Will Declawing Harm Your Cat?


By Ambuja Rosen


Youıve just brought that cute kitten home.  You wonder, ³Will her scratching be a problem?  Should I have my catıs claws surgically removed?²


If you asked Annie Bruce, cat care consultant and author of Cat Be Good: A Commonsense Approach to Training Your Cat, (which won three national book awards), sheıd say, ³No, donıt declaw your cat.²


Based on her data, Bruce says declawing is the number one reason why cats urinate outside the litter box.  Itıs cheaper to reupholster a scratched sofa than to replace it because it reeks of urine.  And, declawed cats are more dangerous to keep because theyıre more likely to become biters.


When Bruce became a cat care consultant eight years ago, she started noticing that a surprisingly large number of her calls about declawed cats were about litter box problems.  ³I wanted to see how valid my concerns were - so for three years, I logged the 144 calls I got about cat behavior.


About 66 percent of Bruceıs calls were about litter box problems ­ but when it came to the calls about declawed cats, that percentage jumped to 95.


³Those people who reported severe urine damage were all complaining about declawed cats,² she reports.


A pattern emerged:  The cats with claws were usually over 10 when they started urinating outside the box.  ³Most had symptoms indicating they might be ill,² Bruce says.  But, the declawed cats were younger ­ usually under 8.  ³Many had seen a veterinarian who ruled out medical problems as the cause.²


Some callers told Bruce their catıs personality changed dramatically after the surgery:  their cats became ³depressed² and ³were never the same.²


Gail Golab, PhD, DVM, is a staff consultant for animal welfare and behavior issues, at the American Veterinary Medial Association.  ³We need to be careful when interpreting Bruceıs study data,² she says.  ³For example, if owners with a low tolerance for behavior problems are more likely to declaw their cats to begin with, they may also have low tolerance for litter box problems.  These people, therefore, might be more likely to call someone like Bruce ­ and that may be why Bruce received more litter box complaints from owners of declawed cats.²  Also, just because a cat develops a behavior problem after declawing, doesnıt mean that declawing is the culprit.  ³There isnıt enough reliable data on which to base sweeping claims about the long-term impacts of declawing,² Golab says.


The AVMAıs position on declawing is:  ³Declawing of cats is justifiable when then cat cannot be trained to refrain from using its claws destructively.²


But the Cat Fanciers Association states on its website that it disapproves of declawing and tendonectomy (cutting toe tendons so the cat canıt scratch).  It says it opposes these surgeries ³because of postoperative discomfort or pain, and potential future behavioral or physical effects.²  Golab says that most reliable studies have found visible signs of pain in cats, on average, for 2 to 7 days after declawing, and that this pain can be lessened by medication.  But, Jeremy Jones, a certified veterinarian technician, reports, ³When cats over age 2 are declawed, theyıre commonly brought back to us because of complications, most often pain or discomfort, and often weeks or months after the surgery.²


³Veterinarians should let clients know that claw, bone, tendon and ligament are amputated to the first knuckle of each of the catıs toes.  The cats are then forced to walk on knuckles or bone stumps.²


Would your veterinarian tell you the problems your cat might develop from declawing?  ³The law should require this,² Bruce says.  Golab says veterinarians ³regularly counsel clients about all aspects of responsible pet ownership.²  But, she adds, thereıs not enough well-designed research published in reputable journals for vets to be able to state what percentage of cats have physical complications from declawing.


³Intuitively, Iıd say that relative to the number of cats undergoing declawing, the number of cats experiencing obvious long-term complications is small,² she says.


³Itıs not uncommon for clients and other people to tell me that when their cats were scheduled for anesthesia ­ for example, for neutering or teeth cleaning ­ the veterinarian recommended the cat be declawed at the same time,² Bruce says.  ³These people hadnıt even asked the veterinarian about declawing or complained of a scratching problem.²


The AVMA says it okays declawing partly because otherwise many cats might lose their homes.  But, Bruce contends, ³The AVMA is a business group with a vested interest in promoting profit for veterinarians.  I understand that declawing takes 11 minutes and costs between $50 and $400.²  Jones agrees that veterinarianıs profit from declawing, but Golab says veterinarians generally take a financial loss from it.


³The AVMA may adjust its policy as new research becomes available,² Golab says.  ³Every case needs to be treated individually .. I recommend you discuss it ­ and the possible alternatives like trimming your catıs nails, using nail covers, or training your cat to use a scratching post ­ with your veterinarian.²


For more information on Bruceıs research and her book:  www.goodcatswearblack.com