well, this article was about cats, not 14 yr old girls.

Kaf1958
Kaf1958

The topic is cat declawing, not human abortion.

roguebotanist
roguebotanist

@Houstess Another post for another time unless you want these post to center on the 1950's because you've never left that decade.

Jefs_Old_Boss
Jefs_Old_Boss

@gossamersixteen In fact as many cats get older it's necessary to prevent ingrown claws which are also painful for little cat feets.

hudgal1
hudgal1

@slumpville  Your cat was probably experiencing allergies. I used to have a cat who scratched her self raw like that too. I ended up taking her for a monthly allergy shot. After doing a little research, I have discovered that most pet allergies are attributed to the food they're eating, with corn being the biggest culprit. Switching your pet's food to a grain-free food is the easiest and first thing you should try.

hudgal1
hudgal1

@slumpville Your cat was probably experiencing allergies. I used to have a cat who scratched her self raw like that too. I ended up taking her for a monthly allergy shot. After doing a little research, I have discovered that most pet allergies are attributed to the food they're eating, with corn being the biggest culprit. Switching your pet's food to a grain-free food is the easiest and first thing you should try.

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

@roguebotanist @txmarine0001 so you use a dead social scientist to try and humiliate me when i was making a joke especially a dead social scientist that has literally TOMES of peer reviews that are all criticisms btw i happen to have an established IQ of 120. foolish of you to assume that I do not have an education. I JUST HATE CATS.

slumpville
slumpville

@hudgal1 I agree. We tried the shots and food changes as recommended by our vet, but they did not fix the problem. That is why I said "we tried all sorts of medications and changes". 

txmarine0001
txmarine0001

@roguebotanist  what exactly is incoherent and rambling about my statement? perhaps i should come see you as you have been obviously smoking some of your own botany.

 
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