Onychectomy (declawing) is an operation to remove an animal's claws surgically by means of the amputation of all or part of the distal phalanges, or end bones, of the animal's toes. Because the claw develops from germinal tissue within the third phalanx, amputation of the bone is necessary to fully remove the claw. The terms "onychectomy" and "declawing" imply mere claw removal, but a more appropriate description would be phalangectomy, excision of toe bone.
Declaw surgery is illegal in many countries but is still a surprisingly common practice in some.
Declaw surgery is performed electively to stop cats from damaging furniture, or as a means of avoiding scratches. Previous research has focused on short-term issues following surgery, such as lameness, chewing of toes and infection, but the long-term health effects of this procedure have not to date been investigated.
According to research published today in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery*, declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, manifesting as unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination (soiling/urinating outside of the litter box) and aggression/biting. This is not only detrimental to the cat (pain is a major welfare issue and these behaviors are common reasons for relinquishment of cats to shelters), but also has health implications for their human companions, as cat bites can be serious.
For the study, the author group, based in North America, investigated a total of 137 non-declawed cats and 137 declawed cats, of which 33 were declawed on all four feet.
All 274 cats were physically examined for signs of pain and barbering (excessive licking or chewing of fur) and their medical history was reviewed for unwanted behaviors.
They found that inappropriate toileting, biting, aggression and overgrooming occurred significantly more often in the declawed cats than the non-declawed cats (roughly 7, 4, 3 and 3 times more often, respectively, based on the calculated odds ratio). A declawed cat was also almost 3 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 compensatory weight shift to the pelvic limbs).
The surgical guideline for performing declawing, as recommended by Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, is to remove the entire third phalanx (P3), which is the most distal bone of the toe. Despite this, P3 fragments were found in 63% of the declawed cats in this study, reflecting poor or inappropriate surgical technique.
While the occurrence of back pain and abnormal behaviors was increased in these cats, the authors emphasize that even optimal surgical technique does not eliminate the risks. They explain that removal of the distal phalanges forces the cat to bear weight on the soft cartilaginous ends of the middle phalanges (P2) that were previously shielded within joint spaces. Pain in these declawed phalanges prompts cats to choose a soft surface, such as carpet, in preference to the gravel-type substrate in the litter box; additionally, 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.
Although common in North America, declawing is considered an act of animal cruelty in many countries. Break this law in Israel and you can be fined $20,000 and up to a year of jail time! The following is a list of countries in which declawing cats is either illegal or considered extremely inhumane and only performed under extreme circumstances:
Lead author of the paper Nicole Martell-Moran, a veterinary practitioner in a cat-only clinic in Houston, Texas, USA, comments:
'The result of this research reinforces my opinion that declawed cats with unwanted behaviors may not be "bad cats", they may simply need pain management. We now have scientific evidence that declawing is more detrimental to our feline patients than we originally thought and I hope this study becomes one of many that will lead veterinarians to reconsider declawing cats.'
*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.
1 - National Federation of the Blind Statement on Delta's New Service Animal Policy - NFB statement with regard to the new service and support animal policy announced by Delta Air Lines.
2 - Research Shows Therapy Dogs Not Stressed When Visiting Pediatric Cancer Patients - Publication of study exploring impact of therapy dog sessions on welfare of dogs involved demonstrates dogs did not show increased stress resulting from therapy visits.
3 - Guide Dogs Left Barking at the Door - Daniel Williams writes about his legal entitlement to access public places with his assistance dog under the U.K. Equality Act 2010.
4 - Owning a Rescue Cat Saved My Life - I went to a cat rescue center and found Jessie a tortoiseshell cat so frightened and underweight she reminded me of myself.
5 - Declawing Linked to Aggression and Other Abnormal Behaviors in Cats - Research reveals declawing cats increases risk of long-term or persistent pain, manifesting as unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination, and aggression/biting.
*This information is from an external source (SAGE). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity, and/or length. If you are connected with this page and want it corrected/updated please contact us.