Is Declawing really that cruel?

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Why do people declaw their cats?
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    Declawing cats is a very hot topic for debate. For many years now, animal rights people have lied and deceived the public into believing that declawing cats is the most inhumane and horrible procedure on the planet. The truth is, is a common surgical procedure done under anesthesia and if done correctly, there will not be any lasting effects. It is just like any other surgery: there are some risks from the anesthesia and blood loss, but most of the times and if done by a competent veterinarian, there are no lasting effects from the surgery. Contrary to some opinions, declawing is not likely to drastically change his behavior or personality, nor does it necessarily predispose him to future behavioral problems. On the other hand, it creates a more rewarding experience between cat and owner because you don't have to scold kitty all the time for clawing inappropriately.

    Declawing your cat is a personal decision. Many times it is a requirement, such as some apartments or family health issues, and some times is just convenience, living in a small apartment and space can't be wasted on a big scratching post that may or may not work at keeping your kitty away from the furniture. Or a person has a busy schedule and the only time available would rather be spent playing and giving attention to the cat rather than training him. Or, as I can tell you from personal experience, rough-housing between kitty and another pet results in a scratched cornea and the risk of the other pet (my dog) losing an eye. The choice for the owner then becomes either to declaw or give up a cherished and loved pet, so it is pretty obvious here what the most humane choice would be. A person that decides to declaw his/her cat should not be vilified, instead encouraged to give the cat a home and love as long as the cat lives.  

My name is Buddy. I'm five months old in this
picture and I was rescued from an agency this past June.

  The surgery itself...

    Though the surgery can be done at any age, it is best to be done before two years of age. The older the cat, the longer it takes to heal. Many vets recommend to have a kitten declawed at the same time as the spay/neuter for that reason and because it is less traumatic to put a kitten under anesthesia only once if the owner decides to declaw him later. Some vet clinics use a local anestethic block (they put local anesthesia in their paws) so they don't feel anything when they wake up. I would recommend to only declaw the front paws. There is really no point on full declaws since cats don't do much damage with their hind legs, but they need those claws to climb a tree if they sneak out, defend themselves, and grooming. I don't recommend declawing an outdoor cat or an older cat. For an older cat, consider a tenectomy instead. Tenectomies have a shorter healing period and is a quicker surgery, but you must clip their nails regularly or the nails will curl and might get embedded in the paw pads.  

    If you check the internet, you can find one of those sites about the "horrors" of declawing a cat. They have pictures of an actual surgery of declawing a black cat. I have two things to say... Despite many warnings of how graphic the pictures are, there is not much blood to see. This proves that the declawing surgery is not as bloody as described, and even when the pictures where taken by an anti-declaw vet tech which most likely attempted to make the surgery look a gory as possible. Second, I can see where all the horror stories come from. This surgery was done very poorly. Using a nail clipper to remove the claws is a procedure that is not done very often anymore. It can leave bone splinters behind and the possibility of nail regrowth. The procedure done most often involves an incision behind the claw and continuing against the bony structure until the last digit falls away from the paw using a scalpel (called disarticulation method). This method does not break any bone and insures that no bone splinters are left behind and that there is no possibility of nail regrowth. To see two real surgeries done by real veterinarians and un-staged, you can go to these vets' web sites: with laser and the conventional way. You can see in these pages that the claw is removed carefully and would only remove the claw along with the distal phalanx (the bone where the claw is attached to) as shown on the picture below. In the pictures presented in the anti-declaw website part of the middle phalanx is being crushed. 

A picture of a paw from a real cat skeleton next to a diagram view from the side. (Picture used with permision from this site.) Notice that the cat does NOT bear weight on the distal phalanx or the nail. The nail (in blue) and the distal phalanx (in yellow) is what is removed during a declaw. While it is true that the distal phalanx is the equivalent of the last bone in a human's fingers, notice how small it is in cats compared to the nail. It is a vestigial bone that serves no other purpose than to hold the cells that gives rise to the growing nail and provide support when the claw is extended. Also notice that the nail along with the distal phalanx is retracted normally, and the cat does not support his weight on this small bone. He will not have to "shift his weight" or "learn how to walk again" because walking is no different than walking with the nails retracted. The foot pads are left intact during the surgery. You really can't compare different species' anatomy because animals and people are so different. For example: when you see a horse's hoof, you are seeing the equivalent to the last phalanx of your middle finger ONLY!

    Most cats start walking around few hours after the surgery. Older cats will take longer to heal. With proper pain medication and if done by a good veterinarian, many owners are surprised at how quickly the cat recovers. They don't stop eating and accept petting almost immediately. Shredded paper or even clean unpopped popcorn kernels is recommended to use as litter for 1 week to prevent any sand from entering the wound, and rough play is not advised. It is normal for some cats to shake their paws few days after declawing. It doesn't necesarily mean pain, but the glue or stitch left behind is more like an annoyance that the cat is trying to shake away. Just think of it this way: if your hand hurt, would you shake it? No, you would try to keep it as motionless as possible.

My name is History. I was declawed when I was 3
years old. Now my mom plays with me more and
doesn't squirt me with a water bottle anymore!

I'm Niobe. I was adopted from
the pound to keep my sister History company.
Though I'd rather try to catch a fish
from here, but I can't find the lid!


The need to claw....

   I am sure you have seen a cat scratching, and you might have noticed the joy he experiences. But he is scratching on your favorite couch, so you need to squirt him with water to prevent the couch from an early demise. Aaww, your cat must think you are the worst party pooper on the planet!!!

   Cats are not evil, they don't want to destroy your furniture on purpose. They have scent glands on their paws and when they are scratching, they are also leaving pheromones in the area to let other cats know that he was there, that this couch is part of his territory, and probably he is even saying in what mood he was. That is why they like to scratch on your couch, sound equipment, night desk, curtains, and your pant legs. He considers everything part of "his territory". So when a declawed cat is allowed to scratch everywhere, he feels at home on your entire home, not only on those areas restricted by the presence of a scratching post. Even if he is an only cat, he will still do it. There is no way to stop a cat from scratching: it is instinctive. It is their hobby. The visual mark left by the scratch is easily substituted by the scent mark. A declawed cat can scratch whatever he wants without the fear of being scolded or squirted with a water bottle. The need of you being the "party pooper" is no longer present!

     Isn't it cute when a cat comes to you and starts greeting you by "kneading"? Kittens massage the udder of their mothers when they want to feed. The massage stimulates the queen to produce milk and let it flow. As adult cats, they see you as their substitute mother. This massaging motion is one of the ultimate expressions of love and affection that a cat will give you. You should feel flattered! Instead you feel pain when he decides to dig his claws! Now you are also ungrateful! Yes, you can teach a cat not to dig his claws on you, but he is not being allowed to fully express himself. What he is doing is not good enough... Before my cat was declawed he used to knead me very often and no matter how polite I tried to be on showing him that using his claws was not OK, he always left and looked at me indignant and eventually completely stopped. It took him over 8 months after the surgery to start again, very shy at first, and now he fully express how much he loves me and I truly enjoy his "massages"!  

This are Pickle and Sylvester. Sylvester is a great fisher: he can fish out of the fish bowl!
And Pickle likes to carry toys around in his mouth all through the house and claims them for himself.
They were both saved from the pound.

Is there any behavior changes after declawing?

   Declawing will not necessarily make your cat a biter. The belief that declawed cats bite comes from the fact that when his claws are gone, what you feel mostly are his bites when you two play together! The claws are sharper than teeth and when they claw you, what leaves the biggest impression is the scratch. All cats, regardless of the status of their paws, will bite! The comments of cats turning into biters is unfounded, in fact, a normal cat bites even with its claws. Here you can find a scientific study done under controlled situations about behavior after declawing. And about urinating outside the box: I've known 3 cases of cats that do it. Two declawed and one with intact claws. The clawed cat likes to urinate on the heating vents and nobody knows exactly why. Most likely because she is 12 years old. One declawed cat started urinating outside the box soon after the declawing. Reason? They found bladder stones. The poor cat couldn't just make it on time to the box. It was a coincidence it happened soon after the declawing. Not related to the declawing at all. The last case started years after the declawing and it is believed it was due to his diabetes getting worse. My personal opinion? if a declawed cat starts using his litter box inappropriately it might be a health issue, so please, first check with your veterinarian before blaming the cat and the surgery too quickly and sending the cat to the pound. There are no studies to prove a link between declawing and improper elimination, only anecdotal stories from animal rights websites.

Another misconception is that most cats surrendered to shelters are declawed. The oposite is true, declawed cats are more likely to keep their homes. From Veterinary Partner: In a study of 276 cat owners, declawing successfully met or surpassed the owner’s expectations in all cases. There was 96% owner satisfaction at the time of the study (up from 81% prior to surgery) and over 70% of cat owners indicated that there was an improvement in the cat-owner relationship. In a study of veterinarians in Ontario, it was estimated that over 50% of owners of declawed cats would not have owned or kept their cats, had they not been declawed. Declawing cats may save their lives! If you are still in doubt, here is an experiment you can do yourself. is a website where shelters through US can advertise the animals they have for adoption. If you go to their quick animal search, select cat and type a zip code, you will notice that there are very few declawed cats that were surrendered to the shelters. Declawed cats will have the picture of a paw in the "features" field and is very easy to compare how many declawed vs non-declawed cats are homeless.
A cat behaviorist from Florida sent me the following letter. She asked me to keep her name anonymous for fear of retaliation from animal rights activists and loss of clients:

"I want to thank you for your informative site. Another thing you can add to your site is that by removing the front claws
you are not removing all of the cat's defenses. That is a myth. Front claws play a minimum role in defense. They use
mostly their back feet and their teeth. You can prove this very easy with your own cat, if you play with him for too long
and he wants you to stop, he will curl around your hand, bite it, and kick with his back feet." Later she adds, "I even
recommend declawing in some cases where everything has been tried unsuccessfully. I only recommend this as
a last resort, declawing for one being a permanent change, and second for fear of the cat's guardians badmouthing me
due to them believing all the misinformation on the issue."


Many countries see declawing as inhumane!

    While I am pro-declawing, I would oppose declawing a cat that spends most of his time outdoors. And this is exactly what happens on these countries. Most people know the problem that Australia has on its disappearing species. Many of them not because of people invading their natural habitats, but because of introduced species, the cat being one of the worst (unfortunately, USA also has a problem with feral cats: please spay/neuter your kitty!!!). In most countries cats are animals that spend most of their lives outdoor. Also, there are many more cats roaming the streets than on the states and Canada, and cats are very territorial creatures that will fight and would need their claws to defend themselves from other cats. It is not uncommon for outside cats, specially unfixed ones, to come back home with many wounds due to a fight with another cat, which IMHO, is more painful and cruel in the long run than having an indoor cat declawed. 

    Also, cat owners on these countries don't see clawing as such a bad problem due to the fact that their cats can take their "hobby" to the backyard tree or the deck instead of their stereo equipment. Also, there are far many more pet cats in USA than in other countries. Many of the cats on these countries are mostly barn cats. In other places, spay and neuter are not performed as often, either. Here is an article that compares cat ownership in USA vs. Britain. Many countries are similar. 

Besides, in some countries is legal for a father to sell his daughter. In some countries public hangings is legal. In some countries contraceptives are illegal (ie. Turkey). It is illegal to take a bath in the wintertime in Indiana. Bullfighting is legal in Spain (now that is cruelty at its worst!!). In England is legal to shot a Welshman within the city walls at Chester. In some countries is legal to kill a woman that commits adultery. Just because something is law doesnt make it right, just because declawing cats is illegal in these countries doesnt necessary mean is wrong. It just means that animal rights activists are trying harder in these countries to decrease pet ownership. In the beginnings, veterinary clinics that performed declaws would be vandalized by animal rights advocates. Here in the USA the movement is not as strong, but it does exists. In fact, Dr. Johnson, vet from the Pet Library writes:

"Believe it or not, after reading that I do advocate
and perform declaws, some browsers have sent
me notes wishing ferociously that I was dead,
and also that they were planning to stop by my office
and perform a declaw on me, and my children, while we were
awake. One of the persons who wrote me such a note was
a member in good standing with PETA, the organization
that rallied behind, and wholly exalted, the shooting
death of a University of Tennessee veterinary school dean."

     So much for a an organization that makes itself sound so humane..... If you are debating whether or not to declaw your cat, know which people would you rather listen to: your veterinarian, or these terrorists. I admire Dr. Johnson for not allowing himself to be bullied by these extremists. 

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