Many veterinarians 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). It’s like you having your toes and fingers removed at the first joint, i.e. a radical phalangectomy.
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 extremely 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 was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Feb. 15, 2006, pages 503-504.
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, D.Sc., Ph.D., B.Vet.Med., M.R.C.V.S.
From the perspectives of naturalistic philosophy and ethics, as defined in Buddhism and Toaism, the cat’s ritualistic claw-scratching to mark the territorial domain is a vital yogic practice that helps cats relax and discharge pent up energies. Ethologically, cats’ need to scratch suitable vertical and semi-vertical objects with their claw-marks and paw-pad pheromones is motivated by the desire for safety and security in a regularly marked, familiar territory. Scratch-post sites are tied to self-identity and recognition: self-awareness.
I have observed feral and free-roaming cats, and indoor cats all engaging in scratch-post-marking behavior, and to take this ritual away from them by de-clawing is to rob them both physically and psychologically of their first line of defense in a potentially hostile world; and of their ability to even be able to mark their territories effectively. So many begin to urine-spray-mark, or show behavioral changes associated with increased fear and vulnerability.
Cats are fastidious self-groomers, and they need their claws to be able to groom themselves properly. Unable to groom themselves, cats become more irritable, tense, depressed.
These problems are compounded by the chronic pain that many de-clawed cats suffer, and show lameness and abnormal vertebral and postural mis-alignments due to paw-pad pain from abnormal weight distribution on certain pads, and also from chronic inflammation, post-surgical infection, chronic arthritis and osteomyelitis, and contractions of the flexor tendons.
Such physical and psychological crippling of cats has become an accepted cultural norm. But such perverse defilement of the cat’s nature, her ethos, such mutilation, rationalized disfigurement as a necessary convenience, is a sad reflection of our humanity, or lack thereof. Both must be addressed, and all veterinary colleges censored where de-clawing is taught to students with the expectation that this would be a routine source of income because of public demand, and if vets were not around to do it properly, many people would resort to using wire-cutters.
Performing phalangectomies on 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 integral 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 owners and lovers. Many veterinarians argue that it is a life-saving procedure because otherwise cats who might damage furniture or scratch their owners are often euthanized if they are not de-clawed. I see this as engaging in self-serving emotional blackmail, financial interests not withstanding.