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The Controversy of Declawing Cats

The surgical procedure onychectomy, often referred to as declawing, is a controversial surgical procedure performed in the United States; however, it is illegal and highly frowned upon in the United Kingdom when the procedure is not medically necessary. Onychectomy is the partial or full amputation of the third phalanges. Declawing is often the result of a cat’s unwanted scratching in the household or to a person. In a 2001 study, an astounding 18 million cats were declawed in the United States. Onychectomy performed on cats is a controversial topic in the United States due to scratching being a natural instinct, increased medical and behavioral concerns following the procedure, and the lack of mandatory veterinary courses teaching the surgical procedure.

Scratching is a normal behavior for cats that begins at about 35 days of age that serves multiple purposes, including stretching, marking territory, and claw conditioning. When a cat stretches it forelimbs, it naturally extends its claws in the process. Typically, a cat will stretch and extend its nails after waking or after scent marking territory. When a cat scratches objects, it is marking its territory both for visual and scent recognition. It visually alters the objects due to the physical abrasions left behind and leaves a scent behind from the sweat glands of a cat’s paw pad. Scratching objects is claw conditioning, especially for the forelimbs by helping shed the old loose nail layers and expose the new and healthy sharp claws. Unwanted scratching can be regulated with training and providing your cat with an environment that leads to it scratching in designated areas. Having scratching posts of the proper material in one’s home helps incentivize scratching in selected areas.

Following declawing, cats have been reported to have heightened negative behaviors and medical conditions. One of the behaviors seen most often that wasn’t present before the surgery is house soiling and litter box substrate aversions. Other new behaviors following the procedure include barbering, which is excessive cleaning, aggression, and significantly reduced weight bearing on the declawed limbs for up to 6 months. The increased aggression and reduced weight load are generally attributed to pain following the surgery. There are multiple medical conditions witnessed after onychectomy with no complications such as paw pad calcifications, back pain, and overall chronic pain.

After reporting with 26 of the 28 United States’ veterinary schools, there appears to be an inconsistency with the demand for onychectomy from the public and the courses required that teach the surgical procedure. Only 38% percent of veterinary schools in the United States had mandatory classes that taught the medical method. Furthermore, 54% of United States’ veterinary schools did not offer any courses to teach the onychectomy surgery and only 8% have optional courses. This is a huge concern for the high demand for this surgery and a possibility for improper technique that may lead to short and long term complications for the cat. With lack of knowledge on this procedure by many veterinarians, there too might be a misinterpretation on the anesthetic and analgesic techniques needed for this procedure.

Please consider other alternatives before getting your cat declawed for non-medically necessary reasons.

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