Declawing Linked to Chronic Pain and Aggression in Cats

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Declawing cats often leads to long-term pain and unwanted behaviors.

Cats scratch things. It’s part of being a cat – if people don’t want a cat that acts like a cat, they shouldn’t get a cat. Unfortunately for many a feline, however, humans get cats and then have their claws removed so that they can’t scratch things. And then the humans don’t understand why their cat is grumpy and bites them and doesn’t use the litter box.

As of June, 2019, New York lawmakers have approved a ban on declawing, which if signed by the governor, will make NY the first state in the country to ban the practice. "The bill, which passed by a wide margin Tuesday in the state’s majority-Democrat Assembly and Senate, would impose a $1,000 fine on veterinarians who perform the procedure for nonmedical purposes," reports The Washington Post.

A study from 2017 sheds a bit of light on the situation. The research, published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, found that the poor cats who are subjected to declawing surgery (onychectomy) are at significantly increased risk of long-term or persistent pain; which can lead to a number of unwanted behaviors.

The team studied a group of 274 acts, half of which had undergone declawing. They found that “inappropriate toileting,” biting, aggression and overgrooming occurred significantly more often – from three to seven times more – in the declawed cats. The declawed cats were also three times more likely to be diagnosed with back pain than non-declawed cats.

Many people think that declawing a cat is just like some kind of extreme nail clipping, but in fact, as writer Jeff Guo describes it, “you amputate each toe at the first knuckle, taking off bone along with tendons and the claw.” No wonder it hurts. No wonder cats are miffed about it.

Declawing is illegal in most European countries and in Britain, where it is considered cruel, explains Guo. “In Israel, declawing a cat could land you a yearlong prison sentence and a fine of around $20,000,” he writes. In much of the world it is considered mutilation. But in the United States, land of the perfect couch and carpet, the procedure is relatively common. Guo notes that around 25 percent of people’s cats in America are declawed. “According to a 2011 AP poll, 55 percent of cat owners approve of the surgery,” he writes, “though declawing opponents say most people don’t fully understand what it entails.”

The likely culprit in the long-term pain part is that when you cut off the toe tips, the limbs are shortened which can lead to an altered gait – as well as chronic pain at the surgery site which can cause a weight shift to the pelvic limbs.

This is obviously bad for the cat, and even worse when the pain leads to behavior problems, which land the cat in a shelter. For the people in the cat’s life, cat bites can be serious.

Lead author of the paper Nicole Martell-Moran, says, "The result of this research reinforces my opinion that declawed cats with unwanted behaviors may not be 'bad cats,’ they may simply need pain management. We now have scientific evidence that declawing is more detrimental to our feline patients than we originally thought and I hope this study becomes one of many that will lead veterinarians to reconsider declawing cats.”

If you need further convincing, you can read the whole study here. And in the meantime, let the cats be cats ... and let the sofa be shredded.