Should I Declaw My Cat? – Part 1

Ron Hines DVM PhD

Dealing With My Aggressive Cat  

Go To Part 2  

This is a time of polarized views, ideological purity and the politicization of veterinary medicine. In times like these, some folks including veterinarians are unlikely to let facts get in the way of their strongly held beliefs. One of these polarizing issues is the option to remove claws from cats. The rise of this movement takes place against a backdrop of major instability in American life – hostility eating away at our social fabric, loss of our religious underpinnings, the rise of big tech; the loss of faith in meritocracy; the arrogance of our elites and the death of trust. It is an era when people are smeared for deviating from the Party line in what used to be a liberal and tolerant country.  I have always tried to present my profession and your options objectively which is why I still keep this article on my website despite the animosity it generates in some. ( see here )

I believe that over 85% of American house cats can have their toenails periodically clipped and smoothed or capped successfully by you or by a trained professional. I never charge my clients to do that and its the advice I have always given to cat owners. But what about the other 15%? Are those feline/human bonded households just out of luck? Are those cats to be pitched into the street or taken to some facility to be euthanized? Is one less household to become available to a cat in need? Some would have it that way. Some believe that it is heresy for anyone – let alone a veterinarian like myself – to suggest that there are occasions when claw surgery is in the best interest of the cat-to-human bond, the health of a human family member or the health of a cat. As unspeakable as that belief has become, those situations do arise and always will. You can read more about some of those situations in my second of this two-part article here

What Are Some Of Those Situations?

The elderly comforted by feline companionship, the very young, immunosuppressed owners on chemo and others all need to be considered too. My 85 year old neighbor ended up in the ER this month due to an altercation with one of her four cats. She loves that cat. It offers her great solace. Should she drop the cat off at our local pound because some faraway declaw activists say that’s the only proper thing to do? Are she and her cat just out of luck?

Human-aggressive cats that are positive for Bartonella, cats with Eosinophilic granuloma that traumatize themselves, intra-cat aggression in group situations, cats with psychological disturbances that attack their owners or other cats all deserve consideration. Are the preservation of their claws more important than their life, health and wellbeing? I keep this article online to ease their pain and because I don’t want those cats to be out of luck either.

There are cat owners and family members taking mAbs or nibs that weaken their immune systems – medications like   Darzalex® and Empliciti®. ( read here ) There are folks with heart issues, heart valve or joint replacements all increasing susceptibility to infections. There are cat owners fighting cancer and on chemotherapy. There are people diagnosed with AIDS. A scratch can be a life or death issue for all of them. I have practiced long enough to have encountered most of those situations. Even cat owners with health immune systems are not entirely free from this risk. ( read here ) When there is a work-around alternative to declawing your cat – use it. When there is not, my advice to you is to make the decision that you feel is right for you and in the best interest of your cat. Not what is demanded by some pompous, judgmental stranger who knows neither you, your cat nor your situation. The danger of cat scratches to healthy young adults is much smaller than it is to the very young, the old, the disabled or the infirm; but it is there just the same. If you or members of your family face any of these situations let your physician, spiritual guide and friends assist you in making that decision. I suggest that you politely say no thank you to the guilt trip powerful, well-funded cat militants will attempt to lay on your doorstep. These people face their own demons. ( read here

My last cat, Oreo, was not declawed. He has passed on now. But I understand why some cat owners who love their cats dearly sometimes decide to have their pets foreclaws removed just as I understand why some people insist on keeping their cats indoors when the cat would undoubtedly be happier stalking birds and bunnies in the yard or why we deprive cats of their sex lives. Life will always be full of compromises. 

Cats without claws appear to live as happy and fulfilled lives as cats with claws. They are just as playful and inquisitive and just as healthy. When a skilled and experienced veterinarian performs the procedure, I have never witnessed residual pain occurring. As in any profession, there will always be inept veterinarians. Militant groups talk about the long term negative effects of declaw surgery. When a cat experiences chronic foot pain, when the incisions fail to heal promptly or when a toenail regrows, it is the fault of the veterinarian – not the procedure. 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 veterinarians are just lousy uncompassionate surgeons.

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