Should I Declaw My Cat? – Part 1

Ron Hines DVM PhD

Dealing With My Aggressive Cat

I believe that over 85% of American house cats can have their toenails periodically clipped, smoothed or capped successfully by you or by a trained professional. That’s the advice I always give to cat owners. But what about the other 15%? Are those feline/human households just out of luck? I know it is politically incorrect today for anyone to suggest that there are occasions when claw surgery is in the best interest of a cat-to-human bond, the health of a human family member or the health of the cat itself. But as unpopular as that belief has become, those situations do arise – and always will. You can read about some of them here . The elderly comforted by feline companionship, the very young, immunosuppressed owners on chemo all need to be considered too. My 82 year old neighbor ended up in the ER this month due to an altercation with her cat. She loves that cat. It offers her great solace. Should she drop the cat of at our local pound because some far away declaw activists say that’s the only proper thing to do? 

Human-aggressive cats that are positive for Bartonella, Eosinophilic granuloma cats that self-traumatize, intra-cat aggression in group situations, cats with psychological disturbances that attack their owners or other cats all deserve that consideration too. So do cat owners and family members taking mAbs or nibs that weaken their immune systems – medications like Humira® or Xeljanz®. Folks with heart issues, heart valve or joint replacements, or as a last alternative to euthanasia or abandonment of a cat, whatever the cause. I have practiced long enough to have encountered all of those situations. When there is a work-around alternative to declawing your cat – use it. When not, make the decision that you feel is right for you and in the best interest of your cat. Not what some pompous judgmental stranger who knows neither you nor your cat nor your situation demands. Here is the same link to scientific articles that discuss the dangers of cat claw wounds to people and to cats. The danger to healthy young adults is smaller than it is to the young, the old and the infirm; but it is there just the same. If you or members of your family face any of these situations, let your physician assist you in making that decision.

Say “no thank you” to the guilt trip powerful well-funded cat militant groups attempt to lay on your doorstep. If it is your cat that faces issues, let a trusted veterinarian where you live guide you – not someone far away activists whose interests do not focus on you and the cat you love.

It has become common to question whether this is ever a humane or desirable procedure to declaw a cat. My cat, Orio, is not declawed. I put up with the scratched piano, and a shredded sofa and chairs. But I understand why owners who love their cats dearly sometimes decide to have their pets foreclaws removed – just as I understand why people have their cats spayed or neutered or why they insist on keeping their cats indoors when they would be happier stalking birds and bunnies in the yard. Life is full of compromises.

Cats without claws appear to live as happy and fulfilled a life as cats with claws. They are just as playful and inquisitive. If a skilled, experienced veterinarian performs the procedure right, no residual pain occurs.

Militant groups talk about the long term negative effects of declaw surgery. When a cat experiences chronic foot pain after the surgery, when the incisions fail to heal promptly or when a toenail regrows, it is the fault of the veterinarian – not the procedure. Of the many cats I have declawed; after a few days recuperation, I have never had a cat limp or show the slightest foot pain. I have never had a claw regrow. As a substitute for better student understanding of claw anatomy, some veterinary schools trained their pupils to be much too aggressive in performing this surgery. Ashamed as I am to say so, some vets are just lousy uncompassionate surgeons.

Some of the reasons the surgery is still performed are:

1) If, in a multi-cat household, a clawed cat is injuring a second cat in the household

2) If the cat has developed an incurable disease such as Lupus-like conditions where claws contribute to self-trauma and infection.

3) If the cat has developed personality changes that make it a threat to owners and children.

4) If an owner is immunosuppressed due to chemotherapy, debilitating disease, heart valve infection or AIDS or in situations where a cat’s scratch could be life-threatening to an owner.

5) If blended households or new family members present ultimatums to other family members that “either the cat be declawed, kept outside or they leave”. This happens more frequently than you might suppose.

Like the lady holding the scales of justice, I suggest you weigh all factors on the side of leaving the cat it intact or having the surgery performed before making a decision. Often, I will clip my client’s cat’s toenails at no charge and teach the owners to do this at home with a human finger or toenail clipper. This is a perfectly acceptable alternative to declawing your kitty once you learn and if you and the cat have the temperaments to do it. Adhesive nail guards are another alternative you can explore. (ref)

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