Commentary: AAFP’s decision to demonize declaws is bad news for cats

Commentary: AAFP’s decision to demonize declaws is bad news for cats

The procedure, which can be performed humanely, keeps cats in homes and humans safe from scratch-related risks.

Shutterstock.comI read with disappointment that the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has taken a harder stance against declawing, as it is sure to result in more cats being relinquished and even euthanized. What is most disturbing is that it is based on a false premise. The AAFP rightfully states that scratching is normal behavior for cats. While that is true, the removal of a cat’s claws does not prevent scratching but rather prevents the destruction of a person’s property or self with those nails.

In fact, any veterinarian who has performed declaws routinely for years—or decades, in my case—knows that cats without claws not only still scratch but can also catch mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, birds and small reptiles—albeit with a lower success rate, which I suspect these small indigenous wildlife appreciate. Yes, some declawed cats do get outside, but in my experience this has not caused an increased hardship for such cats, even though I do not recommend that declawed cats go outside.

Beyond the false assumption that declaws prevent scratching, I would suggest that much anti-declaw reasoning unfolds as follows: If a cat had a choice it would want to keep its claws. A cat needs its claws to protect itself. Onychectomy is a painful procedure and subject to complications. And cats that are declawed often become biters. Here are my responses to those statements.

Choice: If a cat had a choice it would also want to keep its genitals and breed, want to go outside and hunt, and certainly want to eat meat rather than dry cat food. My point is that we put our pets through a lot of things that if they had a choice they would decline. However, we selectively pick declaws to demonize.

Protection: A cat’s claws do not do a great of job protecting the cat from large dogs, coyotes or other large animals, or from automobiles or poisonings. Cats rarely if ever get into fights with wildlife such as raccoons, possums, foxes or skunks. Ironically, a declawed cat that gets in a fight with another cat usually has less severe wounds as it is at a disadvantage so tends to run away rather than stand its ground. Thus the wounds are less severe and usually located on the cat’s posterior rather than face, which is safer and easier to treat.

Pain: There is no question that there is some pain associated with a declaw, just as there is with a spay or neuter or any other surgical procedure. This pain is temporary and is easily managed with the proper use of analgesics, just as is true of any procedure that causes a pet pain or discomfort. So why do we selectively pick out declaws to demonize?

Complications: In regard to surgical complications, if we held spays and neuters to the same standards that we do declaws, no one would be performing spays or neuters. Complications do occur with all procedures and, as with spays and neuters, I find that most complications related to declaws are the result of surgical error or poor procedure. We should not demonize a procedure because of a veterinarian’s deficiency.

Biting: It has been shown that almost half of cats older than 6 or 7 years of age develop some level of arthritis. So one must ask in regard to cats that start biting that are declawed, is it due to the declaw or to aging and arthritis? After doing thousands of declaws over my 40-year career, I can attest that declaws in no way result in a cat starting to bite.

I am not suggesting here that every cat should be declawed, but rather that it should be determined on a case-by-case basis. I also do not have an argument with veterinarians’ ethical obligation to offer cat owners all options to curb inappropriate scratching, including declaws.

What the AAFP fails to recognize is the very important advantages of declawing.

  1. Some cats will just not stop destroying furniture regardless of how many scratching posts are purchased or training efforts are implemented.

  2. As we all know, giving a cat medication is not always easy for pet owners, and a cat without front claws does make that job a bit easier; therefore compliance is better.

  3. Young children, often in spite of a parent’s best efforts, will frequently pick up cats in precarious ways. Should the cat become frightened or just aggravated and try to escape, the risk of a facial injury to that child is real. A child should not have to carry a facial scar through life. A declaw eliminates this risk.

  4. We have an aging population as well as a population with many more immunodeficiency diseases. Those citizens who are on blood thinners or are immunocompromised cannot afford to be scratched without the risk of significant deleterious consequences. Again, declawing eliminates this risk.

  5. It has been shown that inside cats in general live much longer and healthier lives than outside cats. So is it not better to declaw and live with a very temporary period of discomfort if that will result many years of high-quality life away from disease and injury? I think the answer is obvious.

During my 40-year practice life I have literally performed 2,000 declaws or more. I have also declawed my own cats—I would not have a cat that was not declawed as I think they make much more desirable pets. So with decades of experience and observation I can safely say I am not aware of a single pet owner who was disappointed after I declawed their cats. In fact, I have probably received as many thank-you’s and statements of gratitude from declaws as I have with any other procedure I performed.

In closing, I have no problem with the AAFP’s desire to fully inform veterinarians and pet owners about options other than declaws to alleviate destructive and in some cases risky behavior. I would also suggest that the AAFP, rather than running away from declaws, develop standard procedures for the procedure and immediate aftercare when a declaw is performed. I believe this would eliminate or minimize the horror stories we have all heard or read about.

In the end, to demonize a declaw is truly tragic and will surely result in more cats being abandoned and even killed.

Dr. Robert Neunzig graduated from The Ohio State University in 1976 and achieved ABVP canine/feline status in 1983, becoming recertified in 1983 and 2003. He has owned several veterinary practices since 1980, retiring from active practice in 2009. He is currently the medical director of the Gaston County Low Cost Spay/Neuter clinic in Gastonia, North Carolina.

I am pro choice so start the name calling

IN the modern vernacular of meaningless adjectives words such "uncaring", "cruel" "misogynist" "racist" "old thinking" etc. have become meaningless due to the overuse and misuse of such words. So I will start off by giving the name callers something to yell about. U C people that cannot accept the views of others resort to name calling. I believe in the importance of declawing to the welfare of our feline population and their caregivers aka pet owners. And further I notice that this distaste for this wonderful procedure became heinous with the advent of a female majority profession. No name calling from me, just a factual observation, and that will surely result in calling me names. And to add to this name calling know that I have been a veterinarian for 54 yrs, and so I may have approached 5000 declaws and I would not have done them for 50 yrs if the public did not want it. And to make matters worse to show that I am an equal opportunity evil person, I firmly believe in declawing dogs as well and for those illogical people that say this is cruel, show me a dog that loves to get his nails trimmed and I will show U a liar.

U know it is interesting to me that it is OK for women to get their breasts enlarged or diminished. Or it is OK to pierce one's nose, ears, and other body parts. And it is OK to inject harmful dye into ones skin, but it is wrong to help people care for their pets by offering a userful service. To sum up if you do not like to do a procedure, because you do not know how to do it properly then do not do it. Also I have as noted above done a plethora of such procedures on multiple species of animals and have never had an owner or patient to which I did harm. At worst in all those years I had a couple of dehiscences that ultimately healed beautifully as open wounds. I can objectively say that while all surgeries elicit a degree of pain, I have seen cats do their usual scratching on scratching posts or whatever, before I wanted them to because the wound was not yet completely healed. As they do this for pleasure I have to judge that their pain was minimal. My admonition to all, is live and let live. My personal belief is that veterinarians are trying to make more money by doing less service and at some point, if it has not happened already it will bite them in their gluteus maximus

Reconsider Declawing

Those of us that are so passionate about doing away with declawing have seen and studied the effects it has on cats. We are verses and quite proficient at identifying pain in cats, which is not easy! We have observed that "my cat is fine" means nothing. In most other developed countries it is viewed as cruel but why not here? Because we are close minded, have done it since the 1950s and cannot fathom the notion we have been wrong? I am not hostile toward veterinarians that declaw. I would hope though that when presented with evidence contrary to their beliefs they may step back and reconsider. Many have, but many still won't.

Choice: We have selectively picked declawing because it is severely painful for the cats, there is no medical benefit to the cat, and they can have negative long term consequences. As you know, spaying and neutering has many positive medical outcomes for cats.

Protection: That's quite a stretch to assume declawed cats outside will have LESS injuries from fighting because they are scared and run away more. This is not only a protection issue, it's the cat's perceived threats. If a declawed cat perceives a person as a threat and they know their claws are absent they may resort to biting instead. It's documented in a peer reviewed journal.

Pain: I wholeheartedly disagree that the pain is temporary. Chronic pain in declawed cats is common and may not be severe enough to cause noticeable changes in the cat for years. Again, documented in peer reviewed literature. As with any incising of a nerve neuromas can form, their gait is altered, back pain can result, if P3 fragments were left behind that can also cause chronic pain. The notion that they do "fine" is invalid if you aren't looking. And I ESPECIALLY don't trust an owner to know the difference.

Complications: Again, to put a cat at risk for surgical complications for a cosmetic procedure is ludicrous. Complications can happen to any patient under the care of any surgeon no matter the skill level.

Biting: Again, this was studied in a peer reviewed journal age-matching declawed cats to non-declawed cats. The results showed declawed cats are more likely to have biting behaviors. The link is below if you missed the article published online in May.

Sad to see

It's really sad to see so much animosity among veterinarians. I have done declaws for 22 years and all of my cats have been and are currently declawed. All of mine have done very well, never been biters, don't display any urinary issues, etc...and live to a ripe old age...but if others don't feel like it's a surgery they want to do, so be it...but why so much anger and hostility toward those who do the procedure? Please stop being so hostile and judgmental toward other professionals. We should all be able to make our own decisions about how we practice medicine...everyone does MANY things differently...I hear it from my techs all the time. We don't vaccinate the same, we don't treat ear infections the please stop trying to make us fit your mold. I, for one, will practice in the way that I feel is in the best interest of my patients and clients.

Completely Agree

Unfortunately well meaning people are going to cost a lot of cats their lives. We perform cosmetic surgeries on infants and children if we believe it will enhance their lives. For many cats, being a declawed indoor only pet is the only life option they will have.

great article

This is a terrific article. He presents fact and real life experience. I agree with everything he says. If you want to declaw and do it right, it can be a win win experience. If you choose not to, that is fine as well. What could make more sense than this?

Declaw debate

In the mid 1980's I spent a lot of time defending declawing of cats as an acceptable procedure and after graduation in 1990, I did more than I can count. It was as routine as spaying and neutering. Then, in the mid 90's, I had an elderly client ask me if I would extract all of her dogs teeth to prevent bites to her grandchild. While this would not have prevented the dog from eating, I still declined. This left me questioning the declaw issue but it wasn't until about 10 years ago that we stopped declawing for reasons of "behavior". We now counsel owners on alternatives. Thus far, I have had one owner ask for a referral to someone to declaw her cats and she has since returned to us for routine medical care. Do I support a declaw I did do one declaw (on back feet) about a year ago on a cat with cutaneous asthenia that kept tearing holes in himself. It solved the problem. I do not like the idea of banning medical procedures best considered on a case by case basis but I also would prefer that we as medical professionals take some time to counsel owners on alternatives.

Please re-educate yourself

It's very sad when "old-school" doctors, educated decades ago, do not have the compassion or desire to bring themselves up to speed with modern knowledge, research and veterinary training. 30 years from now your great-grandchildren will be appalled, not only that declawing existed, but that they had a veterinarian in the family who would advocate for the cruel amputation of feline toes.


In January, I wrote this LTE to AVMA - very much in line with Dr Neunzig. "I would like to comment on the recent letter from Dr X. discussing a study on the possible association between onychectomy technique and house soiling in cats. I accept our profession’s stance discouraging onychectomy. However, I also believe the price rise for the onychectomy procedure has done the most to limit it, and I posit that most owners who pay the current charges are committed, loving owners. I am one of them. In her letter, Dr. X commented that when cats trapped in the community are brought into her clinic and are found to be too wild to be adopted, she euthanizes them if they are declawed, as if this one physical alteration is more crippling than any other condition and proof that the owners were irresponsible. (Besides being ) intuitively obvious that declawed, microchipped, and neutered cats were owned at one time, and should be considered as lost pets, rather than to have been born feral. If one accepts that trap-neuter-return programs are humane, then shouldn’t declawed cats that come in in no worse shape than those with claws be returned to the environment where they were trapped? I came of age at a time when declawing was much more common and there was less pressure to keep cats inside. Even then, we recommended that declawed cats be kept indoors, but we knew that many owners let their cats outside. When living in quiet suburban areas, I allowed, and still allow, my own declawed cats outside. Their lack of claws has never been a handicap to a long healthy life..

---His point is well taken, comparing to other procedures - indeed many "first world" European countries do not allow elective neutering of dogs!
There are two points of view on human male circumcisions .

---The reason I have only once added an adult, vs a kitten to my (for 20 years, 5 cat) household, is, a declaw is harder on them...and I will, not , have a cat, that isn't, declawed! Period end of story. Front claws and and litter box problems are all that stand between cats and perfection! (And yes, over 45 years, I have euthanized 4 for litter box problems). I have had several, loved, long lived cats, I could never look in their mouths, can't get a GD pill into, and -being a veterinarian doesn't give me the time or ability to keep 50 claws clipped often enough to keep furniture minimally intact!

---Working now at a SPCA- although the official stance is - not to adopt to those who plan to declaw- like every other such facility - we prominently advertise adoptees that have been declawed. It's a selling point for a reason!

----Lastly, while the AAFP rails against over-vaccination, encourages PVRC every 3 years and says it's fine to give one MLV PVRC to feral cats, it continues to recommend a series of 2 for any other cat -like a middle aged, altered stray - weakening their 'moral and scientific authority'. - (AAHA Canine Vaccination guide : over 6 months of age ? only 1 DA2pp is protective for at least a year..)

Feline declawing

Judging by the comments just made it seems that neither side is willing to make a choice different from their own views.
My personal view is to allow everyone to make their own decision and choice. No particular body of people with variable opinions expressed about a subject should be allowed to make decisions for everyone else.
Any amputation is advised if it will improve the quality of life for the patient.
My declawed cats have worn the edges off my wicker rocker "clawing" at the caining without causing them any pain. They run, play, jump and have normal arguments without causing injury to their playmates.
Any surgical procedure should be done by well trained talented surgeons not by inexperienced incapable unskilled individuals who are the ones that cause lifelong discomfort to their patients, whatever the surgical procedure they "perform ". Just because one has a DVM degree doesn't necessarily make a competent surgeon.


I understand why some people have there cats declawed but there are things you can do to prevent issues it's if the humans want to do the leg work. Most people in this society don't want to make the effort. They are lazy and if you can't or won't do the work then you shouldn't own a cat. Just like owning any animal people should do the research. A four paw declaw should be banned that is inhumane?????