I’ve worked as a veterinary assistant and have heard people ask about declawing their cats. For most of these people, the question was asked nonchalantly, like all we do is put them under long enough to pluck out their claws. Luckily, most of the clinic’s clientele were mortified when the vets would explain that declawing is, in fact, a major surgery where the entire toe tip is amputated.
In the back, I asked the vet for his thoughts on declawing and he recited the American Veterinary Medical Association’s stance, that veterinarians should explain the surgery to owners and that owners should consider it a last resort before relinquishment.
I was young and learning, so I chewed on that for a while. The resident cat expert at that same clinic felt sorry for the one cat that was declawed in my time there, saying that sometimes it just makes them mean. Since then, I’ve seen a journal article that doesn’t agree with that statement, but one isn’t enough. I’m not counting the AVMA’s article, as it presents a bias that ends up acting like a circular argument (they say it’s okay for them to do because their findings say it’s okay). I’m not comfortable citing it.
Before the argument of whether or not declawing is even okay, there were arguments about which method was more humane. Tendonectomy where they cut the tendon that controls claw extension versus onychectomy which is the total removal of the end of each digit at the knuckle. This article states that while both are painful, neither one is more painful than the other.
I’m done chewing and want to go back to what the veterinarian I worked for said, “…it should be a last resort before relinquishment”. I know the steps it takes to stop a cat from scratching might be too rigorous for some and that declawing might offer a quick and easy solution. I also know the same practice of amputation, when applied to humans, is considered a human rights violation. So, though it isn’t easy to say, I think if a person finds themself on the fence between declawing or relinquishing their cat, I say relinquish them.
The thing we animal welfare advocates get nervous about with relinquishment is the uncertain future adult cats face in shelters. Their future is so uncertain that it is almost certain that they will live their remaining days in a shelter. Maybe this is where we focus on getting better, not by forcing people to live with cats they don’t want or allowing those cats to face amputation, but by making a positive change in shelter life for cats that encourages adult cat adoption through better housing and welfare practices.
Many countries have been moving away from declawing and thankfully we’re starting to see that trend here in the U.S. In 2003 the city of West Hollywood, California was the first to ban the practice. As the ban was upheld more cities in California followed suit, but as of now no state has entirely banned the practice. Recently, I’ve heard rumors that New York and New Jersey are each looking to be the first to fully ban declawing. I’m looking forward to finding out who will be the first and how soon more states follow suit.
If you’re interested in reading more about destructive scratching and ways you can control it, check out my article: