Do declawed cats find homes more easily because they won’t damage furniture? Do people abandon or euthanize their cats, if veterinarians do not perform a declawing procedure?
Actually, declawed cats seem to lose their homes BECAUSE they were declawed! There is evidence that declawed cats are disproportionately abandoned to shelters, and that declawed cats may be euthanized more often because of the behavioral and physical problems that the cat begins to exhibit because the cat was declawed.
Pet owners typically cite protection of their furnishings as being foremost among their reasons for having a cat declawed; however, such owners may not realize that the pain and other complications from the surgery can cause behavioral problems that are even worse than the problems for which the cat’s toes were originally amputated:
A cat can still bite a child and may have to resort to doing so since the cat has been robbed of its primary defense: its claws.
A cat whose paws hurt when digging in a litter box may avoid the litter box altogether. If someone is intolerant of a cat scratching furniture, that person is most certainly going to be intolerant of a cat biting or not using the litter box!
In a 1996 JAVMA article, Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD, using multivariate statistical analysis, found that declawed cats were at an increased risk of relinquishment to animal shelters and that among relinquished cats, 52.4% of declawed cats were reported to exhibit litter box avoidance, compared to 29.1% of non-declawed cats.
The risk of cats being relinquished to pounds if the owner cannot declaw the animal is grossly overestimated by the veterinary profession. In a survey of owners of cats that had been declawed and their veterinarians, reported by Dr. Gary Landsberg in Veterinary Forum (September 1994), only 4% of the owners said they would have relinquished their pet had it not been declawed. In contrast, the veterinarians in the survey speculated that 50% of the owners would have relinquished their pets.
We could reasonably expect that if cat owners knew the risks and alternatives to declawing and if veterinarians took a more active role in offering and assisting with the alternatives (such as nail caps and nail trimming), the 4% figure would be further reduced. As veterinarian Nicholas Dodman, board-certified animal behaviorist and Professor at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, has said, “There are very few people of this ilk (who would euthanize a cat if it could not be declawed) who could not be reeducated by an enthusiastic and well-informed veterinarian as to the inhumanity of this approach.”
Janet Scarlett, DVM, of Cornell University, in the article, “The Role of Veterinary Practitioners in Reducing Dog and Cat Relinquishments and Euthanasias,” JAVMA (February 1, 2002), states that client counseling is “probably the most effective means by which veterinarians can influence the number of dogs and cats surrendered to animal shelters today.” Veterinarians have an opportunity to intervene because people relinquishing pets are veterinary clients.
An estimated 50–70% of pets in shelters had visited the veterinarian in the year preceding relinquishment. Yet, Dr. Scarlett reports, “Only 25% of veterinarians routinely actively identify and treat behavioral problems.” She writes, “Less than a third felt confident of their ability to treat common behavioral problems. Perhaps even more disturbing, only 11.1% of veterinarians felt it was the veterinarian’s responsibility, rather than the client’s, to initiate discussion about behavioral problems.” Dr. Scarlett admonishes veterinarians to ask specifically about problem behaviors to uncover problems that clients are reluctant to mention or that they may not realize can be modified. Once identified, appropriate interventions can be recommended.
It seems clear that the real solution to the euthanasia concern will be convincing veterinarians to offer proper education. Treating a behavioral problem such as scratching with a surgical procedure went out of fashion with lobotomy. Declawing can cause worse behavior problems like not using the litter box and biting. These new behaviors can easily lead to abandonment and death.