Unlike most mammals who walk on the soles of the paws or feet, cats are
digitigrade, which means they walk on their toes. Their back, shoulder, paw and leg
joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves are naturally designed to support
and distribute the cat's weight across its toes as it walks, runs and climbs. A cat's
claws are used for balance, for exercising, and for stretching the muscles in their
legs, back, shoulders, and paws. They stretch these muscles by digging their claws
into a surface and pulling back against their own clawhold - similar to isometric
exercising for humans. This is the only way a cat can exercise, stretch and tone the
muscles of its back and shoulders. The toes help the foot meet the ground at a
precise angle to keep the leg, shoulder and back muscles and joints in proper
alignment. Removal of the last digits of the toes drastically alters the conformation of
their feet and causes the feet to meet the ground at an unnatural angle that can
cause back pain similar to that in humans caused by wearing improper shoes.
Understanding Declawing (Onychectomy)
The anatomy of the feline claw must be understood before one can appreciate the
severity of declawing. The cat's claw is not a nail as is a human fingernail, it is part
of the last bone (distal phalanx) in the cat's toe. The cat’s claw arises from the
unguicular crest and unguicular process in the distal phalanx of the paw (see above
diagram). Most of the germinal cells that produce the claw are situated in the dorsal
aspect of the ungual crest. This region must be removed completely, or regrowth of
a vestigial claw and abcessation results. The only way to be sure all of the germinal
cells are removed is to amputate the entire distal phalanx at the joint.
Contrary to most people's understanding, declawing consists of amputating not just
the claws, but the whole phalanx (up to the joint), including bones, ligaments, and
tendons! To remove the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments,
and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. Thus declawing is not a
“simple”, single surgery but 10 separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up
to the last joint of each toe. A graphic comparison in human terms would be the
cutting off of a person's finger at the last joint of each finger.
Many vets and clinic staff deliberately misinform and mislead clients into believing
that declawing removes only the claws in the hopes that clients are left with the
impression that the procedure is a "minor" surgery comparable to spay/neuter
procedures and certainly doesn't involve amputation (partial or complete) of the
terminal-toe bone, ligaments and tendons. Some vets rationalize the above
description by saying that since the claw and the third phalanx (terminal toe bone)
are so firmly connected, they simply use the expression "the claw" to make it simpler
for clients to "understand". Other vets are somewhat more honest and state that if
they used the word "amputation", most clients would not have the surgery
performed! Onychectomy in the clinical definition involves either the partial or total
amputation of the terminal bone. That is the only method. What differs from vet to
vet is the type of cutting tool used (guillotine-type cutter, scalpel or laser).
Onychectomy (Declawing) Surgery
The below is a clinical description of the the declawing surgery taken from a leading
veterinary surgical textbbook. Contrary to misleading information, declawing is not a
"minor" surgery comparable to spaying and neutering procedures, it is 10, seperate,
painful amputations of the distal phalanx at the joint (disjointing).
The claw is extended by pushing up under the footpad or by grasping it with Allis
tissue forceps. A scalpel blade is used to sharply dissect between the second and
third phalanx over the top of the ungual crest . The distal interphalangeal joint is
disarticulated (disjointed), and the deep digital flexor tendon is incised (severed).
The digital footpad, is not incised. If a nail trimmer is used, the ring of the instrument
is placed in the groove between the second phalanx and the ungual crest. The
blade is positioned just in front of the footpad. The blade is pushed through the soft
tissues over the flexor process. With the ring of the nail trimmer in position behind
the ungual crest, the blade is released just slightly so that traction applied to the
claw causes the flexor process to slip out and above the blade. At this point, the
flexor tendon can be incised and disarticulation of the joint (disjointing) completed.
Both techniques effectively remove the entire third phalanx." (Excerpted from:
Slatter D; Textbook of Small Animal Surgery 2nd ed vol I, p.352 W.B. Saunders
Declawing is not without complication. The rate of complication is relatively high
compared with other so-called routine procedures. Complications of this amputation
can be excruciating pain, damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that
prevent healing, painful regrowth of deformed claw inside of the paw which is not
visible to the eye, and chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back
Other complications include postoperative hemorrhage, either immediate or
following bandage removal is a fairly frequent occurrence, paw ischemia, lameness
due to wound infection or footpad laceration, exposure necrosis of the second
phalanx, and abscess associated with retention of portions of the third phalanx.
Abscess due to regrowth must be treated by surgical removal of the remnant of the
third phalanx and wound debridement. During amputation of the distal phalanx, the
bone may shatter and cause what is called a sequestrum, which serves as a focus
for infection, causing continuous drainage from the toe. This necessitates a second
anesthesia and surgery. Abnormal growth of severed nerve ends can also occur,
causing long-term, painful sensations in the toes. Infection will occasionally occur
when all precautions have been taken.
"Declawing is actually an amputation of the last joint of your cat's "toes". When you
envision that, it becomes clear why declawing is not a humane act. It is a painful
surgery, with a painful recovery period. And remember that during the time of
recuperation from the surgery your cat would still have to use its feet to walk, jump,
and scratch in its litter box regardless of the pain it is experiencing."
Christianne Schelling, DVM
"General anesthesia is used for this surgery, which always has a certain degree of
risk of disability or death associated with it. Because declawing provides no medical
benefits to cats, even slight risk can be considered unacceptable. In addition, the
recovery from declawing can be painful and lengthy and may involve postoperative
complications such as infections, hemorrhage, and nail regrowth. The latter may
subject the cat to additional surgery." The Association of Veterinarians for Animal
Two recent studies published in peer-reviewed veterinary journals (Vet Surg 1994
Jul-Aug;23(4):274-80) concluded “Fifty percent of the cats had one or more
complications immediately after surgery.... 19.8% developed complications after
release.” Another study (J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998 Aug 1;213(3):370-3) comparing
the complications of declawing with Tenectomy concluded “Owners should be
aware of the high complication rate for both procedures." Many cats also suffer a
loss of balance because they can no longer achieve a secure foothold on their
Vet Surg 1994 Jul-Aug;23(4):274-80
Feline Onychectomy at a Teaching Institution: A
Retrospective Study of 163 Cases.
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences,
Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine,
"One hundred sixty-three cats underwent onychectomy..... Fifty percent of the cats
had one or more complications immediately after surgery. Early postoperative
complications included pain..., hemorrhage...., lameness...., swelling...., or non-
weight-bearing..... Follow-up was available in 121 cats; 19.8% developed
complications after release.
Late postoperative complications included infection...., regrowth...., P2
protrusion...., palmagrade stance...., and prolonged, intermittent lameness....".
Psychological & Behavioral Complications
Some cats are so shocked by declawing that their personalities change. Cats who
were lively and friendly have become withdrawn and introverted after being
declawed. Others, deprived of their primary means of defense, become nervous,
fearful, and/or aggressive, often resorting to their only remaining means of defense,
their teeth. In some cases, when declawed cats use the litterbox after surgery, their
feet are so tender they associate their new pain with the box...permanently,
resulting in a life-long adversion to using the litter box. Other declawed cats that can
no longer mark with their claws, they mark with urine instead resulting in
inappropriate elimination problems, which in many cases, results in relinquishment
of the cats to shelters and ultimately euthanasia. Many of the cats surrendered to
shelters are surrendered because of behavioral problems which developed after
the cats were declawed.
Many declawed cats become so traumatized by this painful mutilation that they end
up spending their maladjusted lives perched on top of doors and refrigerators, out
of reach of real and imaginary predators against whom they no longer have any
A cat relies on its claws as its primary means of defense. Removing the claws
makes a cat feel defenseless. The constant state of stress caused by a feeling of
defenselessness may make some declawed cats more prone to disease. Stress
leads to a myriad of physical and psychological disorders including supression of
the immune system, cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)..
"The consequences of declawing are often pathetic. Changes in behavior can
occur. A declawed cat frequently resorts to biting when confronted with even minor
threats. Biting becomes an overcompensation for the insecurity of having no claws.
Bungled surgery can result in the regrowth of deformed claws or in an infection
leading to gangrene. Balance is affected by the inability to grasp with their claws.
Chronic physical ailments such as cystitis or skin disorders can be manifestations of
a declawed cat's frustration and stress" David E. Hammett, DVM
Moral, Ethical and Humane Considerations
The veterinary justification for declawing is that the owner may otherwise dispose of
the cat, perhaps cruelly. It is ethically inappropriate, in the long term, for
veterinarians to submit to this form of moral blackmail from their clients.
"The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights is opposed to cosmetic
surgeries and to those performed to correct 'vices.' Declawing generally is
unacceptable because the suffering and disfigurement it causes is not offset by any
benefits to the cat. Declawing is done strictly to provide convenience for people.
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR)
Some veterinarians have argued that some people would have their cats killed if
declawing was not an option. We should not, however, allow ourselves to taken
'emotional hostage' like this. If a person really would kill her or his cat in this case, it
is reasonable to question the suitability of that person as a feline guardian,
especially when there are millions of non-declawed cats living in harmony with
Most people are vehemently opposed to declawing due to a combination of
reasons: 1) because the end (owner convenience) doesn't justify the means
(causing unnecessary pain to the cat); 2) because other, less harmful alternatives
to declawing exist and 3) because claws are part of the nature or "catness" of cats.
Overall, the view is that it is ethically inappropriate to remove parts of an animal's
anatomy, thereby causing the animal pain, merely to fit the owner's lifestyle,
aesthetics, or convenience without any benefit to the cat. It should be emphasized
that "most people" includes virtually the entire adult population of Europe and many
other countries around the world.
Many countries are particularly concerned about animal welfare and have banned
declawing as abusive and causing
unnecessary pain and suffering with no benefit to the cat.. One highly regarded
veterinary textbook by Turner and Bateson on
the biology of cat behavior concludes a short section on scratching behavior with
the following statement: "The operative
removal of the claws, as is sometimes practiced to protect furniture and curtains, is
an act of abuse and should be forbidden by
law in all, not just a few countries."
The following is a partial list of countries in which declawing cats is either illegal or
considered extremely inhumane and only performed under extreme medical
England - Scotland - Wales - Northern Ireland - Germany - Austria - Switzerland -
Norway - Sweden - Netherlands - Denmark - Finland - Brazil - Australia - New
CFA (Cat Fanciers Association) perceives the declawing of cats (onychectomy )
and the severing of digital tendons (tendonectomy) to be elective surgical
procedures which are without benefit to the cat. Because of post operative
discomfort or pain, and potential
future behavioral or physical effects, CFA disapproves of declawing or
World Small Animal Veterinary Association
Section 10-Non-therapeutic Surgical Operations on Pet Animals
i) Surgical operations for the purpose of modifying the appearance of a pet animal
for non-therapeutic purposes should be actively discouraged.
ii) Where possible legislation should be enacted to prohibit the performance of non-
therapeutic surgical procedures for purely cosmetic purposes, in particular;
d. Declawing and defanging.
iii) Exceptions to these prohibitions should be permitted only if a veterinarian
considers that the particular surgical procedure is
necessary for veterinary medical reasons."
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) position on declawing
"A major concern that the AVAR has about declawing is the attitude that is evident
in this situation. The cat is treated as if he or she is an inanimate object who can be
modified, even to the point of surgical mutilation, to suit a person's perception of
what a cat should be. It would seem more ethical and humane to accept that claws
and scratching are inherent feline attributes, and to adjust one's life accordingly if a
cat is desired as a companion. If this is unacceptable, then perhaps a different
companion would be in order."
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor of Behavioral Pharmacology and Director of the
Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and internationally
known specialist in domestic animal behavioral research, explains declawing:
"The inhumanity of the procedure is clearly demonstrated by the nature of cats'
recovery from anesthesia following the surgery. Unlike routine recoveries, including
recovery from neutering surgeries, which are fairly peaceful, declawing surgery
results in cats bouncing off the walls of the recovery cage because of excruciating
pain. Cats that are more stoic huddle in the corner of the recovery cage,
immobilized in a state of helplessness, presumably by overwhelming pain.
Declawing fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform,
disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation
is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war, and in
veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as model of severe pain for
testing the efficacy of analgesic drugs. Even though analgesic drugs can be used
postoperatively, they rarely are, and their effects are incomplete and transient
anyway, so sooner or later the pain will emerge." (Excerpted from The Cat Who
Cried For Help, Dodman N, Bantam Books, New York).
Declawing robs a cat of an integral means of movement and defense. Because they
cannot defend themselves adequately against attacks by other animals, declawed
cats who are allowed outdoors may be at increased risk of injury or death.
Scratching is a natural instinct for cats and declawing causes a significant degree of
privation with respect to satisfying the instinctive impulses to climb, chase, exercise,
and to mark territory by scratching. Cats simply enjoy scratching. The sensible and
humane solution to undesirable scratching is to modify the cat's conduct by making
changes in the environment and direct the cat’s natural scratching behavior to an
appropriate area (e.g., scratching post) rather than surgically altering the cat,
thereby causing the animal pain, merely to fit the owner's lifestyle, aesthetics, or
The fact that many cats recover from the hideous experience of declawing without
untoward effects, and even though they may not hold grudges, that doesn't seem
sufficient justification for putting a family member through such a repugnant
experience. In short, a declawed cat is a maimed, mutilated cat, and no excuse can
justify the operation. Your cat should trust you, and depend upon you for protection.
Don't betray that trust by declawing your cat.
Please read the CFA Guidance Statement.
|Please read what your veterinarian does not want you to know!