Dr. Robert M. Miller’s column on declawing, “An exorbitant onychectomy,” in the August 2013 Veterinary Medicine sparked controversy and added to the debate over this emotionally charged topic in veterinary medicine.
In the November 2013 Veterinary Medicine issue, Thomas Hansen, DVM, wrote a letter to address Dr. Miller’s view and express his personal opinion on the procedure, saying that “onychectomy is a procedure of last resort. It is only appropriate when all other techniques have failed and the only remaining options are surgery, euthanasia, or relinquishment.”
In turn, Dr. Miller offered his response, referencing his December 1998 Mind Over Miller column called “The declawing controversy: Stepping into the ring.”
“Done properly, forepaw onychectomy is easy and rapid,” Miller says. “Every one of my own cats, all in a rural environment, did fine after being declawed.”
We want to hear from you. What’s your take on the issue: Do you think declawing is inhumane, or is it a necessary, beneficial procedure in veterinary medicine? Tell us why you feel the way you do. What experiences have you had with declawing and how have they shaped your opinions?
Edited by vbiondi, 4 months ago
I love Dr. Miller's last statement quoting Dr. Peddie regarding post-op complications and poor results... "Whenever we tried a new technique that had been published".
The young doctors today are more arrogant and cocky. When I graduated, it was mad eclear to me that as a new gread; I KNEW NOTHING! It was critical to get a good mentor and gain experience before acting like I knew anything. It takes a minmum of 5 - 7 years of full-time experience to know anything about practice... I was always humble and watched and learned and was able to appreciate and respect the old-timers and updating their proven effective techniques and implimenting new material only where things were broken!
Today these inexperienced new grads believe they know how to practice... somehow some acedemian blew false confidence and arrogance up their behind. You would do better to shut up and watch and learn.
Some things are not broken. Declaw do not need IV catheters and intubation. I found local blocks are NOT beneficial; in fact, local blocks as they wear off cause great discomfort to the cats!
Dr. Hansen needs to relax and quit acting like an ass.
Q: What surgery is done for the purpose of preventing normal feline behavior for the convenience of the cat's owner?
A: Surgical sterilization. Yes, it has some medical benefits, but it is really done to prevent perfectly normal behaviors because people find it inconvenient to keep intact cats indoors to prevent population problems.
Q: What surgery allows cats to indulge in the normal behavior of digging their toes into furniture, rugs, and laps, among other things, without doing any damage?
A: Surgical declawing. i first declawed my own cats when I discovered that a friend's cats appeared to be having fun (i.e. being active, normal cats) while mine were restricted to prevent damage. Since then, all my cats have been declawed, and I have seen them climb, leap, balance on the tops of doors, and dig their toes into the stereo speakers, doing everything any cat with claws would do.
In short, I find it hypocritical to require spaying & neutering but prohibit declawing. Of course, I advise new pet owners to get scratching posts and use nail caps, but I will not refuse to declaw a cat if the owner finds it hard to deal with the claws & the damage they cause. Owners should have that option and not be made to feel guilty about it.
And, as with any surgery, don't do it if you are not good at it.
I have not read Dr. Millers' thoughts in the August issue about feline declaw procedures but from the gist of this forum, I assume he is in favor of this procedure. I have been in a private mixed animal practice for over 25 years and have declawed numerous cats in this time period. I have 8 cats myself and all are declawed. The recent AVMA stand on declawing quoted an 80% post-op complication rate and a 30% long term complication rate- I have no idea where our "illustrious" professional organization came up with those stastistics but in my experience over 25 years and untold numbers of declaws, those numbers are so far from realistic that they scare me!
In my experience, feline owners love their cats and want what is best for their feline friends but they also want to keep their chairs/sofas/door jams/beds/window sills/carpets/drapes/etc in some sembelance of respectable condition. Cats do just wonderful without their front nails! I have seen just about no post-op problems and my cats and my clients cats really don't even know they are missing the nails!
I'm really leaning to the idea and controversy over declawing cats that it is a contrived "controversy" that is more "political" in nature and has nothing to do with the real world. It is a shame, the profession has many more problems that need our attention and energy without distracting ourselves over this "politically correctness" issue that really isn't an issue at all!
From my personel experience
My cats as well as numerous client cats, still hunt successful
Done properly, with the minimum tissue handling this procedure is no more painful then overiohyst
Yhis procedure has saved more cat lives then can be counted. This is a decission that should be made by a veterinari
I have little to add to this discussion except to underscore a point that hasn't been emphasized which I think is the crux of the issue: the quality of the human-animal bond. Call me old school, but I'm new enough to recognize that people who keep pets by and large really have relationships with them and want them to be healthy parts of the family by taking responsibility for the animals' welfare. However, it doesn't have to be an entirely one-way street, in my opinion. We have all seen many cases where the harmonious relationship with a kitten deteriorates as the cat becomes more destructive of the owner's furnishings, sometimes to the point of surrendering the cat rather than subject the cat to the onychectomy because someone claimed that the procedure was inhumane.
If the procedure can be done professionally, humanely, painlessly and with minimal risk, (and it can, as we know), why should the claws of the cat get in the way of an otherwise beautiful friendship? For my part, when the subject comes up with clients, I go over all the alternatives, but in no way do I avoid mentioning declaw for reasons stated above. Many clients are relieved to know that they are not being monsters for even considering it.
To me the whole subject is kind of a non-starter if common sense and the bigger picture is given more weight than emotional reflex.
When I began working for a veterinary
I have been a veterinarian for over 33 years and have declawed cats since then. I read and hear of objections to the procedure and can appreciate that those who oppose declawing are sincere in their concern for cats. But I find their arguments faulty and primarily based on assumptions independent of the the specific nature of declawing itself.
Arguments against declawing tend to fall into the following categories, 1) the procedure is unnatural, 2) declawing is painful, 3) complications are common, 4) it involves amputation and 5) the cats behavior is altered in a detrimental way.
1)The procedure is unnatural. Well, of course it is. All surgery is unnatural. As one of the previous commenters stated, spaying is unnatural. But most of the people who oppose declawing cats, advocate neutering them. Even more fundementally, having east Mediterranan desert cats in our houses in North America is unnatural. Is all human intervention in the world unnatural? Are humans not part of nature?
2) Declawing is painful. That statement is potentially true for all surgeries. That is why we use anesthetics and analgesics.
3) Complications are common. In my experiece this is just not true. Complications are rare in the cats which I have declawed. I see patients from time to time which have been to other veterinarians with problems resulting from the procedures done. It is very rare for a client to report problems from these declaws done elsewehere. There was a series of studies done at the Michigan State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital comparing different approaches to declawing, including guillotine-style clippers, scalpel incisions, laser surgeries. Even though the surgeries were usually done by students, complications were rare. Interestingly, more complications occured in the trials involving digital tenotomies.
4) Declawing involves amputation. Properly done, this is true. The idea of amputation bothers us but not cats. As I stated above the fact of declawing, that is amputation of P3, neither causes uncontrollable pain nor complications in the vast majority of cats.
5) The cats behavior is not noticeably altered in my experience. They continue to "mark" surfaces with their paws. They continue to climb into trees. They continue to smack inquisitive dogs in the nose. They go through all of the normal cat behaviors, they just don't cause any damage.
I don't try to convince any body that they should declaw a cat. But I don't try to convince any body that they shouldn't. If it will make the cat more well accepted in the home, both the cat and the client will be happier.
A lot of these sites and movies have really terrible complicati
In my experience, the tragedy in all this emotionally-charged controversy over the years has been the relative paucity of attention paid to feline onchyectomy by schools and lecturers. This leaves some in the postition of "reinventing the wheel".
Done correctly, with realistic indications, it's a useful (yet vital for the human/animal bond) minor surgery; done incorrectly, it can prove a train wreck which only gives credence to the claims of inhumane care.
As a profession, we should leave the decision-making up to the practitioner. As practitioners it's up to each of us to be proficient, and it's up to schools and other teachers to address the need for that proficiency as well as promoting the non-surgical options.
Hi there. Sorry to present an alternative view in this "debate" but even as an outsider I just couldn't let it go. I have been in companion animal practice for 40 years and have never declawed a cat! Why? Because declawing is illegal in Australia and always has been and virtually no one even thinks about it. I have actually never even been asked to perform such a procedure and have never euthanased (or discussed it) with an owner concerned about scratching behaviour.
I mean no disrespect but I must say I find this whole debate entirely mystifying particularly as there seems to be so little questioning in North America about why you are the only civilised countries in the world where this kind of cosmetic surgery is considered appropriate. The cosmetic altering of cats (or dogs) to suit human expectations and convenience seems to me to be in contradiction to our commitment to be the best advocates we can for the interests of the animals we care for rather than what may suit their owners/carers. All the debate seems to be about is what technique is "best' and how easy/hard it is and how it should be charged out. The whole idea that performing a mutilating cosmetic procedure on a cat somehow improves the human/animal bond seems pretty bizarre to me.
What I would love to see is the profession in the US follow the lead shown by our profession in the rest of the world and stop tail docking, ear cropping, debarking and declawing altogether and put the interest of animals first.
Genuine Best Wishes from the other side of the world.
Edited by lindsayh, 4 months ago
It seems none of the respondents has worked in a shelter where declawed cats are reliquished every day because of other unwanted behavior issues. I don't understand why we as vets don't offer permenant indwelling urinary catheter/closed collection systems to keep these cats in their homes. I also don't understand why more vets don't offer extraction of declawed cats canine teeth at the time of declaw or as soon as the adult teeth are erupted to avoid the unwanted biting behavior that can ensue since this is the cat's only defense mechanism now. If we truly want to keeps our cats as loving members of our families there is a lot more invasive surgery that is required. I have 8 cats and the only 2 that have demonstrated unwanted behaviors are the 2 declawed cats that were relinquised due to biting and inappropriate urination. The 6 cats with their claws to do nothing destructive since I keep their nails trimmed and have plenty of appropriate surfaces for them to scratch on such as scratching posts, cardboard boxes, carpet squares and pieces of wood.
Since most cats in this country are declawed as kittens, who have not even had time to demonstrate any unwanted scratching related behaviors as adults, the argument that this procedure keeps them in loving homes is not valid. And has no one ever seen the lost pet flyers of declawed cats that are not used to the outdoors? Most of these cats end up killed because they are totally unprepaired for encounters with dogs or wild animals. I do not believe they inherently are able to climb trees without a 1/3 of each front toe.
In every other country where declawing cats is illegal, this is not an issue. There are not throngs of cat owners in those countries fighting to have their cats toes amputated. We are self righteous spoild brats in this country and it is all about us. Having met countless clients who have more fondness for their furniture than their pets, in my clinic and at the shelters I volunteer at, I can comfortably make this statement.
I've been a vet for over 25 years and done many declaws. Many years ago I declawed my own cats (all my cats I have owned the last 20 years have kept their claws). I still do declaws with very little problems as I think there are too many homeless cats that would not be placed in homes otherwise. But the older I get, the more distaste I develop for this procedure. I would be more than happy if this procedure were illegal in the US like it is in so many other countries. I really try to get clients to consider alternatives before choosing to declaw. I think people should choose a pet based on the natural qualities of that pet. Don't choose a pet that sheds if you don't want hair all over your house. Don't choose a sporting breed of dog if you have a sedentary lifestyle and can't commit to exercising the dog. And cats come with claws so don't choose a cat if you can't deal with that. Clients are all about training puppies: housebreaking, commands, etc. Well almost all cats can be successfully trained not to scratch furniture/woodwork/etc and to scratch appropriate areas with some training. Nails can be trimmed. Nails can be capped. It seems as declawing is chosen because it is easy for the owner. Once again, dog owners routinely put EFFORT into training their dogs. Not sure why cat owners often refuse to do the same.
And as far as imposing sterilization procedures on our pets, well I chose to be surgically sterilized quite a number of years ago, so perhaps I am not the best one to comment about that comparison. :)
I'm a relatively new grad (2005), and while I would personally not declaw my own cats, as long as it is legal and requested by clients, I will continue to perform this procedure. I do attempt to educate first, provide alternatives, and make sure owners know exactly what the surgery entails. If they are still insistent on having it done, I will provide the service, knowing that I can do a good job of it. While I prefer not to do it from an ethical standpoint, I use the scalpel technique, and it's actually a surgical procedure I enjoy from a technical aspect. I perform multimodal pain management, including ring blocks, peri- and post-op opioids, and pre- and post-op Onsior, and I find that my patients do very well. Most are acting normal, walking without a problem, and even using their feet to play, later on the same day.
I have also seen very few post-op complications, or behavioral changes due to the procedure. I haven't seen any correlation with aggression or inappropriate elimination. I also have a special interest in behavior and offer consults. Most of the inappropriate elimination cases, including 2 that were surrendered and are now our clinic cats, have had their claws. Aggression is not caused by declawing (unless perhaps inadequate pain control is provided). While a declawed cat may be more likely to bite if it feels the need to defend itself, there is usually some underlying stress or inappropriate interaction that is causing the aggressive/defensive behavior, and that's what needs to be addressed, rather than blaming it on the declaw.
While some declawed cats may be at a disadvantage, and I certainly recommend keeping them indoors, I have also known a number of declawed cats that function perfectly fine outdoors. Some of them are still able to catch prey and climb trees. I knew one who regularly got up onto the roof of the home and spent a lot of time up there with no problems.
Like Dr. Miller, I "grew up" in the era in which declawing cats was not called onychectomy and not controversial. We always required (as much as one can) that the procedure be limited to indoor-only cats, but it was largely done on request. As the "controversy" developed, we started counseling clients about options, but I still have a hard time understanding the mutilation and psychological damage arguments. Like all surgery, an incompetent approach can/will created undesirable complications. However, I do not even recall the last time I had to deal with this as a realistic issue.
The one point I would like to add to this discussion is about technique. I was never a fan of Resco nail trimmers, but I did hundreds of these (including my own cats) with a White's nail trimmer, even when my young associates were using a scalpel blade. However, the greatest improvement in technique, in my opinion, is the use of a CO2 laser. This became apparent when we first started doing declaws this way over 10 years ago, using surgical glue to close the incisions. As in the past, we sent cats home the day after surgery. However, 15-20% would have bleeding problems within 24 hours after returning home. This occurred because there was so little (no?) pain that the cats became too active before primary healing occurred. The solution: Keep the cat a second night in the hospital. Problem solved. The lesson: Laser declawing leaves a cat much more pain free than other techniques.
The difference is also noted when adult cats are declawed. They return to full foot use significantly faster.
As far as the controversy goes, one needs to appreciate how many cats would suddenly become outdoor-only or surrendered to shelters if this was not an option. I know I have lost a few clients because I am not freaked out by declawing, but I have gained/retained many more because I allow clients to keep their cats without the destruction that was being caused to the elderly, children, and household items.
I am as interested in the welfare of cats as much as anyone, but I see the issue as more than just a surgical one. Fortunately, I do not live in a city that has been influenced by a small group of outliers in and out of our profession.
Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM, DABVP (Feline)
Come to Denver. We have a LOT of shelters, with a LOT of declawed cats waiting for homes. If declawing cats truly kept them in homes, and this procedure is often performed along with the spay or neuter of a young kitten, why aren't the shelters declawing the kittens at the same time they are sterilizin
I graduated 35 years ago. I highly discourage ear crops. I don’t like being around when someone else does tail docks, but then again, I don’t know how people live with a Dobie with a tail –unless you are wearing goalie gear . But when it comes to declawing – once you go declawed – I don’t know how anyone goes back! I don’t think declawing makes cats more aggressive ( I think lack of pain control may make them hate coming back to the veterinarians more ) then again, I can easily talk people out of it for truly aggressive cats –because –they also bite ! I do put limits on age and weight and if presented with the threat, “ We just got new furniture, declaw our 10 year old fat cat, or I want it euthanized “ – I ask the client what body care option they want – its more humane to euthanize the cat. I don’t like doing all four – generally requested by people with leather furniture – ‘nuff said . I have seen problems with Rescoe method, but done properly, carefully, with a scalpel, or laser, and with reasonable pain control for a few days -- prevent many years of yelling and resentment; its is well worth it. While there is no reason to undercharge on the procedure, I agree with Dr Miller that what many charge is exorbitant, --but could say about many procedures .
I have friends and colleagues who have clawed cats -- but, once I had one done, that was it. After I put it off on my first foreleg amputee cat, ( he rested his elbow on the couch to facilitate scratching ) the next one (5 mo old, radial paralysis ) had it done with the other procedures. This is one reason I won’t adopt an older cat. And -- I don’t encourage this for clients ( I was raised accepting – Do as I say don’t do as I do ) but, there is a lot of evidence keeping cats totally inside is stressful and increases some health risks, so when living in areas where minimal car traffic and dogs are not running loose, I let my declawed cats - outside. As far as I am concerned, litter box lapses and front claws are all that separate the average cat from perfection. Excuse me while I go pat my cheeks with one of my cats front feet and tell them how much I love their little declawed feet.
For whatever it's worth, here are a few excerpts from my recently written book (soon to be published!):
One day, a client brought her black and white cat named Annabelle for me to examine and vaccinate, and said she needed to discuss her housing dilemma. Her income had plummeted so she was moving in with a friend. Her friend was amenable to having Annabelle come too, but she required her to be declawed to ensure that natural clawing behavior would not destroy furniture and floor coverings. Annabelle’s owner complied with her roommate’s request and scheduled the procedure with me.
I saw many similar situations—owners needing to declaw a cat in order to live in an apartment complex or rent a home where the landlord only allows declawed cats. Often this was associated with the need to downsize. I’ve seen couples resolve relational differences by compromising on having a cat only if declawed. Parents with young children consider declawed cats safer around the family, and older clients with thin skin find that cats injure them inadvertently with their claws.
My first cat was not declawed. Although he did no damage until his senior years, as he aged, I discovered that older cats have thicker nail sheaths much like older adults have thicker fingernails and toenails (something I didn’t learn in vet school.) It became much harder for him to shed the sheaths with his natural kneading behavior, and his increase in (necessary) effort resulted in severely damaged furniture and carpets. He could not help this aging change, and I wished I had done the procedure on him when younger, as the adjustment is more challenging for an “old man cat.”
The declaw procedure can be done humanely, with pain control, like any other surgical procedure. Because recovery is easier in kittens and young cats than in older, heavier cats, I prefer owners thoughtfully consider whether or not they might ever want it done in the future and, if so consider the procedure earlier, when recovery is easier and the complication risk is lower.
One argument I hear against declawing is that it involves the amputation of a portion of the digit in order to prevent nail regrowth. While this sounds shocking, the description is misleading. The procedure is a disarticulation through soft tissue only, similar to separating two puzzle pieces at their connection rather than cutting through one of the pieces. There is no bone trauma involved and the portion of the digit removed is beyond the weight-bearing surface. The digit pad and weight-bearing structures of the toes remain intact. Kittens usually run and play normally when they go home and adult cats are back to normal in a few days. Obese cats require additional hospitalization and a longer recovery period.
Another argument I hear is that cats cannot defend themselves once declawed. Those of us in the veterinary profession know better! A cat with rear claws and teeth can do a lot of defensive (or offensive) damage. We do strongly recommend keeping declawed cats indoors, but this is for safety reasons that affect completely clawed cats as well: vehicular traffic, disease exposure, and encounters with wildlife and other predators are the major three.
Cats naturally fight with other cats over territory, and if we don’t define their territory with the walls of our homes, they will fight to defend the yard (or usually yards) that they consider theirs. This is another lesson I learned with my first cat. I soon discovered that I did not want him to come home wounded on a regular basis, and that I also did not want to pay for the necessary veterinary care after each fight!
Cats allowed outdoors will use the neighbor’s landscaped areas as a litter box, so for courtesy to our neighbors in urban and suburban areas, we should keep our cats indoors. Most municipalities have this regulation, but very rarely have the means or manpower to enforce it. This is a responsibility we have as pet owners: to control our pet’s waste, whether it means keeping the cat indoors or picking up after our dog on walks in the neighborhood. Any pet with exposure to the outdoors should also be on a parasite prevention.
Irresponsible pet owners are not only inconsiderate, but contribute to the spread of disease; outdoor cats are a public health risk, spreading internal and external parasites which can affect people as well as other cats. Advocating an indoor cat lifestyle is one reason I continue to offer the declaw procedure in my practice. As with so much of veterinary medicine, client education is paramount to bettering the lives of pets and neighbors in our communities.
Annabelle’s owner needed to adjust to a precipitous drop in income. Rooming with a friend helped her and her friend reduce expenses and navigate life’s circumstances. Much of our work as veterinarians involves helping pet owners adjust to the changes of life as they apply to pet ownership. Changing a residence or job situation, health problems, family status changes like marriage and divorce, the addition of children to the family, the loss of a family member, and financial concerns all affect the ability and manner of pet ownership.
With the recession of 2008, many of my neighbors were forced to adjust their priorities and their outlook on financial spending. My response was to suggest options when my first recommendation was out of reach, and to help brainstorm possibilities for solving difficult problems involving pet ownership. My job, again, involved helping pet owners out of difficult situations, allowing them to keep their dignity and their pets in the process.
There are no more risks involved in declawing a cat than the risks of immunizing, sterilizing or other preventive health measures done in the cat’s best interest. I believe declawed cats keep their homes easier than those whose natural clawing activity inevitably results in damaging belongings the owner considers valuable. The procedure is in the cat’s best interest when it results in keeping a forever home. Adult cats can be difficult for shelters and rescues to place. Requiring owners to adopt an anti-declaw philosophy narrows the number of possible homes for these needy cats.
I think the primary controversy around declawing cats lies in the purpose of the procedure: to protect belongings; reduce scratch injuries to people; and make the cat a better companion for our families. Owners are made to feel guilty because the procedure is “for us, not for them.” I would argue that—unlike ear and tail crops in dogs, which are done purely for cosmetic reasons—declaws are a valuable public health procedure, reducing cat scratch injuries to families, particularly children and elders. Making the cat a better indoor companion provides it a safe and loving home. Not a bad outcome, from the cat’s perspective.
Those of you who are adamantly against declawing - I respect that you live your beliefs - one of my associates is a UC Davis graduate and does not declaw cats. Three of us in the practice offer the procedure. The fourth is a new graduate and was not taught how to declaw. While we do not agree on everything, we are able to work together harmoniously. Thankfully, we recognize that though we have different approaches to some parts of practice, we each - in our own way - share the intention to do the best we can for our pet patients and client owners. I believe each of you is working hard at the very same thing....