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Behavior

Education Station: Declawing – Partial Toe Amputation Facts

Get the facts on declawing aka partial toe amputation.

Photo courtesy of CityTheKitty.org

Talk to a cat lover about declawing – just mentioned the word – and their face will express emotions you didn’t even know the person was capable of possessing. In this post, I’m not even going to go down that road. The facts will speak for themselves.

What Is Declawing?

Photo courtesy of Canadian Veterinary Medical Association

Declawing (or onychectomy) is not just the removal of a nail. The procedure also removes a segment of the bone attached to the claw, the third phalanx or P3, by laser or scalpel and in rare instances, a nail trimmer (the guillotine method). The P3 bone is at the tip of a cat’s toes; ligaments, tendons, nerves, and tissue are also removed, which is why declawing is also known as partial toe amputation. Complications from a declawing procedure are relatively high compared to other procedures. (Sources: Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and CityTheKitty.org)

Fact: Short-Term and Long-Term Physical and Behavioral Side Effects Found in Declawed Cats

Short-Term

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association reported these findings based on 87 client-owned cats from veterinary clinics in the Canadian Atlantic provinces.

Physical

  • Pain
  • Cystitis or UTI
  • Infection
  • Lethargy

Behavioral

  • Decreased appetite
  • Personality change

Long-Term

A study performed by the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery studied 137 declawed and 137 non-declawed cats and reported these findings. Other sources include this Popular Science article and this American Veterinarian article, both about the study.

Physical

Gray and white cat.
Angus is a friend’s cat who has always had a elimination issues, with habit of peeing on soft surfaces, especially clothes. I often offered suggestions on how to address his issue. Once I learned he was front paw declawed, it all made sense! He has a big heart and is a sweetie, but likely has discomfort in his paws and back. Disclaimer: He doesn’t mess with flowers at all, but lilies are very toxic to cats. Photo ops are okay but keep them away from cats at all other times.
  • Difficulty walking. Because their toes are missing, declawed cats are forced to walk on the soft cartilage that was previously part of their joints (see image above; P2). This forces them to modify their gait.
  • 3x more likely to have back pain and/or chronic paw pain. Pain is measured by litter box issues, flinching when touched, body tension, excessive licking/chewing fur and more.
  • 63% had residual fragments of the third phalanx (P3). This reflects poor or inappropriate surgical techniques. It’s likely the fragments of P3 contribute to the back pain described in the previous bullet.

Behavioral

himalayan
Jessebelle is beautiful … and four-paw declawed, resulting in litter box issues. I called her The Princess and the Pee when I fostered her. She found a loving family who understands her issues and loves her anyway.
  • 7x more likely to pee outside litter box, and 10x more likely if there’s residual P3. These cats start to associate the litter box with pain and don’t want to use it. They end up opting for carpeting and clothing because they are more comfortable than litter. I’ve also seen them find comfort on bathroom tiles and in sinks. The cool material likely feels good on their sore paws.
  • 4x more likely to bite people. Because their main method of defense is to swat or use their claws, when they don’t have them, they’re more likely to bite.
  • 3x more likely to be aggressive. Again, their first line of defense is gone; plus, chronic pain tends to make one a grouchy pants.
  • 3x more likely to overgroom. Overgrooming is usually a sign of stress (could be from chronic pain).

Fact: Declawing Is Mostly a U.S. & Canada Thing

According to Animal Wellness Magazine and The Washington Post:

  • Declawing is illegal in 42 countries, including Australia, Brazil, and England.
  • As of July 22, 2019, New York was the 1st U.S. state to ban declawing. Woohoo!
  • A very small number of U.S. cities have banned it, including: Berkley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Denver, and St. Louis.
  • In Canada, it’s illegal in seven out of ten provinces.
  • California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and West Virginia may be next.

Fact: Declawing Is a Human Preference

Declawing is a decision a person makes, often because they don’t want their cat scratching:

Cat nails
Lily the kitty shows her nails.

Furniture. Yes, it removes their ability to scratch furniture, but increases the likelihood they will eliminate where they should not. A cat can be trained not to scratch furniture, but she cannot be convinced to use a litter box when her claws are removed and her toes hurt.

Orange striped cat scratching tree.
Jack goes outside and enjoys nature’s scratching post.

People. On the surface, this seems to make sense, but it could cause more harm than good. The problem with this line of reasoning is that by removing the cats first line of defense, you’re increasing the chances of a cat bite (the study above showed that), which has a high probability of infection. If infection occurs, an oral or IV antibiotic is necessary for treatment (read about my experience with an infected cat bite). You’re also increasing the chances for aggression by removing the toe tips.

P3 is a crucial part of balancing, walking, hunting, climbing – by removing it, all of those normal aspects of a cat’s life could be impacted. If the above are great concerns, and a person does not want to train the cat, the best decision is not to have a cat.

Fact: Medical Exceptions

Cats can have tumors on their claws, or even a damaged claw that is painful to walk on. In these instances, removal may be necessary. If you read legislation, these exceptions are typically outlined.

Get Involved. Stay Informed.

There is a nonprofit devoted to outlawing declawing: City the Kitty. I highly recommend checking out the website and following all of this nonprofit’s social media accounts so you can get the latest news, find no declaw vets, sign petitions, and more.

Training

Cat with scratcher.
Rhett sunbathing and scratching.

I don’t care what you’ve heard – you can train cats. Don’t think of it as a chore; think of it as a challenge, and one that’s ultimately best for your cat’s nails. Scratching the surface of different types of scratchers is much better than your couch:-)

Need help training your cat to scratch the right places?

Check out my post, Scratching Tips.

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By LizsKittyBootCamp

I foster cats and kittens, specializing in behavioral cases.

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