Declawing Handout for Shelters

November 17, 2010
By

By Jean Hofve, DVM

To help shelters and rescues educate potential adopters about declawing, Little Big Cat has prepared this free handout, which can be customized with your organization’s logo in place of the picture of the cat. You can copy and paste from this page, or we can produce and send you a file that can easily be reproduced on one sheet of paper (front and back). Please send a copy of your shelter’s logo, or a link to the shelter’s main web page (usually we can get it from there). Contact us at info@littlebigcat.com for assistance.



Facts About Declawing

There are many myths, misunderstandings, and misinformation concerning declawing. If you are considering having your cat declawed, or if your veterinarian has suggested it, please take a few minutes to learn about this major surgical procedure before you make a decision.

Why do cats scratch things?

Cats use their claws to maintain proper condition of the nails, for fun and exercise, and to mark territory visually as well as with scent. They stretch their bodies and tone their muscles by digging their claws into something and pulling back. A cat’s natural instinct to scratch serves both physical and psychological needs. Before domestication, cats satisfied these needs by clawing tree trunks. House cats can be trained to satisfy their desire to claw without damaging valuable property.

Why do people declaw their cats?

By far, the most common reason given by cat owners who are considering having their pet declawed is to protect furniture or other property. Some may believe that declawing will prevent the cat from injuring them. Some veterinarians will recommend the procedure to their clients. People may report that they are happy with their cats after declawing, because it makes the cats “better pets.” Unfortunately, as many people discover too late, declawing may cause far worse problems than it solves. There are many better ways to treat behavior problems other than radical and irreversible surgery.

What is declawing?

Declawing is the amputation of each front toe bone at the first joint (hind foot declaw surgery is not commonly performed). This is equivalent to a person losing the entire tip of every finger at the first knuckle. The cat loses 1/3 of its paws. The surgery is so excruciatingly painful that it is used to test the effectiveness of pain medications. Initial recovery takes a few weeks, but even after the surgical wounds have healed, there are often other long-term physical and psychological effects.

What are the potential complications of declawing?

Pain. While the immediate post-surgical pain that the cats suffer is obviously severe, it is impossible to know how much chronic pain and suffering declawing causes. Cats typically conceal pain or illness until it becomes unbearable. With moderate chronic pain, it may be that they simply learn to live with it. However, a new syndrome of “Chronic Pain of Onychectomy” has been documented to affect many cats, sometimes months or years after declawing.

Post-surgical complications. Lameness, abscesses, and regrowth of the claw can occur after surgery. In one report that studied cats for only five months after surgery, more than 30% of cats developed complications from both declaw and tenectomy surgeries (digital tenectomy or tendonectomy is a procedure, sometimes promoted as an “alternative” to declaw, where the tendons that extend the toes are cut. The claws still require frequent trimming. The procedure is not recommended.). Nail regrowth has been known to occur up to 15 years after surgery; and the process of regrowth is painful as it occurs.

Joint Stiffness.
In declawed (and tenectomized) cats, the tendons that control the toe joints retract after the surgery, and over time these joints become essentially “frozen.” The toes can no longer be extended, but remain fully contracted for the lifetime of the cat. The fact that most cats continue to “scratch” after they are declawed is often said to “prove” that the cat does not “miss” its claws. However, this is as easily explained as the cat’s desperate desire to stretch those stiff, contracted paw, leg, shoulder and spinal joints.

Arthritis.
Researchers have shown that, in the immediate post-operative period, newly declawed cats shift their body weight backward onto the large central pad of the front feet and off the toes. This effect was significant even when strong pain medication was given, and remained apparent for the duration of the study (up to 40 hours after surgery). If this altered gait persists over time, it would cause stress on the leg joints and spine, and could lead to damage and arthritic changes in multiple joints.

Litterbox problems.
Many experts say that declawed cats have more litter box avoidance problems than clawed cats. If cat owners knew they could end up trading scratched furniture for urine-soaked carpeting, they might have second thoughts about declawing. Studies suggest that up to 15% of cats will develop litterbox avoidance behaviors after declawing.

Biting.
Deprived of claws, a cat may turn to its only other line of defense—its teeth. Some experts believe that naturally aggressive cats that are declawed are the most likely to become biters. Studies have shown that up to 18% of declawed cats either start biting or bite harder and more often after declaw surgery.

Death. There is always a small but real risk of death from any general anesthesia, as well as from hemorrhage or other surgical complications. Declawing that results in biting or litterbox avoidance may result in the cat being dumped at a shelter. Such behaviors make them unadoptable, and they will be destroyed. Many cats are abandoned or exiled to a life outdoors because of these unwanted behaviors, even though declawed cats should not be allowed outside—their ability to defend themselves, and to escape danger by climbing, is seriously impaired. It’s a horrible truth that today, a friendly, declawed cat makes ideal bait for training fighting dogs to kill.

How can I stop unwanted scratching behavior without declawing?

Despite their reputation for independence, cats can readily be trained to use a scratching post instead of the sofa, curtains, or rugs. Using surgery to prevent or correct a behavioral problem is expedient, but it is not the wisest, kindest, or best solution for your cat. Cats can be trained not to scratch furniture or other objects. Amazingly, many people do not even know that they should provide a scratching post for their cats. Because scratching is a deeply ingrained instinct in cats, if there is no appropriate spot, they will be forced to substitute furniture or other objects.

A vertical scratching post should be at least 28-36″ high to allow the cat to stretch to his full height. Many cats prefer natural soft wood, such as an aspen log, cedar or redwood plank, or 4×4 posts wound with sisal rope. Some cats prefer a horizontal surface; inexpensive cardboard scratchers are popular with these cats. Rubbing the surface with catnip, or using a catnip spray, may enhance the attractiveness of the post. Other scratching solutions include:

  • Training (yes, cats CAN be trained!)
  • Regular claw-trimming
  • Rotary sanders (Peticure, Dremel)
  • Nail caps (SoftPaws, Soft Claws)
  • Emery scratching boards (Emerycat)
  • Double-sided sticky tape (Sticky Paws)
  • Non-stick furniture protectors (Corner Savers, Fresh Kitty Furniture Protectors)
  • Pet repellent sprays
  • Access restriction (upside-down vinyl rug runner)
  • Remote aversive devices (ScatMat, Ssscat)
  • Phermones (Feliway)
  • Furniture covers (blankets, towels—anything loose will not be appealing to your cat!)

Is LASER declawing okay?

Laser declawing causes less bleeding and swelling than other techniques. This reduces pain and complications in the first few days after surgery, but the long-term implications of the procedure remain the same.

Why did my veterinarian suggest declawing my cat?

Many veterinarians in the U.S. have become accustomed to performing the declawing procedure without thinking about—or recognizing—the consequences. Some even recommend routinely declawing kittens at the same time they are spayed or neutered, whether or not they have developed destructive scratching behavior. However, top veterinary behaviorists and the American Veterinary Medical Association agree that declawing should not be considered as a routine or preventive procedure. Your veterinarian has an obligation to educate you as to the nature of the procedure, the risks of anesthesia and surgery, and the potential for complications and further unwanted behaviors.

Reprinted courtesy of Little Big Cat, Inc. www.littlebigcat.com
Copyright 2010 Jean Hofve DVM. All rights reserved.

13 Responses to Declawing Handout for Shelters

  1. Muffy on August 27, 2011 at 5:13 am

    It’s been five years and my cat is doing just fine. The dangers of declawing is nothing more than hype.

    • Nessda on September 2, 2011 at 11:54 am

      It is not hype at all. It is extremely painful for the cat and many times the cats behaviour changes. Sometimes they hide or get aggressive because they feel they can not protect themselves. Also because the litter can hurt their feet after a declawing the cat will associate pain with the litter box and will refuse to use it. You were exteremely fortunate that your cat is okay.

    • Weebs on September 9, 2011 at 3:45 am

      Define “fine” for me please. How do you know if your cat feels pain or not? I have a cat who is sick and dying and who still jumps around and purrs in my lap. I didn’t know she was sick until she lost a lot of weight. Sure even a human can live with the ends of all of their fingers cut off but why would you want to subject them to that kind of life? Maybe I love my cat more than you love yours but I can’t even begin to conceive of taking away a part of what makes her the cat she is. Besides, when she’s gone I’ll still have the torn carpets to remember her by but not the couch. Rather than modify my cat to match my couch I got a couch with a material that isn’t very conducive to cat scratching.

    • jane on September 13, 2011 at 11:42 am

      YOU need to educate yourself on feline anatomy and just exactly what damage is done to them by declawing! It is NOT hype!!

  2. ( Just a Cat Lover) on April 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    I came across a behavior study on a four year old declawed cat that suddenly started urinating around the house. Poor “Eddy” was diagnosed with springtime love in the air syndrome and the owner was told to keep him away from windows. Eddy was drugged with Prozac. Never did the behaviorist mention that the possible cause could have been his amputated toes. This also astounds me. There is too much denial going on in the medical animal community. Even if there were no side effects of declawing, the procedure in itself is barbaric! I can almost understand why the public wants to get their cat declawed because I am finding that most of them have no idea whatsoever is happening! But how a trained professional can cut off a cat’s toes knowing what they are doing and what suffering they are causing a cat for its lifetime is just beyond my comprehension. Thanks to Dr Conrad and Dr Gaskin, declawing will be someday be illegal as it is in the rest of the humane world. It just boggles the mind that it will take laws to stop doctors from performing this surgery.

    • JoAnn Rabitoy on June 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      I completely agree with just a cat lover. I never knew it caused them pain, not at all. I dont really think many people DO KNOW THAT EVEN! My kitten/cat she’s like 4 months old and she does try but we have just been consistant with the training and she will immediately stop and all i have to do is look at her and she knows. I was considering removing her claws, after reading this? No way! I would NEVER hurt my “baby”. She is just an innocent animal that loves you unconditionally and is so sweet that i am definately NOT going to have this done, thanks for letting us cat lovers know, cuz i believe that not many people do know.

      • jhofve77 on June 7, 2011 at 9:27 pm

        Hi JoAnn, thanks for your comment! I am so glad you came to our site, and learned about declawing–that’s our whole purpose, to provide rational education for people. I agree that most people who declaw their cats are simply ignorant. I can’t say the same for vets, who know exactly what is entailed but so rarely tell the truth to their clients. Pass on the word! :)

  3. Laura Collins, DVM on February 23, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I am a shelter and private practice veterinarian. I’d love to see the studies you quote showing up to 15% of declawed cats develop litterbox problems. I’ve never seen a study showing this, although I’d love to be able to quote this to my clients when discussing declawing.

    • jhofve77 on February 24, 2011 at 8:38 am

      It’s from Yeon, et al. 2001, published in JAVMA. For a summary of that study, and of many others pertaining to declawing, please visit our article Declawing and Science. It astounds me that Dr. Golab and others refer to this study, where 33% of declawed cats developed a serious behavioral problem after surgery, as “not statistically significant” (though just how this deficiency is calculated is not well explained). One in three?? Geez, I’d love to go to a Vegas casino where I could get those odds! :) I believe that the 18 or 19% of cats started biting or began biting harder, and 12% avoided the litterbox (though I am on the other computer and can’t confirm those exact stats right this sec).

      • Muffy on August 31, 2011 at 11:19 pm

        My cats are fine after their surgery.

        • jhofve77 on September 1, 2011 at 12:16 am

          Denial: not just a river in Egypt!

        • jane on September 13, 2011 at 11:45 am

          lets cut off all 10 of YOUR fingertips…you will be as FINE as your poor cat!

        • Chris H. on October 10, 2011 at 12:17 am

          During their lifetime, it is quite possible that 100% of declawed cats will suffer from the physical consequences of having the ends of their toes amputated. Just because pet owners don’t understand the changes in their cats’ bodies and their veterinarians aren’t yet trained to diagnose the problems declawing causes does not mean that the problems don’t exist.

          Dr. Jean shows x-rays & photos comparing normal anatomy to changes that have occurred in declawed cats in “Physical Consequences of Declawing”, http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/physical-consequences-of-declawing/

          Rescue groups have been documenting for years the huge majority of calls they receive about cats with behavior problems, like urinating outside the litter box, are from people with declawed cats. Other studies have also shown this link. “Declawing and Science”, http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/declawing-and-science/ and “FAQs” from the Paw Project, http://www.pawproject.org/faqs/ as well as “The Declaw Dilemma” article, below offer examples.

          Animal Sheltering.org article for shelters & rescue groups, “The Declaw Dilemma” (from 2004. Newer data shows evidence that declawing causes problems for cats, their owners, shelters, rescue groups and taxpayers), http://www.animalsheltering.org/resource_library/magazine_articles/may_jun_2004/the_declaw_dilemma.html

          Many declawed cats with behavior problems could find some pain relief from physical deformities caused by declawing by having “declaw repair” or declaw salvage surgery. Dr. Ronald Gaskin offers info about the surgery, but believes cats should never have been declawed in the first place, http://msvets.com/DeclawRepair.html

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