This post will neither be short nor particularly fun so pre-warned is pre..something. Whatever.
The practice of ‘declawing’ (a misnomer as we shall see) a cat is almost a uniquely American one. The practice is defacto outlawed in the EU since the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals and outright illegal in certain European countries. Why, exactly the practice survives almost uniquely in the US I can’t be sure. Even the American Veterinary Medical Association does not actively condemn declawing despite being somewhat alone internationally in that regard.
What exactly is declawing?
A cat’s claw is not the same as a human nail for a couple of reasons. Firstly the claw is related to the skeletal structure of the cat. You cannot stop the claw from regrowing without removing the bone to which it is adhered. Perhaps an image would be more salient:
A more human comparison would be to suggest that I cut off all your fingers up to the first joint but the comparison doesn’t end there.
Consequences of declawing.
The complications and ramifications of cat declawing are numerous. Let’s start at the beginning.
Firstly the procedure is done under general anaesthetic. This means that the cat is put to sleep which has associated risks of death or disability. Since the procedure gives no benefit to the cat even this slight risk is unacceptable.
Also the rate of complication after declawing is criminally high considering that it is an entirely elective procedure. A study (Vet Surg 1994 Jul-Aug;23(4):274-80) suggested that the rate of complication can be as high as 50% immediately after the surgery and 19% after release. One such complication is that your cat will possibly not be able to balance properly or sufficiently exercise since it cannot get a proper foothold on its stumps.
Many cat owners report changes in their cats personality after declawing. This may not always be immediately apparent since many cats are declawed while they are still a kitten. Remember that a cat’s primary means of defence is its claws. When deprived of that defence, cats can become nervous, introverted or alternatively more aggressive. A large proportion of cats, after declawing, resort to using their teeth in their claw’s stead. David E. Hammett DVM notes that:
“A declawed cat frequently resorts to biting when confronted with even minor threats. Biting becomes an overcompensation for the insecurity of having no claws”
Since a cat is not afforded the usual convalescence associated with major surgery it is still required to use its paws for its daily activities. These include using the litter box and subsequently scratching therein. This is inordinately painful for the cat which causes them to associate this new pain with the litter box and the act of using it. This is frequently a permanent association that will not go away for the cat or your carpet. Cats also use their claws for marking territory. If they are unable to use their claws to do so they often resort to just pissing on it instead. Congratulations, your furniture is unscratched but it smells of cat urine.
These behavioural problems are one of the primary causes of people relinquishing their cats to animal shelters. A study (Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1996;209:582-588.) concluded that declawed cats are almost twice (89%) as likely to be surrendered to shelters than intact cats. Declawed cats are also less likely to be rehomed and thus more likely to be euthanised.
For me there is only one ethical consideration needed to dismiss declawing out of hand. It is elective surgery that provides no benefit to the cat. To presume that it is ok to amputate part of a cat’s limbs for the convenience of someone’s furniture is the height of human arrogance surpassed only when one considers the fact that they took the creature into their homes to begin with. I suggest that the prevalence of the procedure in the US stems from the sheer lack of education provided by veterinarians on the matter. There is a widespread belief in America that declawing is simply a rather extreme manicure rather than a goddamn amputation. How dare you call yourself a vet if you perform a painful, elective and debilitating procedure on an animal. How dare you consider yourself a vet if you don’t provide ample, clear and unambiguous information to the owner of the animal that you are about to mutilate for no good medical reason. How dare you consider yourself a good person if you do all of these things with full knowledge of the consequences.
How dare you.