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The Declaw Debate

"Declawing," as it's commonly called, is a phenomenon of the last quarter-century, often promoted as a viable option for ensuring that pet felines won't pull the stuffing out of both furniture and humans, but not everyone agrees with the practice; in the United Kingdom and more than 20 other countries across the globe, declawing is either illegal or acceptable only under extreme circumstances. The procedure has its share of detractors in the United States as well, and their sentiments are clearly beginning to take root in the national conscience. Recent policy changes by two national veterinary associations attest to that.

Community attitudes may well determine a shelter's stance on declawing; one shelter manager in Nebraska said his organization believes the issue of declawing is a private matter between the veterinarian and the client. Another in California said potential adopters who are adamant about declawing would get a red flag in their files. But many organizations these days seem to fall somewhere in the middle, straddling the line between trying to prevent as many declaw surgeries as possible on the one hand and trying to prevent as many relinquishments as possible on the other. While the Humane Society of the United States is opposed to declawing of cats and encourages pet owners to explore more humane alternatives, animal shelters are in a difficult position and must develop their own policies based on public and veterinary attitudes in their communities and the realities of their own situations.

Ultimately, as with anything, education is key to bridging these gaps, and the following statements can provide useful information:

  • American Animal Hospital Association: "Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when clawing presents a significant health risk for people within the household. As with any elective surgery, the client should be advised of all advantages, disadvantages, and available options. Declawing is not a medically necessary procedure in most cases. While rare in occurrence, there are inherent risks and complications with any surgical procedure including, but not limited to, anesthetic complications, side effects associated with analgesics, hemorrhage, and infection."
  • American Veterinary Medical Association: "Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents a zoonotic risk for its owner(s)."
  • Cat Fanciers' Association: "The Cat Fanciers' Association recognizes that scratching is a natural behavior of cats and that cats may be defenseless without full use of their claws if they either intentionally or unintentionally go outdoors. CFA perceives the declawing of cats (onychectomy) and the severing of digital tendons (tendonectomy) to be elective surgical procedures that are without benefit to the cat. Because of the discomfort associated with any surgery and potential future behavioral or physical effects, CFA disapproves of routine declawing in lieu of alternative solutions to prevent household damage."
  • The Humane Society of the United States: "The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing of cats when done solely for the convenience of the owner and without benefit to the animal. Further, we oppose any other unnecessary surgical procedure that is painful, distressful, or restrictive of the function of the body part involved when done for cosmetic purposes or to disguise natural imperfections of any animal."