It's a topic fraught with controversy; there has been considerable debate about whether people should declaw their cats. Many European countries, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil have actually made declawing illegal. The United Kingdom prohibits declawing for "non-curative purposes."
Some American cities also have made moves toward banning the act. In April 2003, the city of West Hollywood, Calif., passed an ordinance banning the onychectomy of domestic cats, which is currently in effect after being upheld by an appellate court. The Cat Fanciers' Association and the Canadian Cat Association forbid declawed or tenectomized cats to be shown.
According to the current American Veterinary Medical Association policy on the declawing of domestic cats, the procedure of feline onychectomy, or cat declawing, only should be done in extreme cases in which behavior medication has failed or the cat has presented a dangerous health risk to humans because of its nails. Scratching is believed to be a normal feline behavior as a means to mark their territory, both visually and with scent, and is used for claw "husk" removal and stretching activity.
"Scientific data do indicate that cats that have destructive scratching behavior are more likely to be euthanatized, or more readily relinquished, released, or abandoned, thereby contributing to the homeless cat population. Where scratching behavior is an issue as to whether or not a particular cat can remain as an acceptable household pet in a particular home, surgical onychectomy may be considered," an AVMA policy statement suggests. "It is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with complete education with regard to feline onychectomy."
Opponents of the procedure say that declawing is behaviorally and physically bad for cats and increases the possibility of biting and urinating outside the litter box. They claim that cats that "misbehave" are more apt to be given up for adoption. Proponents of banning onychectomies also cite the increased risk of infections, the possibility of disabled gaits and undue pain as the most severe concerns, and surgical complications include hemorrhage, claw regrowth, the reopening of the surgical incision, radial nerve paralysis and reduced immune functions. Both sides agree that declawed cats need to remain indoor cats.
Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes of Fort Worth, Texas, says, "There is no sound scientific evidence that declawing cats negatively affects the cat's behavior." Backing that theory are shelter veterinarians from across the country who say that fewer declawed cats come into the shelters than those with claws.
Board-certified surgeon Dr. Terry Dew from Azzore Veterinary Specialists, in Arizona, says, "Though this surgery does alter the pet's normal gait and weight bearing, there is no evidence that it is detrimental to the cat in any way, especially with new modern surgical methods."
More recent techniques, including the use of a surgical laser during an onychectomy and preoperative analgesic administration and local anesthetics, seem to result in less postoperative pain. Surprisingly, the time it takes for patients to walk normally after surgeries done by laser and the time it takes after surgeries done by scalpel blade dissection are nearly equal, about nine days. Pain medication should be used before, during and after surgery to help minimize the pet's discomfort; transdermal fentanyl patches, which generally are well-tolerated by cats, placed on the paws several hours before recovery also serve to reduce much of the postoperative discomfort. The AVMA cautions that the use of pain medication after declawing is not elective, but a necessity.
Some suggested alternatives to declawing are providing acceptable scratching surfaces and positive reinforcement training; frequent claw trimming; plastic nail caps, which need to be replaced every four to six weeks; and deep digital flexor tenectomy, which ultimately removes the cat's ability to stretch its claws out, and the claws must be trimmed regularly to avoid other complications. If declawing is ultimately necessary, it is best performed on a cat that is younger than 1, as it is less traumatic and has less possibility of surgical complications.
A message point from the Veterinary News Network sums the issue of declawing up with this: "The bottom line is that this decision, like any medical decision you make with your pet, should stay between you and your veterinarian. Government interference and regulations will only serve to confuse the issue and potentially cause a lessening of quality care for our pets."