Declawing: an act of mutilation

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International Cat Care has released a position statement on the declawing of cats which calls for the procedure to be banned. The charity, together with its veterinary division the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), considers the declawing of cats for anything other than genuine therapeutic medical reasons to be an act of mutilation, and to be unethical. Although already illegal in many countries, this procedure is still a surprisingly common practice in some, where it is performed electively to stop cats from damaging furniture, or as a means of avoiding scratches. The operation to declaw does not just remove the claw, but also the end bone of the toe (equivalent to removing the end of a finger to the first joint in humans). 

The newly released position statment follows on from brand new research in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS)*, which shows that declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain in cats. Previous research had focused on short-term issues following surgery, such as lameness, chewing of toes and infection, but the long-term health effects of this procedure had not been investigated. 

This new research shows that declawing increases long-term pain in cats, leading to behavioural changes such as increased biting behaviour, inappropriate urination or defecation, over-grooming and aggression. As a result of ongoing pain from declawing, cats will often choose a soft surface, such as carpet for toileting, in preference to the gravel-type substrate in the litter box; and a painful declawed cat may react to being touched by resorting to biting as it has few or no claws left to defend itself with. This is not only detrimental to the cat (pain is a major welfare issue and these behaviours are common reasons for cats ending up in a rehoming centre), but also has health implications for their human companions, as cat bites can be serious.

In addition, the study highlighted that a declawed cat was also almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with back pain than a non-declawed cat (potentially due to shortening of the declawed limb and altered gait, and/or chronic pain at the site of the surgery causing altered weight bearing). 

Scratching is a normal and important feline behaviour, associated with territorial marking as well as being an important means of defence. Should scratching or clawing in the home become an issue, cat owners can provide appropriate resources (such as scratching posts, cardboard boxes, etc.) and encourage cats, via positive reinforcement (use of treats, cat nip, synthetic scratching pheromone etc.), to use these for scratching instead. Declawing for anything other than genuine therapeutic medical reasons is totally inappropriate and unethical, and should never be carried out as a means of controlling unwanted scratching behaviour.

To access iCatCare's position statement on declawing click here.

Our full press release covering the scientific research, including free access to the JFMS article, can be accessed here.

*Martell-Moran NK, Solano M and Townsend HGG. Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. J Feline Med Surg. Epub ahead of print 23 May 2017. DOI: 10.1177/1098612X17705044.

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