A proposal to ban the declawing cats, except when medically necessary, is being introduced in the New York State Assembly. In this controversial procedure, the cat is anesthetized, and, often at the same time as it is neutered, the claw and its nail bed are cut off of each toe, usually just of the front paws, sometimes all four. There are several techniques for doing this. Historically, most practitioners would use a “guillotine” nail trimmer, briefly sterilized, or a scalpel blade, having soaked the paws in dilute betadine. The cut ends of the toes could then be sutures, glued together and plus or minus bandaging for a number of days. The use of painkillers is limited in cats by what they can medically tolerate, but oral painkillers are available (used off-label) to send home with the patient afterwards. Declawing can also be performed with a surgical laser, and this is supposed to be a pain free procedure, in which the nerve endings are “sealed” by the laser and do not transmit pain.
Where I grew up and went to school, in Britain, the declawing of cats is an unheard of procedure that isn’t (or wasn’t) even taught to students. When I came to New York, I was expected to do “Declaws” as a routine procedure added to a neuter like fries to a burger. I couldn’t help but be impressed that many of the cats seemed to be in a fair amount of pain afterwards, no matter how carefully the procedure was done, or whether the toes were glued or sutured, and despite the bandaging. Sometimes, a declawed cat would sit with one paw held up for many months afterwards. Xray of the toes would sometimes show a bone spur where the knuckles had been cut, that could be repaired surgically, but often not. From time to time, I would see cats that had declawed elsewhere, for which the only polite descriptive term would be “botched”. So it wasn’t long after acquiring Basic Pet Care that I determined not to do the procedure any more.
In the last 15 years, there hasn’t really been much demand for it. We explain how to train cats to use scratching posts & pads, how to keep the claws short, or how to use “soft paws” glue – on caps. When the cat has to be declawed, I refer to a colleague who uses a surgical laser. It does not appear to me that cats, when properly declawed, “miss” their claws or suffer from their absense, so long as they are kept indoors.
The argument for Declawing is that many people, reluctant to have their expensive furniture scratched ragged, would otherwise abandon their cats to the outdoors. There are also rare instances where a medical condition of the owners makes them fearful of being scratched. The American Veterinary Medical Association’s latest position is that Declawing is an amputation that “should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).
The vast majority of declaw procedures go without complications and the results are perfectly fine. There is also improved availability of painkillers for cats compared to 20 years ago, and the pain protocol must be scrupulously adhered to. Nonetheless, I support a ban on the declawing of cats, with exceptions, provided that these exceptions are performed using a “pain-free” technique with surgical laser. The exceptions should include indoor cats that are irremediably destructive of furniture, to encourage people to keep their cats indoors. Indoors is by the safest place for cats, with no cat fights, car accidents or infectious disease to worry about. It is also extremely important because cats are a major predator of our disappearing song-birds. The “furniture destruction” exemption should help prevent the proposed cat declaw ban from becoming a battlefield between “cat people” and “bird people”, between whom, relations are already frosty enough.