Physical Consequences of Declawing

February 1, 2013
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Declawing changes the way the cat’s paws function, and this creates stress on the joints of the paw, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and spine. The cat’s gait changes, as weight is shifted backward from the toes to the large rear pad of the paw.

Research has demonstrated that, after declawing, cats shift their entire weight more toward the hind legs. This is quite a feat, considering that the front legs normally bear about 60% of the cat’s entire weight.

Within 6 months or so, normal weight distribution among the four legs is restored to pre-surgery values. However, changes and stresses within the paw persist and may even worsen due to normal contracture of the severed tendons due to scar tissue formation.

Over time, this altered stress can contribute to the development of arthritis.

In most older declawed cats, the toes are completely “frozen,” immovable even under deep anesthesia.

Declawing causes observable changes to the cat’s anatomy that are not only visible on radiographs (x-rays) but are obvious to anyone who cares to see them.

Here is what it looks like (click on pictures for larger view):

NORMAL PAW
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would be interesting to hear what the orthopedic specialists make of these changes. Can the veterinary community continue to deny the reality that declawing causes serious long-term consequences to the cat?

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35 Responses to Physical Consequences of Declawing

  1. wngangel782 on July 24, 2013 at 1:25 am

    I love my 10 year old cat that I have had for 6 years. I did not make the decision to declaw him; he came to me that way. I have noticed that his paws get stuck in an awkward position and I smooth them out. So, if I am reading this correctly, one day his paws will be stuck like this?! My poor cat. He already has no eyes and I feel bad because when they get stuck, he limps badly. Should I stop “smoothing” them out??

  2. Anne on May 26, 2011 at 5:48 am

    Hi,

    Great article on declawing. I have one cat who has been declawed on his back feet due to an extremely rare condition called Erlhos Danlos syndrome. His skin is so fragile it tears very easily. He has had numerous repair operations due to injuries inflicted by scratching. I know most people won’t be able to comprehend this condition & its effects, we couldnt to begin with. The skin is super stretchy but tears easier than paper. Going through the cat flap (before we found out about his condition) caused huge bruises which turned into scabs, fell off leaving huge holes in his skin.
    It has been the only way for him to live a pain free life. Free from constant operations for repairs.

    • jhofve77 on May 27, 2011 at 7:35 am

      Hi Anne, your cat is “an exception that proves the rule.” We believe that all non-medical reasons for declawing have humane alternatives. However, in rare cases, a medical condition does require declawing. In my entire career, I saw one such case. Yours is another. In all of the declaw bans passed in California in 2009, every ordinance contained an exemption for medical necessity for the health of the cat–but *not* for the well-being of the sofa, carpet, or any other excuse!

  3. Chris H. on May 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Talking to people about declawing:

    I found this article from 2004. Some others who’ve read is have said it was excellent. It lacks the newest information about declawing but has some ideas from humane organizations and rescues about talking to those who want to adopt cats as well as some suggestions about talking to vets about it. I agree that it’s important to have a dialog and educate without having the other party shut down and not listen.

    “The Declaw Dilemma,” by Nancy Lawson

    “Declawing is still legal—and common—in the United States and Canada. But how humane is it? And is it ethical? In the absence of definitive studies that can answer these questions, shelters are developing policies and practices that balance their desire to place animals and preserve the human-animal bond with their desire to prevent unnecessary and possibly pain-inducing procedures.”

    See http://www.animalsheltering.org/resource_library/magazine_articles/may_jun_2004/the_declaw_dilemma.html

    (I was surprised to learn in this article that there were organizations here in Canada that were trying to educate about declawing. I went to one site and found printable info in English and French:

    One-page printable article, “Declawing: Take Your Cat’s Side”, says Nova Scotia SPCA, http://www.spcans.ca/adoption/documents/Declawing.pdf

    Brochures:

    (English) http://www.upei.ca/awc/files/awc/declawing_for_web.pdf

    (French) http://www.upei.ca/awc/files/awc/dégriffage.pdf

    (Note: Brochures fail to mention declawing is banned in many countries. The brochures on tail docking and ear cropping do mention where those procedures are illegal or restricted.)

    External links:
    http://www.upei.ca/awc/Outputs/Public_education_brochures)

  4. Chris H. on May 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I have submitted this information to Felipedia under Furniture Scratching with a link to this page. I hope you don’t mind.
    http://www.felipedia.org/~felipedi/wiki/index.php/Furniture_scratching

    • jhofve77 on May 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

      Sure, that’s fine! We’re just happy to get the info out there!

  5. tom holleran on April 18, 2011 at 10:23 am

    the only instance in which I feel declawing is remotely to be considered is when the owner is considering death as a remedy for the perceived problem. Declawing is mutilation that most vets today refuse to perform, for all the reasons cited by other posters.

    To discuss pet issues, I invite all readers to visit the Pets Forum on Craigslist.com and to not be put off by the occasional troll or passionate debate. Bring pet tales and a pet pic to upload :) see you there!

    Issues like clawing can be dealt with through training, redirecting, covering the attractive target while remedial efforts are underway, keeping the claws well trimmed, providing and encouraging use of scratching targets, increased play time, use of Soft Paws* product ( http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&tag=mozilla-20&index=blended&link_code=qs&field-keywords=soft%20paws&sourceid=Mozilla-search ) and patience. Cats are eminently trainable.

    • jhofve77 on April 19, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      If an “owner” is considering killing the cat over scratching behavior, (a) that person should not have a cat, and (b) that cat needs a new home, not declawing. What if, because it’s been declawed, the cat develops a secondary behavior problem (1 in 3 declawed cats will)? That person has already demonstrated a complete unwillingness to cope with natural feline behavior…so in the end, the cat suffers declawing, then gets killed anyway. There is NEVER an excuse for declawing! All non-medical reasons (excuses) have humane alternatives. We have an entire category on Declawing with much more info on claws, declawing, and training. Unfortunately, the majority of vets today DO declaw, and will declaw any cat regardless of age, weight, etc. Thanks for helping us educate people about this terrible surgery!

  6. cindy on April 1, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I find this very interesting, because I have had 3 cats during my lifetime, 2 of which have been declawed as kittens when they were spayed (the first was an outdoor cat; claws were essential). The vet never mentioned anything about it being harmful to the cat except that she wouldn’t be able to defend herself if she got outside. Kitty #2 had to be put down at 16 b/c of leukemia/lymphoma, but otherwise she was a healthy and happy animal. Kitty #3 is 11 years old and is healthy and happy. Neither experienced/are experiencing any pain, and kitty #3 is active and is ok when we pick her up. I wonder if I just happened to end up with 2 cats that responded favorably to declawing? I know any surgery is traumatic to animals, especially since you can’t explain it to them. The vet said having her declawed at the same time as having her spayed would be better for her. I was never told that it was physically cruel to the cat. I would hate to be the cause of pain to any of my animals. Do vets just not want us to know this information so they can keep on performing this procedure? And do they perform it on older cats as well as kittens?

    • jhofve77 on April 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

      I think it is a stretch to say your cats never experienced any pain. You never saw obvious signs of pain — but “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Cats are extremely stoic and hide pain and illness until it is unbearable. Your cats never reached the point of *showing* pain, but given the alterations to the anatomy of the cat, as well as the likelihood of phantom pain after ten individual amputations, it is a virtual certainty that they experience(d) pain at least occasionally.

      Not all veterinarians will fully explain the declaw procedure, despite it being the explicit policy of the AVMA to inform clients of the exact nature of the surgery and *all* potential risks. Nor do vets recognize that it is cruel (whether they are deliberate ignoring the evidence, or they are just plain ignorant). Vets who declaw will usually do it on any age of cat.

      It is also the AVMA’s stated policy that all alternatives be tried before declawing (of which there are more than a dozen). A fair trial of even half of the alternatives would take a cat past the age where surgery is most common. Veterinarians who declaw do not comply with this policy, either, especially when they declaw kittens who aren’t even old enough to develop a scratching problem. “Spay and declaw” should not be equivalent to “burger and fries.” But sadly, it often is.

    • Donna Jitchotvisut on April 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Cindy,
      I was pretty much told the same thing back in the early ’90s when I had to take my two American Red Tabbies in to be spayed. I understood that this was a surgical procedure and that the vet would be cutting into their abdomens to remove their wombs and ovaries. To me, it sounded like major surgery and that there had to be pain. When I asked the vet about the pain aspect, I was told, “cats don’t feel pain(!?!?!?!?)” and that the anesthesia they were given was just to immobilize them(!?!?!?!?!). I didn’t feel right about this, but the girls had to have this – they were way too miserable going through repeated heats and the danger of their possible escape into the street was way too real. When my girls came home, they were still feeling the after-effects of the anesthesia and were very groggy. Looking into their eyes, though, I knew they were in pain – despite what their vet had told me.

      I remember we were also offered de-clawing at the same time as their spaying and I immediately associated the removal of the first phalange of my babies’ toes with the removal of the first phalange of my fingers and told the vet “no!” I am so very, very glad I did! My girls are gone now – the last of the two passed from this life in August of 2010. My present kitty baby will never, ever have her claws removed! If I have to find another apartment to rent because my present building changes its policy on cats with claws, then I will move! No way will I allow anyone to do such a barbarous procedure on my Wendy.

    • jhofve77 on May 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      Absolutely right! Veterinarians are really bad at recognizing pain, even with all their training; cat guardians just don’t see it or don’t understand what they are seeing.

      I am looking forward to your site’s debut–please let us know when it’s ready! :)

  7. Al Amodeo on April 1, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I am in construction and had an accident in 1994 in that I accidentally cut off my left thumb tip a bit above the first knuckle. It hurt for many years and to this day gets super cold before other fingers and still hurts when I bang it.
    I can not imagine having all 10 or more fingers amputated. I get enraged to even hear about this horrible human abuse to kitties people claim to care for.
    So in spite of my pain and suffering, when people talk about so called ‘de-clawing’ a kittie, I hold up my thump and show them what they are planning to do.
    It is NOT de-clawing but amputation. Make people know that even if they get upset. Kitties have no voice to defend themselves from human brutality. We are responsible to be their voices.

    • jhofve77 on April 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

      Research into phantom pain indicates that 100% of human amputees have “phantom sensation” and about 40% of those sensations are painful–regardless of age at amputation, or length of time since, or whether it was due to injury or surgery (surgery would presumably make be “cleaner” and hence less painful). With 10 separate amputations, well, I am terrible at math, but doesn’t that make something like a 400% chance that cats will feel pain in one or more of their stumps?

      Thanks again for your insight, and your passion!

    • tom holleran on April 18, 2011 at 10:15 am

      Bless you for sharing your rare and indisputable experience with the consequences of digital amputation!

  8. Catgrace on March 29, 2011 at 9:01 am

    My friend who has a declawed cat, decided to declaw another kitten, although I begged her not to do it to another cat. She insisted that her cat was just fine and had no horrible side effects (lots of urinary tract infections, I know!), so the new one will be as well. When the kitten came home, it walked very strangely…humped over, very gingerly, as if on eggshells.
    Her comment was that it must be because he was in a cage at the vet’s for a week…I asked whether the vet’s cages are only a few inches high….
    There’s no reasoning with some people, no matter what you tell them and what you show them…their possessions are more important to them than the welfare of their cats. The big problem with declawing a kitten is that one doesn’t know if that kitten will ever be a “scratcher”….and what about training by supplying different types of scratch post surfaces?
    Now, although her first cat doesn’t do that, the new kitten refuses to use the litterbox, although she uses soft clumping litter….I wonder what she will do next – dump the cat in a shelter or just outside?

    • jhofve77 on April 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm

      Either one. It’s not uncommon. There is actually a study in a veterinary journal that suggests exactly that — those people (using the term loosely) who are intolerant of their cat’s scratching behavior are more likely to relinquish the cat when a secondary problem (like biting or peeing outside the box) develops. When I was in veterinary practice, I saw a lot of declawed cats come through shelters, TNRs and rescues; obviously they once had a home, but ended up living outside — exiled, dumped, or abandoned — probably for the same reasons.

  9. Maggie on March 2, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Wow, those photos are unbelievable. Particularly the x-rays. It’s disgusting to think that people are doing this to cats, I don’t understand how they can get away with it. Why is butchering the toe ends off a cat still legal? The idea of declawing is enough for it to be banned. It’s horrific. It reminds me of some torture method thought up by some sick looney!

    It’s scary to hear of the toes being frozen. What causes them to freeze? Is there anyway to ‘un-freeze’ them?

    • jhofve77 on March 3, 2011 at 9:22 am

      It’s the body’s normal response to amputation. The nerves, tendons, blood vessels, skin, and other tissue are severed by declawing. Tendons naturally contract when they lose their anchor at one end. Also, scar tissue forms as part of healing any cut, and scar tissue always contracts over time. Once it’s done that, it is irreversible, unless further surgery is done to release the tendons (tendonectomy), but this is done only in severe cases.

  10. The Learning Vet on March 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this! Very interesting.

  11. MyKinKStar on March 2, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Then I suppose my constant feeling and manipulating the toes, paws and legs of my first 2 cats has helped to keep them from suffering more trauma so far. I requested they be declawed – 19 and almost 12 years ago, without knowing any better or being told either by 2 different vets. That’s not to say they don’t hurt without letting me know, since cats are very good at doing that anyway, just that PERHAPS they aren’t as bad as MOST cats are who get this horrible and needless surgery done to them.

    WE Know Better Now and certainly the vets have always known. The vet schools should spend more time teaching about feeing proper nutrition, NOT how to do this to any animal!

    • jhofve77 on March 3, 2011 at 9:35 am

      Yes, that’s a very interesting point about keeping the joints moving–that will prevent contracture of the scar tissue. Good that you had that instinct about it! You’re so right about cats hiding pain…unfortunately, their stoicism is also why most vets think they do “just fine” after declawing.

  12. Kathleen on March 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Thanks for posting this, Dr. Hofve! It’s so important for cat owners to understand that the adverse effects of declawing can last a lifetime, NOT only for the days or weeks immediately following the surgery!!

  13. Ruth on March 2, 2011 at 4:39 am

    A very good article with indisputable X Ray evidence of the damage caused to cats by declawing.
    I don’t see how declaw vets can deny for much longer that declawing is a very cruel and disabling operation.
    UK vets refused to declaw even before it was banned here.
    It’s time vets worldwide stuck to their oath to cause no animal to suffer.

    • jhofve77 on March 2, 2011 at 9:04 am

      I’m doing my darndest to make sure they can’t deny it any more–and I know you are too! The California Vet Med Association is rewriting its “position statement” on declawing and has asked for input…they’ll get it!

  14. Chris on March 2, 2011 at 2:51 am

    Thanks for posting this!
    Are back pain & slipped discs more common in declawed cats, & is this due to the atrophy of back muscles, or is it because they are more likely to lose their grip & fall?

    Are there any videos comparing the gait of domestic declawed cats to non-declawed cats? The little declawed cat we found appears to have a shortened gait & I can hear his toe bones hitting the floor.

    He also has an odd way of arching his back where it looks like he’s tucking his neck in like a turtle.

    • jhofve77 on March 2, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Hi, I believe they are, but the veterinary profession has carefully avoided doing long-term studies looking at these effects. But if you lost the ends of all your toes, it would change the way you walk, and you would definitely develop back pain. It isn’t so much muscle atrophy as it is altering the forces on the “upstream” joints, and this may cause instability. “Slipped discs” in cats are fairly rare. Good question on the video, it is pretty obvious looking at a cat walk whether it is declawed or not, but I haven’t seen any video. But I know it must exist, and I will try to find it!

      • Ron Gaskin DVM on March 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm

        An excellent question! A very astute clinician or cat lover can sometimes carefully palpate the back muscles in the lumbar region (between the ribs and the hips) and “knots” in these muscles can be felt. Gentle pressure on these areas can help to break the cramping. Cramping (tight muscles) can be found in the bottom of their forearms too. I believe there is actual atopy of the front quarters that can be profound on certain declawed cats. (A subjective observation). These cats take a rabbit pose at rest.

        • jhofve77 on March 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm

          Hi Dr. Gaskin, thank you for your input! When I was in practice I certainly noticed the “frozen” immovable toes, especially in older kitties, but did understand the full impact on the cat’s body. The more I look into it, the more awful the reality becomes! Massaging is a great suggestion…I hope folks with declawed cats will try it and report back on the results!

          • Chris H. on June 3, 2011 at 6:30 am

            I want to thank Dr. Gaskin as well for posting information on his site that offers physical proof that declawing is extremely detrimental. I hope we can make more people aware to prevent them from declawing and help cats who need paw repair surgery. (I searched but couldn’t find declaw repair or declaw salvage on Wikipedia or cats.about.com. Could the Paw Project add info about declaw repair for domestic domestic cats too?)

            I’ve been wondering the best way to get vets to see what they’re doing is really harmful. I was thinking of going to local clinics and asking if they offered declaw repair/paw salvage surgery, or might in the future, then leaving the info with them & asking if they could call me with an answer – it might give them time to reach thier own conclusions. I could include contact info for the first local vet who convinced another that his clinic could also survive without declawing cats. I think it shows that vets have the biggest influence on other vets.

            Perhaps they need an article called “Can My Practice Survive Without Onychectomy?” What can vets do to improve patient welfare and their bottom line, especially in a recession? (As a cat owner, I would like to be able to buy a pet scale or baby scale, decent vitamins, vinyl nail caps, lysine, empty gelatin capsules, flower essences, good books & booklets about pet care, perhaps mail-order items needed for TNR… It would be helpful to put together group orders to get discounts. I really hate it when they try to sell me high-carb pet food – I don’t care HOW the corn was specially processed, I’m NOT buying it. Another possible article, “Can My Practice Survive Without Selling Meat Cereal?)

            I certainly support the idea that a vet should charge for their time to council about vaccines, non-Rx weight loss, preventative nutrition, behaviour issues; I also think it’s fair to know the cost up front.

            Are there other things vets can do to save money that doesn’t jeopardize animal welfare? Might they look at consolidating practices &/or extending their operating hours to maximize the use of their clinics – if they’re not already doing so? How about kitten kindergarten: group socialization & intro to clicker training, therapeutic play, socialization to dogs & children (might be better suited as fundraisers for rescue groups)?

            Can vets advertise & become members of discount card programs? (I know of one city that gives responsible pet owners a discount savings card good at a variety of businesses when they purchase or renew their pet licenses – http://iheartmypet.ca/index.html).

    • Leah on March 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      I really think that most declawed cats have this appearance like they are shrinking into their neck; I think its the pain, I’ve seen a number of them on http://www.pictures-of-cats.org for example Vincent the declawed cat that can’t be touched, does your cat resemble Vincents stance? see here; http://www.pictures-of-cats.org/declawed-cat-is-untouchable.html

      I’m so pleased you’ve rescued this cat and you’re now researching what has been done to him.

      The pictures above are amazing because they show the difference between the two with such clarity; no one can deny that there is no difference. Well done the author.

      • Chris H. on June 3, 2011 at 4:36 am

        I can’t tell if Vincent has the same thing because Vincent is sitting in that photo. I notice our cat’s odd posture when he stands and tries to arch his back; it looks odd compared to our other cats.

        I notice our declawed cat’s wrists are bent inwards too. I saw the exact same thing on the old declawed kitty that lives at one of the vet clinics (one of the two local-ish clinics who does NOT declaw). I saw her wrists looked knock-kneed & checked to see if she was declawed – she was. That vet has rescued several cats that would have been killed due to one problem or another).

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