Letters to dvm360: Readers share thoughts on declawing

Letters to dvm360: Readers share thoughts on declawing

Three veterinarians make a case for onychectomy in certain circumstances.
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Mar 29, 2018

Dr. Robert Neunzig presented a very thoughtful and logical argument on why he declaws cats. I really appreciated his article. Believe it or not, declawing saves many cats’ lives!

I recall a happy day when a proud grandfather brought in his two granddaughters with two kittens they had adopted at a local shelter. Upon the first visit everything checked out well for both kittens, and I will never forget the smiling faces of those two little girls and the joy their grandfather had given them through those kittens.

One month later, the same grandfather returned for the kittens’ second visit with his granddaughters. This time both granddaughters had major scratches on both hands, arms and faces from the kittens. We discussed scratching posts, which the grandfather had responsibly invested in to no avail, and then our conversation led to declawing. That’s when the grandfather cried, “You don’t understand—the shelter made me sign a document stating I would never declaw the cats!”

When I heard that, I said I knew the head of that shelter, so please come with me—we are going call him and ask him what we should do.

The grandfather, granddaughters and kittens joined me in my office, where I proceeded to get the head of the shelter on the speakerphone. I explained to him what these new kitten owners were going through and asked for his advice since he had left the grandfather guilt-ridden about declawing the kittens.

I told the shelter owner that the grandfather was prepared to return these two kittens to his shelter, and you’d never guess what the shelter owner told the grandfather: Go ahead and declaw the kittens and never, ever return the kittens to his shelter!

I rest my case.

—Rick Campbell, DVM
Salt Lake City, Utah

Yes, I declaw. But only with my surgical CO2 laser. Obviously, complicated issues are not cut-and-dried; therefore I don’t understand why the use of CO2 lasers hasn’t been included in this debate. I performed declaws for several years prior to the development of surgical lasers. However, I began using a CO2 laser soon after they came onto the veterinary market. There is no comparison!

Personally I believe we would be doing the feline species, as domesticated animals, and their “family members” an injustice not to offer declawing. But I also believe that all declawing procedures should be performed with laser. I realize not all veterinarians have a surgical laser, but they could refer to a practice that does.

—Jeff Castle, DVM
Winchester, Kentucky

In the debate over declawing cats, many are asking the question, “Would the cat rather be declawed or keep its toes?”

Even if we are foolish enough to take this road, we are asking the wrong questions. In cases where the owner’s health or the cat’s behavior makes declawing a near necessity, the real question to ask the cat is, “Would you rather be declawed, euthanized or given to a shelter?”

The answers given would likely not be as strongly anti-declaw as the animal rights fringe wants us to believe.

—Drew L. Allen, DVM
Salt Lake City, Utah

Cat declawing

I live in the UK where not only is declawing cats a criminal offence, but it has NEVER been practiced, not even before it came under the umbrella of an Act of Parliament circa 12 years ago that banned all elective mutilation or tattooing of animals, the possible exception being tail docking some working dogs, by special license. Thus, despite being in my 60's and involved with UK animal welfare (including Cats Protection) for over 50 years, it is only about three years ago that I learned of the incomprehensible and disgusting practice of declawing cats, which I have since learned, is an almost uniquely American and Canadian practice. I immediately joined the campaigns to get this disgusting mutilation made illegal, as it is in the rest of the civilised world where it would draw a custodial sentence, a fine, or both. I questioned whether, living in a never-declaw country, I'd have anything useful to offer. I soon found out, reading some of the utter nonsense written in support of declawing, that I did. However, the most stomach churning of all comments I've seen had to be that of Rick Campbell DVM. His over flowery waffle took me back to a legal case I was involved in where I learned, by observation of evidence statements and later research, that liars often over describe, over-egg the pudding with unnecessary detail and description. Reading Campbell's letter I felt physically sick. He spoke of kittens having scratched two little girls. FGS, they were KITTENS, it takes kittens time to learn to control their claws, you don't have to be a vet to know that. However, let's move on to some facts. Firstly, a scratch is a superficial wound which will, the majority of the time, heal without incident. I've seen the argument for declawing being necessary citing people with fragile skin etc. Why then, are dogs not also declawed? A dog's claws, which are much stronger that a cat's cannot be retracted and a dog jumping up in greeting can rip open fragile skin, as happened to a late friend of mine - a cat owner - who was on long term steroids. Secondly, you have, in the USA, circa 800,000 people a year that require hospital treatment for dog bites (with way more actually bitten, just not requiring hospital attendance), and all bites, being puncture wounds, are dangerous. Of those people circa 30,000 will have injuries so severe they require reconstructive surgery and circa 30-50+, disproportionately children, will die from there injuries yet never once have I read of dogs being de-toothed for biting - or as a precautionary measure given you have Rabies still. Finally the 'to save the furniture' argument. The website 'theinsuranceblogger.co.uk' under pet damage claims, shows that here, where all cats have their claws, damage by dogs accounts for 55% of claims, by cats 29% and by 'others' 16%. Here in the UK, cats' claws are such a non issue that we don't even use nail caps. Cats surrendered to shelters for destructiveness in the home (or inappropriate toileting) are rare, and with all rescue shelters etc now having websites which state why a cat in their care has been surrendered, this is easily verified. The reality is, the cat lovers in the USA and Canada, and those of us in the countries in the rest of the world that do not, and never have, declawed cats, know exactly why some USA and Canadian vets defend declawing - $$$$$$$. Money, the number one love of Americans - well that is how the rest of us see you and this insistence, the defence of a procedure considered so cruel elsewhere that it is a criminal, as opposed to a civil, offence, a procedure which causes unnecessary pain and suffering (physical and psychological) of a sentient being to protect and inanimate object simply confirms that view as correct.

The case on declawing

I just read your article on declawing, about the concerned grandfather and the scratched up arms of his sweet little grand daughters. It saddens me that you jumped so quickly to declaw as the only solution. How about offering alternatives? Such as 1. teaching the grands how to properly play with a kitten. Even a 2 year old toddler can be taught to be respectful and gentle, and to respect boundaries. Trust me, I did it with my then 2 year old ADHD son and a very dominant playful kitten and he never ever scratched or bit him. Now 12 and 10, they still love and respect each other. 2. Tell the grandfather to come in monthly (or every 2 weeks) for nail trims, or teach the family to trim nails themselves, 3 Reiterate alternatives and training, educate them about scratching posts, turbo scratch pads, etc, or 4. offer soft paw nail covers.I have a former feral that I taught to use scratching posts (and the litter box) so yes it can be done. Declawing alters the physical and emotional well being of a cat, forever. It does not matter what method is used, the result is the same. The argument that declawing keeps cats in homes, is intellectually dishonest. Studies in 7 cities in CA have shown that owner-surrenders dropped after the declaw ban. Declawing is banned and punishable by law in 42 countries. Most of the rest of the world has never even considered doing this to cats. I come from Europe, and claws and people have coexisted, very peacefully. It's just here in the US, in the 1950's a vet came up with the glorious idea of making cats more user friendly to the American (or Canadian) pet owner. No research was done, and this practice was embraced with no thought of consequences to the animal. I have owned cats for 30 years, and only once, out of fear of a landlord, did I have a cat declawed on her front paws. She changed her personality, became less friendly, often walked with a limp, and developed crippling arthritis. The last 6 or 7 years of her life, she often walked on her front wrists. I have pictures of her mangled front legs. Declawing should only be done if it is absolutely medically necessary for the cat, such as allergies, or deformed toes,claws. I remind you of your oath:" Do no harm". Declawing has hurt countless cats for the last 60 years. It's amputation of the the last toe bone, not soft tissue surgery so don't even try to compare it to spay/neuter. It's time to stop and move on to the 21st century. When (not if) this archaic procedure of declawing cats is finally banned in most (or even all) of the US and Canada, all the arguments stating "it's declawing or euthanasia" - which by the way amounts to blackmail - will also cease. And no, I am not emotional, or uneducated. I am prepared to continue my debate. Thank you for hearing me out.