Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Truth About Declawing

Many cat guardians rarely give serious consideration to the impacts of declawing. Declawing is never performed in the interest of the cat. Some people choose to declaw their cat because they are worried about being scratched, while others feel that a declawed cat is easier to live with. Shockingly, the primary reason most people give for choosing to declaw their cat(s) is to protect their furnishings. However, as people become more educated about the pain and complications associated with this unnecessary and cruel procedure, declawing is no longer the de rigueur of cat companionship.

It is often wrongly assumed that declawing is a simple surgery whereby a cat’s nails are merely removed. Declawing, or what is known in medical terms as an onychectomy, is a painful and debilitating operation that requires a thirty-six hour hospital stay and permanently deforms a cat. The dismembering procedure involves the amputation of the last bone of each cat's toe, similar to cutting off every finger on a human hand up to the last knuckle. In addition to the bone, the tendons, nerves and muscles that allow for normal paw function are severed.

Declawing can actually lead to behavioral problems such as increased biting (because cats feel more defenseless without their claws), and litter box avoidance (because scratching in a litter box may now hurt their paws). These two behavioral problems are the most commonly cited reasons for why cat guardians relinquish their cats, thereby also increasing the likelihood of them being euthanized. Many humane societies have a “no-declaw policy” because they have seen a low adoption success rate for cats who have been declawed due to their biting and house soiling. Consequently, cat guardians who surrender their cats due to these behavioral problems actually contributed to, if not caused, their cat’s problems in the first place by declawing them. Furthermore, should a declawed cat find herself abandoned on the streets, she is now helpless to defend herself without her claws.

Cats are proud animals who instinctively try to hide their pain since they perceive themselves to be at greater risk in a weakened position. Just because a cat may not be showing symptoms doesn’t mean he isn’t suffering. Physical drawbacks to declawing include pain, infection, lameness, back pain and joint stiffness, which may also contribute to weight gain since declawed cats are more reluctant to walk, play or climb. Declawing also affects a cat’s ability to balance properly as declawing drastically alters the structure of their feet. As a result, they often have to relearn to walk, much as a person would after losing one’s toes. There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage and bone spurs. Deprived of their primary form of defense, declawed cats may also become more nervous, fearful and aggressive. Their personalities have been known to change, as well, after this brutal procedure. And, as with any surgery, there is always a risk of death.

Declawing is illegal in many countries because it is considered torture. Entire countries including England, France, Germany, Australia, Israel, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, and Norway, among many others, have enacted laws banning or severely restricting declawing surgeries. In the United States, the city of West Hollywood has banned declawing of animals within the city borders and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution condemning declawing and urging veterinarians to drop the procedure. Many veterinarians have refused to perform the surgery because they feel an obligation to do what is best for the animal and not the animal’s guardian, however, many vets still perform the procedure without questioning its necessity. Unfortunately, many vets also choose not to discuss the procedure, possible complications or available non-surgical alternatives with cat guardians.

Scratching is a normal cat behavior that cats exercise to maintain the condition of their nails and to mark their territory. There are humane alternatives to declawing to alleviate problems with scratching; chiefly trimming a cat’s nails regularly to keep them dull. Placing scratching posts in strategic areas throughout the home and making them fun places to hang out with toys and catnip are also effective in helping cats keep off the furniture. There is also double-sided tape, such as Paws Off, that can be stuck to furniture as a deterrent.

The Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) all discourage declawing and similar surgeries (tendonectomies) because of the extreme pain and suffering these surgeries cause cats. As guardians of these mysterious and wonderful animals, we owe it to them to make decisions that are in their best interests, not ours. An educated guardian is truly a companion animal’s best friend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I worked at a vet's office I saw the declawed cats after surgery. It was horrific...The screaming and all the blood! The blood was everywhere! Splattered on the sides and top of the cage, and the bedding. The bandages soaked through with blood...And the look in the cats' eyes-I'll never forget.
They were in so much pain they couldn't stand up but writhed around like fish out of water; screaming.

Declawing should be illegal everywhere.