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Cat declawing: Vets agree to call the surgery an "amputation" -- but not to ban it

aubrey.lavizzo.jpg
Vet Aubrey Lavizzo is leading the fight in Colorado to ban cat declawing.
At its national convention in Denver this week, officials of the American Veterinary Medical Association have taken the unusual step of "clarifying" the organization's policy on cat declawing to stress that it's a major surgery -- making prominent use of the word "amputation" in describing the procedure for the first time. It's a step toward candor concerning the operation, but one that probably won't placate the AVMA's critics on the issue, including many vets who consider declawing to be cruel and unnecessary.

See also: The debate over cat declawing sharpens

"The main intent [of the revised policy] is to elevate the seriousness of the procedure in the minds of veterinarians and, hopefully, the public," says Dr. Ted Cohn, a longtime local vet who will assume the office of AVMA president tomorrow. "It's imperative that pet owners know that this is not a simple procedure."

ted.cohn.png
AVMA president-elect Ted Cohn.
Declawing, or onychectomy, involves removal of the final segment of toe bone as well as the attached claw. Up until the last decade or so, it was a relatively common procedure in American veterinary practices, often offered as a package deal with spaying or neutering to insure that Fluffy didn't claw up furniture. But as detailed in my 2013 feature on cat-declawing called "The Cruelest Cut", numerous other countries have banned the procedure as barbaric -- and successful efforts to outlaw declawing in several California communities in recent years have led to a statewide campaign in Colorado by concerned vets and animal welfare activists, spearheaded by the Paw Project.

Defenders of the procedure describe it as an effective solution to a behavior problem that might otherwise lead to the animal being abandoned or surrendered to a shelter. But critics of declawing say it's the vet industry's dirty, bloody, money-making secret, an excruciating and unnecessary procedure that's fraught with complications and mutilates cats. In many cases, they say, declawing leads to even more problematic behavior -- including biting and a refusal to use the litter box -- that dooms cats to shelters and euthanization.

The AVMA policy emphasizes that declawing should be considered only as a last resort and that vets need to educate pet owners about other ways to deter cats from destructive clawing, such as scratching posts and nail caps. But opponents say the organization has done a terrible job of educating citizens or researching behavior problems associated with the surgery; they also object to the AVMA's continuing assertion that cats with claws "may present an increased risk of injury or disease" to pet owners with compromised immune systems, such as people living with HIV.

"It's a change in language, but they move one step forward and two steps back," says Aubrey Lavizzo, Colorado director of the Paw Project. While HIV patients are at a higher risk of infection from their pets for several reasons, he notes, the available research doesn't support the idea that being scratched by a cat is much of a risk: "If you go through the guidelines for the immunocompromised prepared by the Centers for Disease Control, you can't find any place where it says they should declaw their cats. It's really quite dishonest to use that as a justification."

In nearly forty years as a practicing vet, many of them at the University Hills Animal Hospital, Cohn acknowledges that he's performed numerous declawings. But the number has gone down drastically in recent years, he adds, as pet owners understand more about the surgery and other options.

"Declawing is not my favorite thing to do, but it's still necessary in some cases," Cohn says. "Yes, it is an amputation, but with proper anesthesia and post-surgical care, cats do very well. If we stopped doing them entirely, there would be many more cats running feral or in the shelters."

"In most cases, it's not medically necessary at all," Lavizzo responds. "It's just cruel."

Have a tip? Send it to alan.prendergast@westword.com.


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50 comments
DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

A high percentage of declawed cats have physical pain and lowered immune systems, along with this, 100% of declawed cats have heart pain, living second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, knowing deep in their kitty hearts THEY WILL NEVER HAVE THEIR CLAWS BACK. Their claws, the very thing that makes them CAT. You did a wonderful job, anonymous vet(s), who sliced out the claws of my two cats. You broke their hearts, you filled their empty hearts with pain. You do not have to face them daily and see the sadness in their eyes, the question that asks "WHY?"

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

Dear Mr. Vet,

I am writing this letter to let you know I will no longer bring my six pets to your practice. I have found a humane practice that does not declaw.

The reason is because you honor the practice of declawing, which is a brutal and cruel surgery. Vets take an oath to protect animals, I believe you do not follow your oath.

Declawing is a series of bone amputations. Declawing is more accurately described by the term de-knuckling and is not merely the removal of the claws, as the term "declawing" implies. In humans, fingernails grow from the skin, but in animals that hunt prey, the claws grow from the bone; therefore, the last bone is amputated so the claw cannot re-grow. The last bone of each of the ten front toes of a cat's paw is amputated. Also, the tendons, nerves, and ligaments that enable normal function and movement of the paw are severed. An analogous procedure applied to humans would be cutting off each finger at the last joint.

Declawing, also known as onychectomy (än-ik-ek-tō-mē), is a major surgical and potentially crippling procedure that robs an animal of its primary means of defense. Declawed animals may be at increased risk of injury or death, if attacked by other animals. They are deprived of their normal, instinctual behavioral impulses to use their claws to climb, exercise, and mark territory with the scent glands in their paws.

Declaw surgery exposes cats to the risks of general anesthesia and complications of the surgical procedure, which include bleeding, infection, lameness, nerve damage, gangrene, extensive tissue damage, and death. Declawing is one of the most painful, routinely performed procedures in all of veterinary medicine. Each toe of the cat is amputated at the first joint. Declawing a cat is equivalent in a person to amputating the entire first knuckle of every finger. Declaw surgery is so predictably painful that it is used by pharmaceutical companies to test the effectiveness of pain medications in clinical trials. Initial recovery after declaw amputation surgery takes a few weeks, but even after the surgical wounds have healed, there are often other long-term physical complications and negative psychological effects.

Declawed cats seem to lose their homes BECAUSE they were declawed! There is evidence that declawed cats are disproportionately abandoned to shelters, and that declawed cats may be euthanized more often because of the behavioral and physical problems that the cat begins to exhibit because the cat was declawed. Pet owners typically cite protection of their furnishings as being foremost among their reasons for having a cat declawed; however, such owners may not realize that the pain and other complications from the surgery can cause behavioral problems that are even worse than the problems for which the cat's toes were originally amputated. Yes, declawing a cat can be the reason that cat loses its home. Cats may be abandoned by their owners after being declawed because the cats develop behavioral changes or other problems after the declaw surgery. These behaviors include biting and urinating or defecating in unwanted areas outside of the litter box. Declawed cats with these behaviors are more likely to go to the pound, where an estimated 70% will be euthanized (killed). The pain of declawing sometimes causes cats to be reluctant to walk or play, and as a result, owners sometimes neglect them or mistreat them.

I do not want hands that declaw touching my pets.

Sincerely,

Name

Text taken from pawproject.org

Andrew M Montaño
Andrew M Montaño

Declawing should be banned. There are ways of working with your pets to make sure they don't destroy your belongings - it just takes some effort.

Laura Lampley
Laura Lampley

Its banned in other countries already. It should be banned here as well.

Tarah Ray
Tarah Ray

I've always have had declawed cats - and they all have had a forever home and I have incredible bonds with my cats and dogs a like. If the animal is fed, loved and apart of the family - it's none of my business of they are declawed or not. It's like different types of training, there is not always one right way for every animal or owner. I want animals to be in homes, not ranting about ethics that can be okay for one person and not for another. PETA attitudes are the attitudes of 'animal right' TYRANTS.

Brittany B Michelle
Brittany B Michelle

Id rather trim claws like I do my prince cat. We trim our nails and I just add his claws to the list (with his special claw trimmers of course) its easy and just a part of grooming :-)

Becca Mertens
Becca Mertens

Kyle Gregory would you feel loved if someone cut off your fingers? Declawing cats is equivalent to cutting off the tips of your fingers- thats torture, not love. If you love them then you train them to scratch in an appropriate place!!!

Sara Olson
Sara Olson

It is the worst thing you could do to a cat if you do not accept nature naturally DO NOT GET A CAT!!! Point blank if you are willing to remove vital tools that a cat needs to live for a piece of furniture or your own vein ideals DO NOT GET A CAT!!! My cat has split my eyelid ruined countless things around the house but it is not up to me to take away his claws I would never be so cruel if you disagree with me maybe you SHOULD NOT GET A CAT. It really needs to be outlawed.

Brian Tate
Brian Tate

Sierra Leone is crumbling under an Ebola outbreak. These poor clawless cats.

Becca Mertens
Becca Mertens

It should be banned! Cats need their claws for emotional, safety, and cleanlines reasons!! Its not that hard to train them not to scratch on furniture!!

Faustine Bernadac
Faustine Bernadac

Definitely yes. It's pure torture. Claws clippers do exist and are very easy to use! In Europe, this practice is not allowed, for good reasons. So fucked up.

Bob Donahue
Bob Donahue

My cat is a polydactyl, we had to get her de-clawed because she had medical issues. She says to shut your face and be happy the cat got adopted. Seriously, play the Sarah Mclachlan music from the TV commercial.

Sarah Levy
Sarah Levy

As a kid we always had declawed cats, they never had behavior problems. There are other options now days that are less painful and more harmless for cats

Michelle Vine Marquez
Michelle Vine Marquez

I worked for a vet twenty years ago. Back then the doc would take just regular dog clippers, place it over the first knuckle, clamp down and rip, then toss it over his shoulder. The toe nail and knuckle clean up was my job. Finding them all could be a challenge. CRUEL, CRUEL, CRUEL

Tiffany Bussard
Tiffany Bussard

Declawing cuts off their first knuckle. It's inhumane and gives them behavioral and orthopedic problems later in life. Trimming or claw caps are humane alternatives.

Steve At Work
Steve At Work

I love my cat. She's got her claws and she ain't no pussy.

Amelia Ebert
Amelia Ebert

Many cats are dumped at shelters after being declawed. Its common for them to stop using the litter box and become more aggressive. If they get out side they are vulnerable to other animals.

Meghan Kellie
Meghan Kellie

Absolutely!! Watch The Paw Project - declawing has been banned in major cities in CA.

Charles Warner
Charles Warner

Bullshit. They have a happy loving home, good food, lots of play toys but the front switchblades have to go... It's a fair deal.

Kathryn Rua
Kathryn Rua

My roomies adopted a kitty with no front claws. Cruel!! He's still a playful lovable turd and we love him. But making sure he doesn't get outside is a tedious task. Anyone who declawed a cat has no regard for the animals.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

"Declawing is not my favorite thing to do....." Please, give it up, you sound ridiculous.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

The doctor holding the kitty, Dr. Lavizzo is a GOOD doctor. Please disregard my previous comment. He will not rip the claws out of the kitty he is holding. I will not say anything about the other mentioned, EXCEPT you declawed the wrong cat. AND BY THE WAY, if you per chance go to any shelter in the United States, other mentioned, you WILL SEE FOR YOURSELF there are more declawed cats there with problems than feral cats! You better not declaw one more cat. If you do, you better perform the "AMPUTATION" on yourself first. Again, because of you, I hold all declaw doctors accountable, and so does my Cassandra Cat. You ruined her for life. She will CUT THROUGH THE RED TAPE using the SAME surgical instrument that DEBONED her. I suggest to all vets who do not debone to hang a huge sign on their practice they don't declaw. Just watch the business decline from all evil money hungry vets in your area.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

By the way, who is the vet holding that sweet innocent kitty. I hope he doesn't rip her claws out. RUN KITTY RUN and if he does want to rip her claws out, he better cut all ten of his fingers off at the first knuckle, then he can proceed to slice off that sweet kitty's claws.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

NICE TRY AVMA....BUT, NO CIGAR....I THINK YOU NEED TO GO BACK AND HAVE ANOTHER MEETING. THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR YOU TO ANNOUNCE DECLAWING WILL BE ILLEGAL IN THE US, THAT WAY YOU WILL BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL FOR CANADA. THE WORLD IS APPALLED OF WHAT IS GOING ON HERE. All declaw vets should be fined $20,000 and put in prison for a year, that's the way it is in 40 other countries!!!! People are not "BUYING" your "clarification". There have been WAY to many cats harmed by declawing, including my two. Check out my videos on YouTube and see what you did to MY cat...HOW MY DECLAWED CASSY CAT REACTS TO PETTING and DECLAWED CASSANDRA CAT DOES NOT LIKE HUMAN HANDS. WE ARE NOW IN "THE CASH FOR CLAWS" WAR.

amanda.w
amanda.w

"If we stopped doing them entirely, there would be many more cats running feral or in the shelters." .... that's an interesting thing to say, since every shelter/rescue employee or volunteer I know would vehemently refuse to adopt a cat or kitten to someone who will declaw. Why? Because those same individuals are constantly faced with abandoned declawed cats in their shelters/on the streets. Declawing CAUSES problems, it does not fix them. Shelter staff sees firsthand what happens to declawed cats who develop issues, like litter box aversion - dumped in shelters where they either lash out due to insecurities or can't be adopted due to litter box problems. They deteriorate rapidly in the shelter setting and are often euthanized...the one's who are dumped outside can't fend for themselves and either starve to death or are killed by other animals.


People don't realize that with the right type of scratching post, cats will leave the human furniture alone. They simply want to stretch and tone their muscles...it's a natural behavior and they shouldn't be punished for it. They should be redirected to the proper area to scratch, so everyone can live happily with no amputations. Veterinarians continuing to offer declawing only enable their clients to choose the easy way out. Do no harm, remember?

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

.


When will the AMA refer to the barbaric ritual genital mutilation of millions of newborn babies as Foreskin Amputation?


.

RobertChase
RobertChase topcommenter

Shame on the AMVA!  This procedure is a cruel deprival of a cat's chief means of defense and escape from predators (by means of climbing).  In Colorado, depredation on domestic cats by wild canids is such as to make life outside even more dangerous than usual; it is wrong to even further diminish a pet's chance for survival until it can be recovered or adopted.  Owners must accommodate themselves to the needs of their pets at least insofar as not neglecting or abusing them, and declawing is a form of the latter.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

That's right Laura! All declaw vets should be fined $20,000 and put in prison for a year, that is the penalty for declawing in other countries.

UseYourBrain
UseYourBrain

This has NOTHING to do with PETA. This is with the AVMA and AAFP, two reputable, medical organizations that are supposed to put the well-being of the animal first. Let me tell you from working in a cat vet for a decade. De-clawing is in-humane, and not necessary. It is an amputation (mutilation) of the first knuckle, and only is for the convenience of the owner. Often cats get aggressive, turn to biting since you took away there self defense, inappropriately urinate because of the pain to walk in a  litter-box. Those are the main reasons Thousands of decalwed cats end up in shelters, because of the negative behaviors it causes. Also, cats are prey animals, that means that they hide there pain. We only do a "declaw fix' surgery, where we release some tendons in the foot to help with the pain from the amputation. If you value your couch, more than a living creature, that naturally uses its claws to stretch and mark, then you DO NOT deserve to own a cat. It is called re-search, training a cat to use a proper scratching post (since scratching is a natural cat behavior), is VERY easy, there are also soft paws cat claw covers and a wide array of alternatives that many people are to lazy or ignorant to try first.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

Training and declawing are two different things. Declawing has nothing to do with training. Declawing is amputation. If you want animals in loving homes, then stop supporting declawing, it is a known fact there are more declawed cats in shelters than feral cats. Many shelters do not encourage declawing, some will charge the owner if they find out the cat was declawed.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

Michelle, how freaking horrible!!! Did the doc give the cat meds? How SICK, and you had to clean up!?!?! Wow, I don't know what to say. They probably do the same thing now. CRUEL AND EVIL...I got a new vet, dumped the one I have been going to for fifteen years. I feel so bad for people who work for evil vets.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

So true! I have two declawed cats, one of them hates hands, and bites. They were strays, already declawed. Declawing should not even exist. Vets make a lot of easy money declawing, they could give a crap about suffering.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

It is not a fair deal, declawing is cruel and unjust, cats came with claws, just like humans came with fingers, speaking of fair, it is your turn now, go have all ten of your fingers cut off at the first knuckle.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

Excuse me, Amanda, they know EXACTLY what is going on. They know all of what you said, but, scratching posts don't keep money in their pockets. The storm is coming. They ruined the wrong cat.

caringvet
caringvet

@RobertChase First off, it's the AVMA, not AMVA.  Secondly, veterinarians who do declaws on cats, are adamant that the cat is not allowed to go outside once a declaw has been done.  It is only for cats that remain indoors.  We know that it renders them defenseless to predators.  If the owners choose not to follow those strong recommendations that the cat must remain inside, that's their own fault.


I strongly believe that declawing cats saves the lives of cats who would otherwise be abandoned or taken to a shelter.  We carefully monitor for postoperative pain, and treat them for pain before the pain even begins.  Most cats are awake in a few hours doing just fine with no pain at all.  Do vets enjoying doing this procedure?  No - we know what it truly is.  But we do it because we know it's saving lives.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

Vets who declaw in the States and Canada should be fined $20,000 and a year in prison, just like it is in 40 countries where declawing is illegal.

cindyshepard
cindyshepard

You are not doing it to save lives, you are doing it because you don't care and it is easy money. Snip or burn them and stick the money in your pocket.

cindyshepard
cindyshepard

Declawing does NOT save lives!! The shelters are full of declawed cats. As a 'caring vet' you would perform an unnecessary amputation , so someone can be lazy and not train their cat to use a scratching post? It is pathetic the excuses used. In fact, your cold statement concerning the owner letting a declawed cat outside, is their problem, shows you have no compassion for the animal to begin with. Do you remember the oath you took?

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

You are not a caring vet, just the opposite. Please come, you are invited to have the tops of your fingers cut off, right up to the first knuckle, my Cassandra Cat will perform the operation, don't worry, she will give you the proper meds, and then she will give you the number of a reconstructive surgery doctor just in case she left bone fragments, or in case your fingers get infected, or in case she damaged your nerves. Hey, no need to thank me for the invite, it was my Cassandra cats' idea. Also, you need to pay UP FRONT $500. We must do this to keep you out of the shelters! Defingering saves lives! You will not feel a thing!

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

You bunch of liars, vets enjoy declawing, stop lying in public, you enjoy it because you make a ton of money declawing, then you make more money when the cat comes back for problems with the declaw, bone pieces left at the site, glue that infects the wound, some cats get their legs taken off, some cats die, some cats are not medicated properly, some need reconstructive surgery. DECLAWING DOES NOT SAVE LIVES YOU LIAR. IT DESTROYS LIVES. DECLAWING IS ILLEGAL IN 40 COUNTRIES, YOU SHOULD BE FINED $20,000 AND PUT IN PRISON "CARINGVET" The only thing you worry about is your next vacation using blood money. You could give a S___ about cats. You better start looking for a second job, your blood money is coming to an end. Go ahead and laugh, snake.

RobertChase
RobertChase topcommenter

@caringvet @RobertChase That is a rationalization; any cat owner flaky enough to abandon a cat because it has claws may be presumed to be too stupid to care for a pet properly in the first place.  Vets have exactly no control over whether cats are let out, but they have total control over their own actions as individuals.  The AVMA's collective decision to continue declawing is wrong and reflects poorly on its members.  If vets are concerned for cats owners propose to declaw, let them counsel owners to provide attractive surfaces to scratch and to protect those owners don't want scratched, at their own expense, as they refuse to do the procedure.  Since the AVMA refuses to act, we should prohibit vets from performing the procedure in statute.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

No, they do not remember the oath they took, instead they bow down to their money god. CASH FOR CLAWS WAR.....Again, you declawed the wrong cat.

DECLAWINGILLEGAL
DECLAWINGILLEGAL

Hey there Animallover, do you really love animals? If you did, you would not have called me a nutjob. Do you own two declawed cats who have psychological damage in one and claw regrowth in the other? Does your declawed cat's feet hurt because there is a claw growing from her paw pad? Does your other cat let you pet her, or does she bite, growl and hiss? Does she growl and hiss while she is sleeping and awake at nothing? Do your cats wish they had THEIR CLAWS BACK so they can defend themselves from the other cat in the house who has claws? And no, I will not get my clawed cat declawed, you sick frick.

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