Dr. Michael W. Fox

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Declawing Cats

Say No! To Declawing Cats

By Dr. Michael W. Fox

Many veterinarians in the U.S. routinely de-claw young cats. It’s part of the package when they come in to be spayed/neutered. Many cats suffer as a consequence. The operation entails more than simply removing the claws, (onychectomy) under general anesthesia. It entails removal of the first digit (digitectomy, or de-knuckling). It’s like you having your toes and fingers removed at the first joint.

Cats are very dexterous, and this operation essentially eliminates their dexterity, greatly reducing their behavioral repertoire when it comes to grasping and holding. It also hampers their ability to groom and scratch themselves normally. Their ability and self-confidence when it comes to climbing and general agility are similarly crippled. Their first line of defense---their retractable claws-- is eliminated, which could make some cats more anxious and defensive.

 De-clawed cats tend to walk abnormally back on their heels rather than on their entire pads because of the chronic pain at the end of their severed fingers and toes. They often develop chronic arthritis and as the front toe pads shrink, chronic bone infections are common.

Many cats find it painful to use the litter box, develop a conditioned aversion to using the box, and become un-housebroken. This is why many de-clawed cats are put up for adoption or are euthanized. They may also bite more, and become defensive when handled because their paws are hurting and infected.

 I strongly advise all prospective cat owners, and those people with cats who are contemplating having the entire first digit---not simply the claw---removed surgically from their cats' paws---never to have this operation performed on their felines.

Cats need their claws to be cats, and the routine surgical amputation of all their first digits is considered unthinkable in the UK and many other countries where people love and respect their cats. They know that properly handled and socialized cats quickly learn not to scratch people, and will learn to enjoy using a scratch post and not destroy upholstered furniture.

According to the Paw Project (www.pawproject.org), de-clawing has become fairly common in the US and Canada in the past three decades. Before that time, it was rarely performed. In most countries, de-clawing is considered unethical and is not performed by veterinarians. De-clawing is illegal in many countries, including Austria, Croatia, Malta,

Israel, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

I wrote the following letter on this topic to my colleagues which was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Feb. 15, 2006, pages 503-504.

Dear Sir:The article by Drs. Curicio, Bidwell, Bohart, and Hauptman (JAVMA, January 1, 2006, pp. 65-680) provides an "Evaluation of signs of postoperative pain and complications after forelimb onychectomy in cats receiving buprenorphine alone or with bupivacaine administered as a four-point regional nerve block." While the consideration given to pain alleviation in this surgical procedure is necessary and laudable, the ethics of performing this procedure as a routine practice to the extent that almost a quarter of the cat population in the US, (14 million) is declawed, according to these authors, surely need to be examined. This is especially pertinent considering the evidence of the painful nature of this procedure, and associated postoperative complications of chronic pain, infection, and suffering. Surely the justifications for performing forelimb onychectomies trivialize concern for cats' welfare and psychological well being. Part of being a cat is to have claws. Out of respect for the nature of cats and their basic behavioral requirements in the confined domestic environment, caring and responsible cat owners effectively train their cats to use scratch-posts, scratch-boards and carpeted "condos" rather than resort to routine declawing, that amounts to a mutilation for convenience. As a profession, are we not giving a mixed message to the public in advocating companion animal health and welfare on the one hand, and not abandoning such practices that are considered unethical by veterinarians and their clients in many other countries?

Michael W. Fox, BVetMed, PhD,DSc, M.R.C.V.S.

De-clawing cats as a routine preventive measure, just incase they might scratch people or damage furniture, is a service of convenience to cat owners that I consider professionally unethical for veterinarians to offer and perform as a routine procedure on all cats that come through their doors. It is nothing less than a mutilation that takes away from cats’ an essential part of what makes them cats---a form of physical deprivation with often profound behavioral and psychological ramifications, the risks of which far outweigh the benefits to uninformed cat care-givers.

In an excellent review of the risks and benefits of de-clawing cats which included the results of a telephone survey of cat owners, veterinarian Dr. Amanda F. Gerard and co-authors presented some significant findings in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Sept 15th, 2016, (Vol 249: p 638-643). Cats who had undergone this surgery and who lived in a multicat (3 to 5 cats) household were more than three times as likely to have house soiled as were single-housed cats with intact claws. The less traumatic surgical technique of carbon dioxide laser rather than other methods of claw removal resulted in a lower incidence of house soiling but this was still an issue in all cats subjected to de-clawing regardless of the technique employed. The authors cite references indicating a 4.4% increase in the number of cats being de-claws since 2001 to almost 25% of the owned cats in the U.S. today.


Veterinarians Dr. N. K. Martell-Moran and associates published their clinical assessment of cats who had been declawed and concluded that: Inappropriate elimination, biting, aggression, and overgrooming (barbering) were more prevalent in declawed cats compared with a control group of cats with claws. Significantly, and most disturbing, was the finding that declawed cats were almost three times as likely to be diagnosed with back-pain, potentially due to shortened, abnormal gait and/or chronic pain in the front paws causing compensatory weight shift to the hind limbs. (For details see Martell-Moran NK, Solano M and Townsend HGG. Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. J Feline Med Surg. Epub ahead of print 23 May 2017. DOI: 10.1177/1098612X17705044 ,
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-05-declawing-linked-aggression-abnormal-behaviors.html#jCp

While I receive a few letters from cat owners who say their declawed cats have no problems and seem fine, one cannot rely on such non-professional assessments considering the fact that a survey of people owning flat-faced dogs ( brachycephalics) found that they felt that their genetically and physically compromised dogs had no problems and seem fine.

U.S. Feline Veterinary Specialists Oppose Declawing---At Last!

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association posted an announcement in November 1st, 2017 ( Vol, 251, p.991) that the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has revised its 2015 position on declawing cats to strongly oppose declawing or onychectomy, an elective procedure. For details from the AAFP, veterinary practitioners can go to www.catvets.com/scratching and cat caregivers can visit the AAFP consumer website, The Cat Community, at www.catfriendly.com/scratching for information.

Check the link below for a Dr. Fox C-Span feature concerning "Animal Testing"

Dr. Michael W. Fox on C-Span

--Video Link--

Dr. Michael W. Fox

What right do we humans have to exploit other animals?  Where does that right come from and what are the limits if any?  What duties or obligations do we have in our relationships with our dogs, cats and other animals domesticated and wild?

          Follow and support Caroline Kraus and her Moments of Truth Project documentary film as she travels across the U.S. asking people, who variously live, work with and care for animals, these and other relevant questions.

Is there an overriding consensus and what are the reasons why people respond very differently to these questions, which in part examine our character, culture and future?

The viewing and discussion of this kind of documentary should be part of every school curriculum and will be of interest to all who work with, profit from and care for animals. Project Home Page: http://momentsoftruthproject.com/  To see the interview with Dr. Fox go to http://momentsoftruthproject.com/dr-michael-fox/