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.

Colorado Springs veterinarian James Gaynor, a specialist in pain management, has done extensive research on the chronic pain symptoms exhibited by some declawed cats. He says that veterinarians need to make sure owners understand that declawing isn't simply nail trimming, but a "ten-toe amputation."

"It's a simple but major orthopedic procedure," he says. "I am not against declawing whatsoever. I believe that if the anesthesia and pain management are handled correctly, it's no different from any other surgery that we perform."

Gaynor advocates an aggressive treatment approach, involving numerous drugs administered over several days, to greatly reduce the risk that a cat will experience chronic pain from the surgery. With the development of more cat-specific painkillers, he believes that most vets are doing a better job of post-operative care — though some still balk at the additional time and expense involved in the protocol he advocates. He recalls visiting a "big practice" back East where the vets "did almost nothing for pain management. They were basically torturing the cat. This shouldn't be some cut-rate procedure."

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.

Although declawing is becoming an increasingly contentious issue among vets, basic instruction in the surgery is still taught at all but two of the country's 28 veterinary schools. Tim Hackett, a professor at Colorado State University and interim director of CSU's veterinary teaching hospital, says the university offers the "least traumatic" surgical methods. "We respect that people have ethical concerns about this," he says, "but it's a procedure that is somewhat in demand, and a practitioner should be exposed to the proper surgical technique and medications. I'd hate to have them learning it on the fly."

At Texas A&M's veterinary school, students are taught how to declaw cats through practice on cadavers, and in their fourth year, they are given opportunities to declaw client pets. Dr. Mark Stickney, director of general surgery services at Texas A&M, says that it's important for students to learn the proper procedures, the correct ways to perform them and the issues that surround them so they can decide if declawing is a procedure they will perform.

When asked if any students decline to practice declawing cats, Stickney says, "We have had a couple of students, and they are in the minority. They are absolutely fine about knowing the procedure and how it exists, but not actually performing it."

According to Stickney, Texas A&M students perform about 25 declawing procedures each year, depending on the number of client pets brought into the veterinary school.

Randa MacMillan, the current president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, stopped offering declawing in her own practice many years ago. But she suspects that the procedure is still "moderately common" among her membership and that the campaign to ban it will be a contentious one. She notes that an attempt last year to enact a ban on docking the tails of dairy cows — a surgery that makes things easier for the dairy industry but robs the animal of its only way to ward off flies — failed miserably.

"It's very hard to tell another vet how to practice," MacMillan says. "There are people who still routinely declaw, and these are the same ones who will really scream if somebody tries to tell them how to practice medicine."

Vets who do offer feline onychectomy say the current procedure, if properly done, has little in common with the butchery of big cats depicted in Conrad's film. Sara Mark, owner of the Southwest Veterinary Hospital in Littleton, attended a screening of The Paw Project at Lavizzo's office a few weeks ago and left unpersuaded by the claims about long-term complications and behavior problems. "People involved in the rescues see the bad cases," she says. "In 30 years of practice, I have had no cats that regrew portions of nail. I had one that ended up with some neuritis that we were able to remedy."

Southwest recently came under fire on an anti-declawing Web site for offering free declaws as part of a clinical trial for pain medication. Mark says the clients who participated in the study weren't encouraged by her team to declaw and were required to sign lengthy release forms disclosing the details of the surgery. She, too, stresses alternatives to declawing when clients ask about it: "If you don't want property damage in your house, don't have an animal," she says. But she also believes the surgery is justified in certain cases; she's had three immune-compromised clients seeking organ transplants who were told they'd be taken off the transplant list if they didn't have their cats declawed. And there's the prospect of a sofa-shredding cat losing its home.

"If it comes down to yet another cat that's going to live its life in a shelter or get euthanized," Mark says, "or doing a front declaw to let that cat live — I cannot in good conscience say yes, being dead is better than losing your claws."

But declawed cats end up in shelters, too. They may be more likely to end up there in later years, as arthritis and elimination problems surface, than cats that still have their claws. One study found that declawed cats are nearly twice as likely to be surrendered to shelters as their intact brethren. Since cats with behavior problems are much less likely to be deemed adoptable, their euthanization rate may be higher, too.

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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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