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Ask the Doctor April 2019 Issue

Dear Doctor: Ruining the furniture

Please see editor’s note at the end of this Q&A.

Q. My cat is driving me crazy with the scratching. She has ruined not just upholstered furniture but also the wooden legs on my piano. Would it really be inhumane to have her declawed? She’s a house cat and doesn’t need her nails to defend herself outside.

Penelope Ebbing

Kansas City, Kansas

Dear Ms. Ebbing,

A. This is a vexing one, with no cut-and-dried answer, although in general the veterinary community strongly advocates considering all other options before making the decision to declaw. It’s not surprising. The American Veterinary Medical Association points out in a position paper that declawing via an operation, known as onychectomy, “is an amputation and should be regarded as major surgery that has rare but very real risks of anesthetic complications, blood hemorrhaging, infection, and pain.” The association also points out that scratching is a normal feline behavior, a means for cats to mark their territory both visually and with scent, and is used for claw conditioning (“husk” removal) and stretching activity.

In other words, scratching is a built-in feline behavior. To that end, before discussing declawing with a veterinarian, owners should provide cats with ample acceptable surfaces for scratching — scratching posts, cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects. Implements should be tall or long enough to allow full stretching, and firmly anchored to provide necessary resistance to scratching. Cats should also be positively reinforced in the use of these implements. They need to get good feedback from their owners for doing the right thing.

Trimming a cat’s claws every couple of weeks will also help prevent damage to household items not meant for scratch marks.

All of these steps, while they need to be tried, should be weighed against the fact that cats with destructive scratching behavior are more likely to be euthanatized, or more readily relinquished, released, or abandoned, thereby contributing to the homeless cat population.

The bottom line: if you have truly tried everything (including wrapping your piano legs) and are at your wit’s end, talk to your veterinarian about surgical declawing.

Note: For cat owners who are elderly, have diabetes, or a disease that compromises their immune system and truly cannot afford to be scratched and risk infection, declawing may be a medical necessity.

Editor’s note July 2019:

After receiving feedback from some concerned readers, we want to clarify that Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University does not teach declawing procedures to its students and does not perform the procedure in its hospitals. The article was intended to educate our readership about declawing and, because declawing still remains legal in most of the country, mentioned the circumstances under which some owners might consider the procedure after consulting their veterinarian. The article was not intended as an endorsement of declawing. We apologize for the lack of clarity, and we thank those readers who voiced their concerns.


Comments (12)

deedee says that it is a myth that cats don't develop pain because her extensive study of three whole cats that lived in her house didn't do it.. Since I can't post links to prove it, you only need to look for the studies by searching for cat arthritis declaw and the articles are right there.

Tuna Belly Cat says "A reason a person won't adopt a cat is because of furniture scratching. I currently think it is better to have a cat declawed to increase their adoptability than have it waste away in a shelter or euthanized because this cat could not get a forever-home. Neutering a cat is major surgery and there is no uproar about it. There are dog breeds which have their tails and ears surgically altered, right? Humans have fingers, toes and limbs amputated, So why not increase the chance of a cat being adopted with declawing."

And I have to wonder if Tuna Belly Cat isn't a vet who declaws or a pet owner who has declawed cat, as these are all the standard justifications for amputation for vanity sake.. let me take thes one by one.
People who won't adopt a cat because it *might* scratch the couch shouldn't have a cat, period. There are many methods of redirecting scratching behavior to appropriate to human places. So, if the human isn't willing to make some simple accommodations to make their cat happy, well they shouldn't have a cat because chances are there are other behaviors of an animal living in their home they aren't going to like.
Cats do not waste away in shelters simply because people can't declaw them. this has been proven. Intakes of cats are down.. communities that have banned declawing do not have reduced adoption rates.

Yes, there are way too many cats in shelters and way way too many being killed because there are too many of them, but that is because of uncontrolled breeding, not because Susan can't declaw her cat.

Neutering a cat is major surgery and there is no uproar about it. - that is because it is done to benefit the animal. They have reduced risks of several cancers and eliminated risks of others. Yes, there are some studies in dogs that others are increased, but that small increase does not outweigh the reduction in others. Even if there wasn't the increased health benefits of neutering a cat or dog, there are multiple reductions in unwanted behaviors that make cats and dogs (and rabbits and any other pet animal) better pets. The reduced/eliminated hormones drive behavior and many of those behaviors can cause life threatening situations - like running across a street to get a rival or a mate.

Tail docking? seriously? do you not spend any time on the internet. there is just as many people who are passionate about making cosmetic surgery on dogs a thing of the past.

Humans have fingers, toes and limbs amputated.. Wow, you are really reaching for this whataboutism.. you find me a single doctor who has a medical license that will voluntarily remove your finger, toe, or limb for non-medical reasons and I might consider you have a valid argument here.. seriously..

Dogs do a lot of damage with their claws, often more than cats.. but yet declawing a dog is not even considered, why?

Declawed cats are not more adoptable. period. Ask any shelter or rescue.

Posted by: Connie | July 2, 2019 8:29 AM    Report this comment

As a TUSVM alum, I am sorely disappointed to see support for the barbaric practice of declawing appear in association with my alma mater, particularly because, in so many other instances, Tufts has been a leader in the area of animal welfare.

Posted by: Minglewood | July 1, 2019 5:50 PM    Report this comment

Even the CDC does NOT recommend declawing for people with compromised immune systems. If an owner contacted you to complain that their dog was chewing everything, would you recommend they pull all it's teeth? No, because 1) chewing is a perfectly normal, natural behavior and 2) there is no medical basis for the procedure as it's solely to benefit the owner's property. You're elevated the rights of the couch about the rights of the cat and that is shameful indeed.

Posted by: SjSivula | July 1, 2019 4:37 PM    Report this comment

I registered just to tell you you're wrong. Most cats are given up to shelters NOT due to scratching but due to the negative side effects of being declawed such as: biting, eliminating outside the box and other aggressive tendencies. Being declawed HURTS. It causes early arthritis and causes cats to become perpetually afraid cuz their first line of defense has been taken from them. Cats scratch at the furniture because it's be where their people spend a lot of their time so provide them with acceptable scratching areas and posts near to or next to the furniture.

Someone who has 10 cats and doesn't get bit by them and has everyone use the litter box cuz they ALL have their CLAWS!!!!

Posted by: Fritz | July 1, 2019 3:13 PM    Report this comment

It always amazes me to hear American veterinarians say that declawing is still an option and needed at least in situations of people with cetain medical issues. There is no goid reason to declaw a cat unless there is injury to a cat's toe that requires amputation to heal it.

The CDC DOES NOT suggest declawing cats for elderly or immune compromised people.

30+ European counties have made it illegal to declaw cats and in some they have prison time. I'm sure Europeans face the same issues we do in the US and yet the decided to be humane to cats.

Most Canadia provenances have also made it illeval to declaw.

When you take that option off the table, it's amazing that cats still stay in homes despite scratching and people with have lost my respect, Tufts.

Posted by: KeikoLee | July 1, 2019 2:37 PM    Report this comment

I believe Penelope Ebbing is a false name, and so is the question. Are you really that desperate to keep on keeping on cashing in on cat's claws? There is NO Penelope Ebbing in Kansas. Shame on you. Lobotomies used to be legal too.

Posted by: StopDeclawingHealthyCats | July 1, 2019 2:30 PM    Report this comment

As a special needs animal sanctuary, I can tell you we have received far more cats with litterbox and aggression issues related to declawing than cats relinquished for clawing furniture. The idea that declawing a cat keeps it in the home has been statistically disproven. As to the comment that dogs have ear cropping and tail docking makes declawing ok is ridiculous. medically unnecessary amputations/mutilations are cruel regardless of species, be it canine, feline, equine etc.

Posted by: HHFS | July 1, 2019 2:23 PM    Report this comment

Yes, there are cut and dry answers: The only acceptable reason to declaw a cat is if it's medically beneficial for the cat such as : Tumors on the paws, deformed claws, allergies. Cats absolutely need their claws for their physical and emotional well being: For stress relief, scent marking, walking, running, jumping, balancing, grooming, kneading self-defense. There are two comments on here and I would invite the people who wrote them to educate themselves and learn the ugly truth about declawing at the and Please join the 21st century. No more excuses .

Posted by: Suziekat68 | July 1, 2019 2:05 PM    Report this comment

We've adopted three cats whose previous owners declawed them. All three are front paw declawed. One cat has exhibited pain in his left paw all his life and will nip if the paw is touched too much. One cat ended up walking on her carpals She couldn't put weight on her front paws. She had litter box issues due to joint pain related to her declaw and it didn't matter what kind of litter we tried. The third cat goes on the offensive with the other cats because she has nothing to defend herself with. I have no doubt that the second cat's previous owner would have had her put down because of the litter box issues. Declawed cats get relinquished to shelters all the time -- usually due to issues related to the declaw. This response is misguided and misleading. I'm disappointed in Catnip and Tufts.

Posted by: aauth | July 1, 2019 1:56 PM    Report this comment

Unfortunately, in the US, declawing (or, let's call it by it's real name, toe amputations) is often the first option, and not the last. Or there wouldn't be 5000 cats that have their last toe digits chopped or burnt off on a daily basis. Studies have shown that declawing does not keep cats in homes,nor does it save their lives. Onychectomy was invented in the 1950's by a country vet, and no studies were ever done how it affects cats, until about 40-50 years later. If your furniture is more important to you than the well being of a cat, please don't get one. This archaic and unethical procedure has, as of today, been banned in 7 Canadian provinces. It's also banned and punishable by law in over 41 other countries. How does the world cope with cats and their claws? Ever wonder why the US is pretty much the only nation that cripples cats for convenience's sake?

Posted by: Suziekat68 | July 1, 2019 1:03 PM    Report this comment

A reason a person won't adopt a cat is because of furniture scratching. I currently think it is better to have a cat declawed to increase their adoptability than have it waste away in a shelter or euthanized because this cat could not get a forever-home. Neutering a cat is major surgery and there is no uproar about it. There are dog breeds which have their tails and ears surgically altered, right? Humans have fingers, toes and limbs amputated, So why not increase the chance of a cat being adopted with declawing.

Posted by: Tuna Belly Cat | May 19, 2019 5:34 PM    Report this comment

I have had three cats over the last 27 years and all of them were declawed. The first two I had declawed as kittens when I got them and the third one I got from a shelter when she was three (she had already been declawed). I have read comments in the past where people say declawing is cruel and causes life-long problems for the cat. In my experience this is a myth. Sure they experience some pain to begin with (like any operation) but they lived very healthy and happy lives despite the procedure. I have also read comments where people say declawing cats will disrupt their ability to scratch and stretch. This is not true. All of my cats, although they were missing their front claws still "scratched" their non-existent claws on anything available (my furniture, their cat carrier, my purse, etc.). They had no adverse effects from the declawing and since they were all indoor cats and had no contact with other strange cats they were in no danger from their lack of having claws. Since declawing is being phased out in most areas (unfortunately) the next cat I get will probably not undergo the procedure which I am not looking forward to since he or she will probably destroy my furniture.

Posted by: deedee | April 5, 2019 11:39 AM    Report this comment

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