Should I Declaw My Cat? – Part 1

Ron Hines DVM PhD

  Dealing With My Aggressive Cat

  Litter box Accidents?

Go To Part 2  

This is a time of ideological purity, anger, and politicization of everyday American life. In unfortunate times like these, folks are unlikely to let facts get in the way of strongly held beliefs.  I have always tried to present my profession and your pet options objectively. That is why I keep this article on my website despite the animosity it sometimes generates. (see here) My priority is that you and your cat be happy. Not that you and your cat be politically correct. 

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 it’s the claw care advice I have always given to cat-owning clients (aka pet parents). But what about the other 15%? Are those feline/human families 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 the 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 the second of this two-part article here

What Are Some Of Those Situations?

The needs of an elderly, comforted by a feline companion, the very young child, the immunosuppressed owners on chemo and your HIV+ friend 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 prone to self trauma, inter-cat aggression in group situations, cats with psychological disturbances that attack their owners or other cats all deserve consideration too. Are the preservation of their claws more important than the preservation of their lives, 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 for the sake of political correctness. 

There are cat owners and family members taking mAbs or nibs that weaken their immune systems – medications such as Darzalex® and Empliciti®. (read here) There are folks with heart issues, heart valve or joint replacements, all increasing their risk of serious infections. There are cat owners fighting cancer with chemotherapy. There are people diagnosed with AIDS. A scratch can be a life or death issue for all of them and goodness knows they can use a furry friend by their side. I have practiced long enough to have seen 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 – please 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 and judgmental stranger or professional cat-interest crusader 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 you politely say no thank you to well-funded cat militants when in your heart you know that they are wrong. These people face their own demons. (read here

Our last cat, Oreo, was not declawed. He has passed on to cat heaven now. But I understand why some cat owners who love their cats dearly sometimes decide to have their pet’s fore-claws removed.  I understand why some people, including myself, insist on keeping their cats indoors when cats would be happier stalking birds and bunnies in the yard and why we deprive cats of their sex lives. Life will always full of compromises, inconsistencies, paradoxes, and conflicts. 

Cats without front claws 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 compassionate veterinarian performed the procedure, I have never witnessed residual pain occurring. As in any profession, there will always be inept veterinarians just as there are inept human surgeons. 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 an inept veterinarian – not the procedure. As a substitute for better student understanding of claw anatomy and instruction, many veterinary schools trained their pupils to be much too aggressive when performing this surgery. Veterinary boards just wink at that, then go about their business.

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