This Cruel Procedure Means Excruciating Pain That Will Haunt Your Pet

cruel procedure cat declawing

Story at-a-glance -

  • The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has recently adopted a stronger stance against declawing cats
  • Among the points the AAFP makes is the risks and complications of declawing increase with age and include acute pain and long-term issues such as lameness and behavioral problems
  • The term “declawing” is a misnomer, as the procedure actually involves 10 separate toe amputations of the front paws (and eight more if the hind claws are involved)
  • The veterinary community is well aware that declaws are one of the most painful procedures performed on cats — even more painful than spays and neuters
  • Cats need their claws (and their toes) to live long, high-quality lives. There are many things you can do to direct your cat’s natural scratching behavior to appropriate surfaces

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

There’s a bit of encouraging news on the cat declawing front — the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has finally taken take a more forceful stance against declawing as an elective procedure. From the 2015 position statement:

“The American Association of Feline Practitioners strongly believes it is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with alternatives to declawing (onychectomy).”1

From the newly revised 2017 position statement:

“The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAF) strongly opposes declawing (onychectomy) as an elective procedure. It is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with alternatives to declawing.”2

The difference between the 2015 and 2017 AAFP position statements sends a clear message. In 2015, the organization didn’t express outright opposition to the proce­dure; in 2017, it did. It’s a move in the right direction, and veterinarians who still do onychectomies should take note.

7 Foundational Points Regarding Declawing

The following points are the foundation of the 2017 AAFP position statement:3

1. Feline declawing is an ethically controversial procedure.

2. Declawing is NOT a medically necessary procedure for cats in most instances.

3. Scratching is a normal feline behavior — both inherited and learned. Cat owners should be educated on feline scratching behaviors. Veterinarians should provide behavioral recommendations that allow cats to express these behaviors and reduce those undesirable to the client.

4. Declawing is an amputation of the third phalanx (P3).

5. It is the veterinarian’s obligation to educate cat owners and provide them with alternatives to declawing.

6. Veterinarians should counsel cat owners on alternatives for declawing such as:

Providing cats with scratching posts/pads

Regularly trimming the claws to prevent injury or damage to household items

Considering temporary synthetic nail caps

Using synthetic facial pheromone sprays and/or diffusers to help relieve anxiety or stress

Providing appropriate feline environmental enrichment

7. There are inherent risks and complications with declawing that increase with age such as acute pain, infection, nerve trauma, as well as long-term complications like lameness, behavioral problems and chronic neuro­pathic pain.

Declawing = ‘De-toeing’

I’m not sure who came up with the term declawing, because it’s quite misleading. The name implies only a cat’s claws are permanently removed, however, it’s impossible to remove the claws without amputating a portion of each toe. More specifically, declawing isn't a nail trim or even nail removal. It's amputation of the claw, bones, nerves, the joint capsule, collateral ligaments and the extensor or flexor tendons, as you can clearly see in these two images:

declawing
cat declawing

A front-paw declaw requires 10 separate amputations. If the hind paws are also done, that's eight more separate amputations. Fortunately, hind paw declawing is much less common, but also considerably more painful for the cat.

Most Declaws Are Accomplished Using ‘Guillotine Trimmers’

There are three common methods used for declawing:

  • Resco clipper, also known as the “guillotine trimmer”
  • Scalpel
  • Laser

The Resco clipper is by far the most common method used. One of the problems with it is that it can only cut in a straight line, and since there’s no straight line in a cat’s toe joint, the bone must be cut. According to my friend and fellow holistic vet Dr. Jean Hofve, there's a long-running debate as to whether a piece of bone should be left or removed.

Left in, it can feel to your cat kind of like a permanent pebble in your shoe would feel to you, which is to say, darned uncomfortable. But if the piece of bone is removed, the tendons will contract even further and can cause significant changes in the positioning of the toes, which in turn changes how the kitty’s paws bear weight.

No matter the method used, an onychectomy changes everything about the way a cat walks. Amputation of the third phalanx or the first toe bone that houses the nail drastically alters the conformation of the feet, which can lead to a long list of physical complications such as chronic small bone arthritis, degenerative joint disease and neuralgia.

In addition, when a cat's ability to bear weight is shifted, as it is with declawing, it changes how the toes, paws and wrists function. It impacts the elbow joint and stresses the spine. The compensatory changes that occur to accommodate compromised front limb function alter the cat's locomotion and can lead to arthritis.

Declaws Are Horribly Painful and Often Lead to Behavioral Changes

According to Dr. Jean, declawing is so painful it is the procedure of choice to test new pain medications for cats. Believe it or not, everyone in the veterinary community under­stands it's a more painful procedure than spaying or neutering.

In addition to the mutilation of their toes, cats must use their paws to bear weight, which makes sitting up, and especially standing and walking, torturous. Most cats are sent home with just two or three days of pain medication. As we know, kitties hide pain exceptionally well, so while they may seem fine, the pain of declawing is still with them for much longer than a quick 48 hours.

Declawing can also create chronic, severe pain in a number of ways, and cats, being stoic, deal with it. They appear normal. They may even get back to playing. They may "pretend" to scratch with their missing front claws. They may climb and jump, but none of it is normal movement because declawing has altered their entire physiology. Their biomechanics have changed, and down the road, behav­ioral problems can arise.

There are immediate and obvious behavior changes in about a third of declawed cats, like biting and eliminating outside the litterbox. But there are also mental and emotional problems that can develop. Lots of owners of declawed cats report that their pet has become depressed, withdrawn, irritable and even aggressive after being declawed.

Of course, this is to be expected if every step a cat takes causes pain. And while owners may not associate the behavior change with pain because cats are stoic, pain is usually the cause of it.

Living in (Almost) Perfect Harmony With Your Cat’s Claws

Hopefully, your own kitty still has her claws and the good news is you have no plans to de-toe her. The not-so-good news is that unless you take steps to prevent it, those sharp little claws can do big-time damage to your furniture, carpets, drapes and other surfaces around your home.

Click here for an updated step-by-step guide to teaching kitty what to scratch (and what not to scratch), and tips for protecting your belongings (and your skin!) from those sharp little claws. In addition to the suggestions in the article, you might also want to investigate a new product by the makers of the feline pheromone, Feliway. It’s called Feliscratch, and you apply it directly to kitty’s scratching post. You can learn more about it at Feliway.com.

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