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Is declawing cat an amputation? Vet weighs in

Q: The veterinarian I just saw refuses to declaw my cats. She says it’s considered unethical, but I’ve had cats forever and never got this memo. I think it’s unconscionable to leave cats outdoors, and that’s what would happen if I didn’t declaw my cats. (My hands and my furniture require it!) Is this a real rule among veterinarians or is my vet being dramatic?

A: Here’s the memo: The procedure we commonly refer to as a “declaw” is one that an increasing number of veterinarians refuse to perform. Many of us consider it unethical and immoral to amputate the first knuckle of a cat’s digits just because it makes our lives easier and keeps our furniture healthy.

I mean, if destruction and injury were the concern, why would we stop at the claws? Why not take out all their teeth, too?

Clearly, neither de-teething or declawing cats offers a realistic solution to the problem of cats being cats. From time to time they will still behave in ways that are inconvenient to us. But that doesn’t mean we have to suffer unduly.

We can all learn to manage our cats’ unwanted behaviors by understanding how and why they use their claws, teeth and other potentially problematic parts. In the case of claws, here are some key points to keep in mind:

1: Cats who have their claws removed are still capable of inflicting damage to humans and their property. Further, veterinary behaviorists recognize that declawed cats may use their teeth more often during aggressive encounters (with cats and humans). And teeth typically inflict more damage than claws do.

2: Furniture-sparing alternatives exist: Offering scratching posts during early kittenhood (scratching behavior is necessary for more than just sharpening) or applying Soft Paws, plastic covers for claws, are better options than amputation.

3: Kittens can be trained to control their claws during human interactions. Offering toys in lieu of your hands, introducing playmates (they’ll play rough with one another, not your hands), and employing water-spraying techniques (to thwart unwanted rough play behavior) are all recommended.

Ultimately, declawing is deemed a “cosmetic” procedure because it’s done purely for the benefit of the owner and has no therapeutic value to the animal. Moreover, it’s considered painful, especially for adults. As such, you’ll find fewer and fewer veterinarians willing to perform it. No rules or drama needed. It’s about what’s fair to the animals we love.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.net.

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