Ethical Veterinarians Do Not Declaw-Unethical Veterinarian$ Do Not Care About Your Cat


A More Accurate Name for Declawing: ‘De-toeing’
By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Declawing continues to be a hotly discussed topic in the U.S., and while there’s growing awareness of exactly what onychectomy involves (it’s not just a permanent nail trim but mutilation of a cat’s paws), kitties continue to be subjected to the procedure, and the debate rages on.

I recently learned of the of a Connecticut veterinarian that featured highly disturbing photos of a spiraled nail removed from a cat who had been declawed 12 years earlier. During the onychectomy, some nail tissue was inadvertently left behind, which isn’t all that unusual with declaw procedures.

In this case, the remaining tissue formed a new nail that couldn’t grow naturally, so it grew in a spiral inside the cat’s leg, embedded in the flesh. It wasn’t until the spiraled nail formed a mass the size of a ping pong ball and broke through the poor cat’s wrist, that anyone knew there was a problem.

This is an extreme case of what can happen after a declaw procedure, but it should cause everyone who cares about cats to rethink what we’re doing when we surgically “redesign” cats’ feet for the sake of human convenience.

Dr. Aubrey Lavizzo, a veterinarian and anti-declaw advocate practicing in Colorado has, like so many in our profession, performed onychectomies at the insistence of cat-owning clients. In an interview with the Denver Post, Lavizzo made the point that the procedure should really be called de-toeing, because it’s not a nail trim, it’s amputation of the cat’s toes.

feline digital amputation
Declawing removes the claw, bones, nerves, the joint capsule, collateral ligaments and the extensor or flexor tendons. 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 host of physical complications such as chronic small bone arthritis, degenerative joint disease and neuralgia.

“As veterinarians, we take an oath that we will use our knowledge and skills to benefit society through the relief of pain in our animal clients,” says Lavizzo. “When you talk about pain in cats, it’s classified as mild, moderate and severe. Mild is a neuter. Moderate is a spay. And severe is a declaw.”1

Because the feline claw grows right out of the bone, during declawing, it’s common for veterinarians to miss a tiny piece of bone that subsequently grows back as a partial nail or bone fragment. The missed piece can continue to grow under the skin, pressing into tissue and nerves, or it can grow right through the skin.

Dr. Lavizzo studies declawed cats and keeps records of bone fragments and bone spurs left behind after declawing procedures. He believes the pain caused by those missed pieces of bone may result in behavior changes like biting and eliminating outside the litterbox.

“We always see the same thing, because it’s so hard to do this procedure perfectly,” Lavizzo told the Post. “You can’t predict a successful outcome, and if you can’t predict a successful outcome, then you shouldn’t do the procedure.”

It is estimated the vast majority (80 percent) of declawed cats have at least one complication resulting from the surgery, and over a third develop behavior problems afterward.

So Why Are Cats Still Being Declawed?

Cat owners who still favor declawing typically either don’t understand what the procedure actually does to a kitty’s feet, or are more concerned with being scratched or having their furniture or other belongings damaged than with the risks and pain involved in onychectomy. Many veterinarians who are still willing to perform declaws believe they’re doing it to save cats who would otherwise be relinquished to shelters.

The ASPCA and the Cat Fanciers Association oppose declawing. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) takes the position that declawing should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents a zoonotic risk for its owner(s).

The AVMA has also published a literature review on the welfare implications of declawing on cats. It’s important to note that the U.S. is behind the curve when it comes to banning declaws. According to a recent article in Newsweek:

“In some cities and many countries, declawing is considered so inhumane that it is illegal. Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals bans declawing, along with defanging, docking ears and tails, and removing the vocal cords of a pet.

There are only a few exceptions to these rules; specifically, when a vet deems the procedures necessary to the animal’s well-being. The same goes for Australia, Brazil, San Francisco and, possibly in the near future, Denver.”2

My hope is that ultimately every state in America will ban declaws for humane reasons, and that all animal advocacy groups, in particular the AVMA, will come out in full opposition to the procedure.

Alternatives to Declawing

Cats are digitigrades, meaning they walk on their toes. Most other mammals, including humans, walk on the soles of their feet. Kitties use their claws for balance, exercise and stretching and toning the muscles of their legs, back, shoulders and paws. Cats who roam outdoors (which I don’t recommend) use their claws to hunt and capture prey, to escape or defend against predators, and as part of feline marking behavior.

At the risk of discouraging people from acquiring cats as pets, I suggest that if you absolutely can’t live with an animal companion who has sharp claws and scratches things with them, you might want to avoid getting a kitty. Alternatively, you can check with your local shelters and rescue groups for homeless cats that have already been declawed.

If you have or plan to adopt a kitty with claws, the humane solution to unwanted scratching is to provide sensible, appealing options for your cat. Felines have claws for a reason, and as long as they have them, they’ll use them. Just as most humans need to trim their nails weekly, it may be necessary to trim your cat’s nails weekly or at least every couple of weeks.

In addition to regular nail trims, I also recommend cat guardians provide at least two different scratching surfaces, including a tall, sturdy scratching post and a horizontal scratching mat. In addition to providing your kitty with appropriate surfaces to scratch, you must also take steps to protect any off-limits areas your cat is scratching.

Depending on what surfaces you want to protect, consider using one or a combination of kitty scratching deterrents, such as aluminum foil, double-sided tape, plastic sheeting, plastic carpet runners, car or chair mats with the spiky sides up, or inflated balloons.

There are also herbal sprays available that are designed to replace your pet’s paw pad scent markers on furniture or other surfaces with an odor that will discourage him from returning to that spot. You can also consider covering your cat’s nails with commercially available nail caps, which will help protect both you and your belongings from those sharp claws.

Now, there are some cats that no matter what you do, will continue to scratch forbidden surfaces and potentially damage your belongings. After all, one of the most fascinating things about having a cat around the house is you’re sharing your life with a creature that will never be entirely domesticated. Bottom line: Clawing and scratching goes with the territory when you’re a cat parent, and the solution should never, ever be to cut off your pet’s toes.



Question on Quora-Which is kinder to a cat: leave it in a shelter or have it declawed so we can adopt it?

John Dasef, Have served many feline overlords.
Answered Jan 2
Original question: We want to adopt a cat from a shelter, but our apartment requires all cats be declawed. We oppose declawing, but can’t move now. Is it kinder to declaw the cat or leave it in the shelter?

Good for you for being against declawing. It is never kinder to declaw a cat just to satisfy some landlord’s wretched policy.

I agree with the other answers here – wait until you can find a cat that has already been declawed, with the understanding that because it is declawed, it may have issues that a normal cat wouldn’t usually have, such as possibly being a biter, having problems using a litter box, and potentially other medical problems like osteoarthritis as it grows older.

My nephew is a veterinarian who specializes in cats both large and small – he’s the senior vet at a large municipal zoo. When I asked him his opinion on declawing, he wrote me a detailed answer on why it’s such a barbaric practice and gave me permission to publish it any time and anywhere I thought it might help. It’s a long answer, but I hope you will read it, it will help you understand the problems you may face with a declawed cat. This is what he wrote:

“First, let us reflect on the fact that the US is one of the few remaining modern countries that still allows this practice. It has actually been outlawed in most other countries, because of the physical and psychological effects it has on the animal. In Canada, most European countries, and Australia, you would actually lose your license to practice vet medicine if you were to perform this surgery, where it is uniformly viewed as unethical and inhumane.

Where does this perception come from, you ask? let us delve into that. First, most vets do not take the time to go into detail about what is actually involved when people declaw their cats. Most people simply believe you remove only the claws, no big deal. The reality is, you are performing an amputation of each digit, akin to amputating each finger and toe at the 3rd joint. this means, (as if simply pulling off the finger and toe nails would not be painful enough) is that this is a true bone amputation removing the bone that the claw is attached to. why this may not seem significant, we need to remember that cats claws are retractable, and that they bear their weight on the end of that second digit, where we are performing the amputation. This is important, because the retractable claws means you actually have digital flexor and extensor tendons that attach to the terminal bone which is amputated. The flexor tendon is of critical importance in all of this, as it is attached to the digital pad on the bottom of the toe.

This pad provides cushion when the animal places weight on the toe as it walks. when you amputate the terminal bone, known as P3, the severing on that tendon causes it to pull back, much like a rubber band that is stretched, and then cut. the tendon also shifts the position of that digital pad it is attached to, pulling it back as well. this often means it is not in position to provide the cushioning it is intended to as the cat places its weight on that P2 bone. (imagine the difference between walking on sharp stones barefoot, as opposed to having sandals, or even flip flops to cushion). in other words, there is now an increased level of pain in each step the cat takes. The only way the body knows to try to resolve this is to create more bone. this leads to arthritis in the toes. So what happens when you have arthritis? you compensate in how you move, right? which, guess what? puts unnatural pressure on the joints you are compensating with, which means you are more likely to develop osteoarthritis in those joints as well, which is exactly what we see happen with cats. Declawed cats have an increased incidence of degenerative joint disease (DJD) in the elbows and hips. Why isn’t this noted more, you ask? Because cats are (pardon my language here) fucking studs when it comes to pain! the behavioral adaptations to the condition often has to be pointed out to people, because cats simply will not show they are in pain, until they are in so much pain they simply cannot avoid showing it. this comes from their life as an apex predator in the wild, where showing pain means you lose your territory, or your place in the pride.The signs are usually very subtle, but once you know to look for them, they become obvious.

The cat that used to jump to the top of the counter in one bound, now jumps to the stool first, then to the counter top. The incidence of cats with DJD is way under diagnosed, due to the fact cats simply don’t show pain. The level of pain they deal with would have a human wheelchair bound, I might add. (humans, for the most part, are sissies when it comes to pain tolerance). There have also been cases of pieces of the amputated bone being left in the surgical site, or the end of the P2 bone being shattered or fractured during the process of the surgery, when done with a pair of nail trimmers, as is common.. This again results in long term pain, and bone changes leading to arthritis. Imagine living for years with that rock you can’t get out of your shoe, except now you also never get to take your shoe off. There have been cases where the end of the bone is not fully removed, and you have the nail try to grow back, often in horrific fashion. (you can do a google search and come up with some intense pictures of this process). There have also been cases of cats, due to the malpositioning of the digital pad I mentioned earlier, literally walking through the skin on the end of their toes, resulting in them literally walking on the exposed bone of their toes..

So, if their are so many reasons not to declaw cats, why is the US one of the last countries where it is still accepted practice to do so? There are several reasons, none of them a good reason to continue the practice.

1) vets are simply too lazy to try to educate their clients on the effects of declawing, and it is an easy surgery, that they make fairly good profit on.

2)they feel as though they will lose the client to another vet if they do not perform the surgery. “if I don’t do it, the other guy will.”

3) they use the excuse that it may lead to the cat being turned out or worse, euthanized if they do not do the surgery, because the cat may damage furniture. there are several issues with this most useless of excuses. first, wouldn’t they be the one to have to euthanize the cat? everyone I ever worked for knew very well I refused to ever do a “convenience euthanasia” in other words, the animal had to have a medical condition, or was uncontrollably aggressive, in order for me to euthanize it. Follow your own ethics, and this excuse goes away. secondly, you can “teach” the owners to control the cats behavior. use cat trees, perform proper nail trimming, use soft paws…..”

Go ahead and re-print this if you like, then give it to your landlord or apartment manager the day you move out. Best of luck…


People Magazine And World Famous Dr. Evan Antin Declaws A Human!


Dr. Evan Antin hails from Kansas City, Kansas where he grew up spending the majority of his childhood in search of native wildlife including snakes, turtles and insects. He went on to study evolutionary and ecological biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and spent multiple semesters abroad in Australia and Tanzania to learn more about their respective ecosystems and fauna.

In addition to his love for cats and dogs, Dr. Antin’s passions lie in exotic animal medicine and interacting with exotic animals in their native habitats around the world. For more than a decade Dr. Antin has made an effort to seek opportunities to work with wildlife on a domestic and international level to include locations such as Central America, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Eastern and Southern Africa, South East Asia and a variety of North American ecosystems. The accumulation of Dr. Antin’s hands-on experience with exotic animals has prepared him exceptionally with their handling, husbandry, and enrichment. He is capable of caring for small, delicate animals; large, dangerous animals; and of course our beloved household dogs & cats with ease and confidence.

Dr. Antin has been happily employed as a full time associate at CVVH directly following his graduation from Colorado State’s veterinary school in 2013. Since then he’s developed clinical medical & surgical skills to help provide the right care for the dogs, cats, exotics and wildlife of the Conejo Valley.

Dr. Antin currently lives near Calabasas, California with his dog, Henry, his cat, Willy, his savannah monitor lizard, mangrove snake and an assortment of tropical freshwater fish. Other hobbies of his include traveling, scuba diving, snowboarding, hiking, and weightlifting.


International Cat Care-Declawing Is An Act Of Mutilation



International Cat Care has released a position statement on the declawing of cats which calls for the procedure to be banned. The charity, together with its veterinary division the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), considers the declawing of cats for anything other than genuine therapeutic medical reasons to be an act of mutilation, and to be unethical. Although already illegal in many countries, this procedure is still a surprisingly common practice in some, where it is performed electively to stop cats from damaging furniture, or as a means of avoiding scratches. The operation to declaw does not just remove the claw, but also the end bone of the toe (equivalent to removing the end of a finger to the first joint in humans).

The newly released position statment follows on from brand new research in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS)*, which shows that declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain in cats. Previous research had focused on short-term issues following surgery, such as lameness, chewing of toes and infection, but the long-term health effects of this procedure had not been investigated.

This new research shows that declawing increases long-term pain in cats, leading to behavioural changes such as increased biting behaviour, inappropriate urination or defecation, over-grooming and aggression. As a result of ongoing pain from declawing, cats will often choose a soft surface, such as carpet for toileting, in preference to the gravel-type substrate in the litter box; and a painful declawed cat may react to being touched by resorting to biting as it has few or no claws left to defend itself with. This is not only detrimental to the cat (pain is a major welfare issue and these behaviours are common reasons for cats ending up in a rehoming centre), but also has health implications for their human companions, as cat bites can be serious.

In addition, the study highlighted that a declawed cat was also almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with back pain than a non-declawed cat (potentially due to shortening of the declawed limb and altered gait, and/or chronic pain at the site of the surgery causing altered weight bearing).

Scratching is a normal and important feline behaviour, associated with territorial marking as well as being an important means of defence. Should scratching or clawing in the home become an issue, cat owners can provide appropriate resources (such as scratching posts, cardboard boxes, etc.) and encourage cats, via positive reinforcement (use of treats, cat nip, synthetic scratching pheromone etc.), to use these for scratching instead. Declawing for anything other than genuine therapeutic medical reasons is totally inappropriate and unethical, and should never be carried out as a means of controlling unwanted scratching behaviour.

To access iCatCare’s position statement on declawing click here. Link

Our full press release covering the scientific research, including free access to the JFMS article, can be accessed here. Link

Feline Toe Amputation Statement- Robin Downing, DVM MS, Clinical Bioethics Diplomate, Academy of Integrative Pain Management



Feline Toe Amputation Statement
Robin Downing, DVM
MS, Clinical Bioethics
Diplomate, Academy of Integrative Pain Management
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner
Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner
Hospital Director, The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management, LLC
Amputating the last phalanx (P3) of the toes of cats was once considered a “commodity” procedure, commonly performed by well-intentioned veterinarians. As time has passed and our understanding of feline pain, biomechanics, and quality of life has evolved, we now recognize many downsides to this procedure and truly NO upside.
For the purpose of this position statement, there are three distinct perspectives within which the issue of feline toe amputation shall be considered:
Clinical bioethical perspective Pain perspective Biomechanics perspective
Clinical Bioethical Perspective
Cats are sentient beings with moral agency who, it has been recently argued (Andrews 2011; Copp 2011; Downing 2016; Nussbaum 2015; Panskeep 2012), should be approached with the same consideration as nonverbal children. As beings with moral agency, it behooves us to consider them within the context of the foundational principles of clinical bioethics.
The four cornerstone principles of clinical bioethics have been described and defined by Beauchamp and Childress as:
Respect for autonomy
Justice (Beauchamp & Childress, 2012)
Let us consider each of these in turn as we examine the clinical bioethics of feline toe amputation.
To respect the autonomy of cats, we must consider their preferences. Given a choice between being subjected to multiple toe amputation versus maintaining intact feet, one can easily make the case that they would prefer intact toes and feet, avoiding the pain and disfigurement associated with multiple toe amputation.
Feline Toe Amputation Robin Downing, DVM, MS, DAIPM,

Nonmaleficence means “do no harm” or “avoid harm”. Considering feline toe amputation, the question then becomes, “Does amputating all of a cat’s front toes (P-3) cause harm?” Amputation is painful, potentially for the rest of the cat’s life, it forever alters the way a cat walks, it prevents natural (scratching) behavior, and it forever prevents the cat from being able to defend itself by escaping (climbing) or fighting. Clearly toe amputation causes harm.
Beneficence means to act in a being’s best interest. Can we truly argue that amputating all of any cat’s third phalanges of the front toes is ever in that cat’s best interest? It appears that the answer to this question is a self-evident ‘no”.
Finally, the fourth cornerstone principle of clinical bioethics is justice. Translating this for application in veterinary medicine focuses on fairness. The relevant question to ask is if amputating the third phalanx of each a cat’s front toes could ever constitute fairness to the cat within the context of its life and lifestyle. Considering all of the compromise that toe amputation creates, I respectfully submit this does not reflect fairness.
Pain Perspective
Considering feline toe amputation from a pain perspective, multiple studies have demonstrated that most cats receive woefully inadequate pain prevention and management for procedures like spays and neuters – – procedures far less traumatic than multiple toe amputations. The pain literature clearly demonstrates that acute pain poorly managed at the time of the trauma often leads to the establishment of permanent pain states. This means ongoing, perpetual, self-sustaining chronic maladaptive pain that constitutes lifelong torture (AAHA/AAFP 2007; WSAVA 2014; Costigan 2009; Dahl 2011)
The few studies that have evaluated either the presence of leftover bone fragments following toe amputation, or the regrowth of sharp bone spurs following amputation, demonstrate that an embarrassingly large number of cats suffer from this extra boney tissue. These sharp shards perpetually poke at the underside of the skin at the end of each toe stump, making every single step like walking on needles or nails.
Finally, we know from pain physiology that when we sever a nerve there is a very high risk of creating an ongoing, self-perpetuating pain state called “neuropathic pain”. Humans most commonly develop neuropathic pain as a result of conditions such as amputation, direct nerve trauma, shingles, and diabetes. People who develop neuropathic pain can describe how it feels, so we know quite well the unremitting torture they endure each and every day – – tingling, burning, electric-like pulsed pain, pins and needles. We also know quite well that once chronic, maladaptive, neuropathic pain is in place, these people report ongoing challenges to relieving pain (Sandkuhler 2006; Woolf 2006; Woolf 2004).
We know from pain and neurology research that companion animals are “wired” precisely as we are. When nerves are cut – – as they are in feline toe amputation – – the probability that the cat will develop neuropathic pain is exquisitely high. These cats can go on to develop many different aberrant behaviors. These may include:
reluctance to walk on certain surfaces
reluctance to jump onto or off furniture, window ledges, etc. over-grooming of feet and/or legs
Feline Toe Amputation Robin Downing, DVM, MS, DAIPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CCRP
Page 2

These cats must walk on their painful feet!
Biomechanical Perspective
The third context within which to consider feline toe amputation is the forever altered biomechanics of the patient.
When a cat is subjected to toe amputation, in addition to having the last bony phalanx removed, all of the surrounding tendons and ligaments that attach to that bone are severed. This changes the architecture of the feet, thus changing the biomechanics of how the feet work. Because approximately 60% of the cat’s body weight is carried on the front feet, altered biomechanics changes the way the entire body moves. If we superimpose chronic, maladaptive, neuropathic pain in the feet onto altered front foot biomechanics, we amplify the downstream implications of the cat moving in an abnormal fashion. The altered biomechanics can significantly interfere with the cat’s ability to exhibit normal cat behaviors.
We also know that the vast majority of cats 10 years of age and older suffer from degenerative osteoarthritis (OA) in at least one joint (Kerwin 2010; Lascelles 2010). The majority of cats who develop OA in later life have it occur in their equivalent of the human lower back – – where the spine and pelvis come together. When the biomechanics of movement are altered, so are the forces generated throughout the body’s joints – – in particular the joints of the spine. The repetition of ergonomically unsound movements creates over time micro-traumas to these joints which can contribute to the development and progression of OA. OA, then, provides these cats with ongoing chronic maladaptive pain.
The bottom line is that amputating the last phalanx of the toes of cats violates those cats on many levels – – bioethically, from an acute pain perspective, from a neuropathic pain perspective, from a biomechanical, movement, and lifestyle perspective, and from an OA/chronic maladaptive pain perspective.
Respectfully submitted.
Andrews K. 2011. Beyond anthropomorphism: Attributing psychological properties to animals. In: Beauchamp TL, Frey RG (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. New York. Oxford University Press.
Beauchamp TL, Childress JF. 2012. Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 7th ed. New York. Oxford University Press.
Copp D. 2011. Animals, fundamental moral standing, and speciesism. In: Beauchamp TL, Frey RG (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. New York. Oxford University Press.
Costigan M, Scholz J, Woolf CJ. 2009. Neuropathic pain: A maladaptive response of the nervous system to damage. Annu Rev Neurosci. 32: 1-32
Feline Toe Amputation Robin Downing, DVM, MS, DAIPM,

Dahl JB, Kehlet H. 2011. Preventive analgesia. Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 24: 331-338.
Downing R; They do not deserve to hurt: Closing the gap between what we know and what we do for
companion animal acute pain; Master’s Thesis; Union Graduate College; 2016.
Lascelles BDX. 2010. Feline degenerative joint disease. Vet Surg 39: 2-13.
Nussbaum M. 2011. The capabilities approach and animal entitlements. In: Beauchamp TL, Frey RG
(eds). The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics. New York. Oxford University Press.
Panskeep J, et al (eds). 2012. Low P. Cambridge declaration of consciousness. Presented at the Frances Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, July 2012.
Sandkuhler J. 2006. Spinal cord plasticity and pain. In: McMahon SB, Koltzenburg M (eds). Wall and Melzack’s Textbook of Pain, 5th ed (e-book). London. Elsevier.
Woolf CJ, Salter MW. 2006. Plasticity and pain: Role of the dorsal horn. In: McMahon SB, Koltzenburg M (eds). Wall and Melzack’s Textbook of Pain, 5th ed (e-book). London. Elsevier.
Woolf, CJ. 2004. Pain: Moving from symptom control toward mechanism-specific pharmacologic management. Ann Intern Med. 140:441 – 451.
Kerwin SC. 2010. Osteoarthritis in cats. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine. 25; 4; 218-223. DOI:
Feline Toe Amputation Robin Downing, DVM, MS, DAIPM,

It’s Not Declawing, It’s ‘De-Toeing’ by Dr. Karen Becker


Story at-a-glance
-Declawing of cats is still legal in the U.S., and sadly, it’s still somewhat common
-It’s important to understand that declawing is not nail removal, it’s the permanent amputation of bones in each of your cat’s toes
-A recent study concluded that declawed cats have more pain and behavior issues than non-declawed cats
-The study’s authors hope their results will encourage veterinarians to reconsider declawing cats
-There are many alternatives to declawing your cat, starting with providing appropriate scratching surfaces and training kitty to use them

By Dr. Becker

I’ve written many articles here at Healthy Pets about the inhumane practice of declawing cats, a procedure called an onychectomy. The surgery has been banned in several countries, but continues to be commonly and legally performed in many others, including the U.S.

It’s Not Declawing, It’s ‘De-Toeing’

Cats use their claws for balance, exercise and stretching and toning the muscles of their legs, back, shoulders and paws. They also use them to hunt and capture prey, to escape or defend against predators and as part of their marking behavior when they live outdoors. What many people don’t realize is that declawing isn’t a nail trim, or even nail removal. It’s not even declawing, it’s “de-toeing.” The procedure removes not just the claws, but also the bones, nerves, joint capsule, collateral ligaments and the extensor or flexor tendons.

Cats are digitigrades, meaning they walk on their toes. Most other mammals, including humans, walk on the soles of their feet. Cats have three bones in each of their toes, just as we have three bones in each of our fingers — two joints and three bones. A kitty’s claw actually grows out of the last bone. This is very different from human fingernails, which grow out of flesh. Since a cat’s nail grows from the bone, it’s the bone that must be amputated to prevent the claw from growing back.

The declawing procedure involves cutting between the second and third bones, and amputating the last bone that contains the claw. This severs everything in the way — nerves, tendons and blood vessels. A front-paw declaw requires 10 separate amputations. If the hind paws are also done, that’s eight more separate amputations. Thankfully, hind paw declawing is much less common, but also much more painful for the cat.

Past research into the effects of declawing has primarily focused on short-term, post-operative changes. But recently, a small team of researchers from the U.S. and Canada published the results of a study to determine whether declawing increases the risk of long-term pain and unwanted behaviors in cats.1

Pain is actually very often the root cause of undesirable behaviors such as eliminating outside the litterbox and aggression, including biting. This situation is obviously harmful for the cat who’s in constant pain, and it’s risky for human family members who may be bitten. In addition, litterbox avoidance and aggression are two very common reasons pet parents give for relinquishing their cats to shelters.

63 Percent of Declawed Study Cats Had Residual Bone Fragments

For the retrospective study, the researchers looked at 137 non-declawed cats and 137 declawed cats, 33 of which were declawed on both the front and back paws. Of the 274 kitties, 176 were privately owned (88 declawed, 88 non-declawed) and 98 were shelter cats (49 declawed and 49 non-declawed).

All the cats underwent physical exams to check for signs of pain and “barbering,” which is excessive licking and/or chewing of fur. In addition, their medical records for the previous two years were reviewed for reported unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination, aggression and biting with minimal provocation.

X-rays of the declawed cats were also taken to check for distal limb abnormalities, including P3 (third phalanx) bone fragments. Sadly, well over half (86 or 63 percent) of these kitties showed radiographic evidence of residual P3 fragments.

Declawed Cats Had Significantly More Pain and Behavior Issues Than Non-Declawed Cats

The research team discovered that inappropriate elimination, biting, aggression and over-grooming occurred much more often in the declawed than the non-declawed kitties. The declawed cats had seven times the litterbox issues, four times the biting behavior and three times the aggressive and over-grooming behaviors as their non-declawed counterparts.

The declawed kitties also had almost three times the back pain of the non-declawed cats, which the researchers theorized could be the result of altered gait due to the shortening of the declawed limbs, and/or persistent pain at the surgery site, which causes compensatory weight shift to the pelvic limbs.

When an onychectomy is performed, the veterinarian is supposed to remove the entire third phalanx (P3) bone per the surgical guidelines set forth by the Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. The fact that 86 of the 137 declawed cats were walking around with P3 bone fragments means a significant number of vets aren’t performing declawing procedures up to standard.

These cats had even more back pain and undesirable behaviors than the remaining declawed cats, but the researchers also make the point that even when onychectomy is performed to standard, it doesn’t eliminate the risks. Residual pain in the declawed toes prompts many cats to look for soft surfaces rather than litter for purposes of elimination.

The researchers also explained that painful declawed cats may resort to biting when touched because their first line of defense, their claws, has been taken from them. Lead study author Nicole Martell-Moran, a veterinarian at a cat-only clinic in Houston, told EurekAlert:

“The result of this research reinforces my opinion that declawed cats with unwanted behaviors may not be ‘bad cats,’ they may simply need pain management. We now have scientific evidence that declawing is more detrimental to our feline patients than we originally thought and I hope this study becomes one of many that will lead veterinarians to reconsider declawing cats.”2

5 Ways to Minimize Cat Claw Damage Around Your Home

Scratching is a normal behavior for your cat. It conditions and sharpens his claws, allows him to get in a good back stretch and it’s also how he marks his territory, which is why cats return to the same place again and again to do their scratching. To avoid the damage those sharp little claws can do to both you and your belongings:

1. Supply your cat with appropriate scratching surfaces. Kitties vary in the way they scratch and the surfaces they prefer. Observe your cat’s scratching behavior and try to match your scratcher purchase to it.

Some kitties scratch horizontally. Some reach high overhead vertically for a good backstretch. Some lie on their backs and scratch a surface above them. Also observe what types of surface your cat prefers to scratch. Some cats prefer soft fabric while others like wood flooring.

If possible, buy or make cat scratchers that will satisfy both your kitty’s preferred scratching position and surface. This might involve more than one scratcher design.

Your kitty’s scratchers must be placed where they’ll be used. Clawing is in part a marking behavior for your cat, so she’ll probably return to the same place to scratch. Sticking the scratchers in out-of-the-way spots your cat doesn’t frequent is unlikely to encourage her to use them.

Once you’ve got your scratchers in position, encourage kitty to explore the scratcher using a lure like a feather toy or a toy with some organic catnip rubbed on it. Offer praise and treats each time she uses the post and especially when she digs her claws into it. Pet her while she’s using the post, and give her plenty of positive reinforcement.

2. Trim your cat’s nails weekly or at least every couple of weeks.

3. Protect any off-limits areas your cat is scratching. Use a combination of kitty scratching deterrents, including aluminum foil, double-sided tape, plastic sheeting, plastic carpet runners or car mats with the spiky sides up, or inflated balloons. If you’re covering surfaces you need to use frequently, like furniture, you can attach the foil, tape or plastic to pieces of cardboard and easily move them in and out of position.

4. Use herbal sprays designed to replace your pet’s paw pad scent markers on furniture or other surfaces with an odor that will discourage him from returning to that spot. I use citrus essential oils on the corners of my couch to deter scratching.

5. Consider covering your cat’s nails with a commercially available nail cap, which will protect both you and your belongings from kitty’s sharp claws.

[-]Sources and References

EurekAlert! May 23, 2017
1 Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, May 23, 2017
2 EurekAlert!, May 23, 2017

Dr. Beker’s article here