Pets & Their People / Perspective

Miriam YardenDeclaw or Mutilate Your Feline Friend?

by C. Miriam Yarden, B.Sc., MS, APDT Contributing Editor

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  • (Nov. 20, 2009) -- The subject of de-clawing our cats has been with us for many years and has always been controversial, perhaps because most pro-declawers are not advised and informed of the details of the procedure and what is involved for the hapless feline.

    Let us see what the proponents have to say about this procedure. This group includes many veterinarians who call it a "medical procedure" and contend that no one, except the owner and the veterinarians should be able to make this decision. They state emphatically that they do not wish their furniture, rugs, drapes, clothing of skin damaged by sharp little nails; the kitten "refuses" to use the scratch-post; no amount of "punishment" deters him from committing this heinous crime, etc., therefore de-clawing is the only answer, otherwise the cat will be surrendered (abandoned) to the shelter. They have been told by their veterinarian that the procedure is minor surgery, commonly performed and does not hurt the cat, especially if done at an early age (why "early age" is a mitigating factor escapes me. It suggests that youth is a protection against pain. Right!)

    The opponents have facts that are quite different. In truth, it IS major surgery, done under general anesthesia. In order to prevent the nails growing back, the first joint of every toe must be amputated. If you ever had orthopedic surgery or know anyone who has, you know how painful that can be and the difficulty is that it is not easy to give analgesics (painkillers) to cats. This is NOT in my view a "medical procedure; it is merely a CONVENIENCE for the owner. Medical procedures are used only to heal, to cure diseases, to ease pain, to correct anomalies. Above all, to cause no harm.

    If this were not enough, the removal of the joints unbalances the animal and great compensation must be made by him which is not always successful. He may suddenly stop using his litter box, or since an integral part of his defense was forcibly taken from him, he often compensates with his mouth, hence the many biting cats.

    As for the physical risks, they are also many: if the bandage is too tight, gangrene can set in and only amputation of the whole limb can save his life; infections are frequent and if the operation is unsuccessful (and it often is) and the nails grow back, the surgery must be repeated because the cat is even more off-balance and miserable than he was before and of course, in pain. Needless to say, a de-clawed cat cannot be allowed outside the house since he is defenseless.

    As for destroying furniture and other items, two suggestions: first, if you are bound and determined to avoid any and all such damage or trace of the animal, DO NOT GET A CAT! (But then do not have children either because the normal damage they cause in the home is far more serious.)

    Second, if you want to share your home and life with a charming cat, invest in a proper scratch post covered with hopsacking, burlap or hemp rope twisted tightly around it and spend a little time teaching him where and how to scratch. Use a little cat-mint on the post and if you start him as a kitten, he WILL learn.

    A little tidiness goes a long way. Put away your clothes, guard your nylons, spray your possessions with a light aversive substance such as citrus spray, undiluted Listerine, etc., and have a little patience. Once you teach him how and where to scratch, if he forgets and tries it on a forbidden object, a clap of the hands, a sharp call of his name, an "ah-ah-ah!" will stop him and he will run to his post. If however, the post is covered with carpeting, it is unrealistic to expect that he will know the difference between the vertical carpet on the post and the horizontal one on the floor. After all, they both feel the same.

    Please, learn how to trim your kittenís nails and do it regularly (one a week). It is neither difficult nor dangerous and your veterinarian will show you how. All you need is a small nail clipper, a few quiet moments and a treat after youíre done. The rear nails never get as sharp as the front and you may decide not to clip them.

    The following are quotes from a letter by Dr. Louis Camuti, DVM, author of All My Patients Are Under The Bed (Simon and Schuster, 1974) who had a flourishing, strictly feline practice in New York City. The letter was distributed by the Committee for Humane Legislation and it changed a lot of minds when the facts were disclosed to the owners;

    As bad as the cropping of dogsí ears is considered, the de-clawing of cats is far worse because you are altering his normal movement and you are also throwing him off balance. Of course, if he goes outdoors, you are depriving him of his protective stance. A cat it not sure-footed, so if you remove his ability to grasp, you art committing him to possible injury. It should not be necessary to explain the logic of not de-clawing because it is so obvious and elementary.

    What should be exposed are the flimsy excuses given for having a cat de-clawed. Let me begin with the premise that there is NO valid reason for doing it at all. There is no law compelling you to have a pet, but if you must have one, there is a moral code which obligates you to take good care of him. People will give a variety of reasons for de-clawing but the main reason remains always "to spare the furniture." I may have a peculiar practice but 90% of the cats I treat do NOT claw the furniture. How people inhibit their cats in this area varies with the owners but certainly two stands out: a good scratching post and frequent clipping of the nails. I am sure that anyone with determination can develop a way of stopping the destruction to furniture.

    The second most common reason for de-clawing is that the cat "scratches us with his front paws whenever we go near him or try to play with him." Here again, in the question of patient training. Every household is different, so there is not orthodox method so training but with a little common sense, perseverance toy will be successful. And under no condition, ever box with a cat.

    My stand on de-clawing, from which I never wavered is "I would not de-claw a cat even if I were paid $1000 a nail. I am against changing the structure of the animal for aesthetic or self-serving reasons, It is cruel and selfish.

    Sincerely, Louis Camuti, DVM

    Thus ends the letter.

    Earlier this year in Sacramento, state lawmakers were literally threatened by the de-clawing camp and veterinarians of the California Veterinary Medical Association that if cities were allowed to enact local laws banning declawing of cats, at least 50% of pet cats will be surrendered to shelters (and be killed). Actually, the polls show that while they claim a 50% abandonment, in fact only FOUR percent of owners polled stated that they would give up their pet cats. Quite a stretch, isnít it?

    Also, they argue that no law should interfere with veterinarians practicing of their profession -- very true. But if the parent-clubs or AKC demanded the creation of three legged dogs and cats, does that mean that veterinarians have he right to start removing one leg of any pet merely because the owner wanted to conform to the prevailing fashion? Itís not the same? Yes it is -- think about it.

    But -- to get a cat and then proceed to make his living with you conditional on pain and suffering -- better not to get a cat.

    A few loose threads on a pillow, a tiny hole in a drape, and on rare occasions a snagged hose -- that is all I have experienced with not less than eight cats I have had the pleasure of living with. But when I consider the pure pleasure of my natural, healthy, pain-free, physically and emotionally balanced stable felines, I could live with it. I still do, with two who only annoy me by lying on the work I happen to be doing, or jumping on my keyboard and crashing a chapter or two of a book or article in the works. That REALLY annoys me!

    OK, Casper! All right, Serendipity! Itís time to get off my lap...

    Ms. Yarden's Archives:

  • Cat Licensing in Long Beach -- And About Time!

  • Designer Dogs

  • Yet Another Threat To Our Pets

  • Coyote "Invasion" -- Let's Manage It

  • The Backyard Dog

  • L.A. Sets Poor Example by Undermining Its Own Spay/Neuter Law

  • There Is No Good Excuse -- EVER! - For Abandoning A Dog Or Cat

  • Keeping Tax Collector's Hands Off Our Pets

  • Animals Are Not For Suffocating Or Burning

  • Ensuring Effective Dog License Canvassing in LB

  • Christmas With Your Companions

  • The Other Side of Farm Animal Cruelty

  • The Coyote: Truths & Myths

  • Katrina, Now Gustav...And Thank God! We Have Learned Something!

  • A Toy For Every Animal

  • Foiling Thieves Who'd Steal Your Dog

  • What To Do, And Not Do, If Your Cat Is Freaked Out By The Quake

  • Driving With Your Dog

  • On CSULB's Unwelcome Coyotes & Formerly Welcome Feral Felines

  • Not Merely Birth Control: The Other Side of Spay & Neuter

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