Cats. A unique blend of jungle tiger and purring lap ornament. These personality filled creatures can go from climbing your curtains and exploding around corners to chase the light of a laser pointer to napping in the window for hours. Humans did good work domesticating dogs, but the wild Savannah Lion that lives in your house is really just a smaller version of the original. When it comes right down to it, our domestic cats still retain their hunting drive, their carnivorous nutrition needs, and their stoic nature. The average pomeranian doesn’t retain much from their wolf ancestor, but the average house cat is a different story! As such, feline behavior remains a complicated mess of natural instinct and domesticated preference! One interesting thing we’ve recently come to understand about cats is the impact of “stress” on their systemic body health. Stress isn’t always what we think of as stress, but is more found in lack of outlet for natural behavior (i.e. stalking and hunting instinct) and introduction of unwanted stimulus (such as a new housemate, new baby, new puppy, or a stray cat hanging around outside). “Stressed” cats are more likely to be frequent vomiters, exhibit play aggression, and have inappropriate litter box habits. In fact, stress is the primary factor we attribute to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD, sometimes called sterile cystitis, or stress induced cystitis). FLUTD causes blood in the urine, straining to urinate, urinary indiscretion, and in male cats can cause urinary obstruction. Another thing that many vets and cat owners find to be extremely frustrating is the stoic nature of cats. Unlike dogs, who frequently cry and limp for days just because they split a toe nail, our feline friends frequently don’t show any sign of illness or pain until they simply can’t compensate any more. At this point, cat lovers sigh, shake their heads, and say “oh cat, you really could have told me sooner.”
What does all this have to do with declawing? Well, feline medicine is constantly evolving as we try to figure out the enigma of the cat. One of the more recent things to come under intense scrutiny is the practice of declawing cats. At Highland Pet Hospital, we strive to do the best we can for our feline patients, and this means following all the recommendations and updates made by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and the American Veterinary Medical Association. AAFP and AVMA have been scrutinizing the practice of declawing cats for some time now, and Highland’s doctors have come together to also think long and hard about this procedure.
As of March 2020, Highland’s doctors have decided to no longer offer the declawing procedure at our clinic. There are many reasons for this, and we’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about them!
One important reason is that declawing is considered an elective procedure that does cause pain and permanent alteration without a medical benefit to the patient. Declawing (Onychectomy) is the surgical amputation of the last bone of each toe. It does cause pain, it is stressful (as all surgeries are) and there is a risk of complication. Complications include chronic pain, damage to the paw pads, and infection. Since cats are so stoic, it is very possible that we underestimate the discomfort they feel from this procedure. The few cats who show chronic pain may just be those who feel it the most severely. We have to assume that there is a subset of cats who are more severely affected by the after effects of mental stress and pain than they let on! The procedure also involves anesthesia, so all of the possible complications of anesthesia exist as well.
Another reason we’ve decided to discontinue the practice of performing declaws is due to the disruption of natural behaviors. Scratching is a natural behavior, and cats who have been declawed do show increased tendency toward biting (as opposed to scratching) when afraid or angry. There is also the possibility of stress related behaviors such as urinary indiscretions, hiding, and aggression.
Finally, Highland’s staff strives to invest more time in the things we are passionate about and to move away from things that don’t further our mission statement of Healing, Health, and Hope for Pets, their People, and Our Community. As a team, we have decided the declawing procedure was not something that drove us, and did not further the goals we have determined to be important to us.
With all that being said, we also recognize how very frustrating naughty cats and their sharp claws can be. Those claws can be quite damaging to property, other pets, and to our own skin! One thing that we are all passionate about is education. So, in light of our decision not to perform the declaw procedure, we are working on offering more education in the natural scratching behavior of cats, and how to work with it. Each new kitten family will be able to communicate with one of our vets or with one of our staff members about the natural behavior of scratching, scratching posts, and discouraging scratching in inappropriate places. We have also set a goal of demonstrating nail trimming to all of our new kitten families (though this has proved to be an unexpected challenge in light of COVID 19, we hope to be more organized about meeting this goal as we are more free to allow pet owners to accompany their pet into our exam rooms). We are also offering a free application of Soft Paws to all of our kittens. Soft Paws are claw covers, which can be applied at home. One of our team members will demonstrate the application process for you, it’s surprisingly easy! These are a safe alternative to protect your skin and your property, and are widely accepted by most cats!
We recognize that most pet owners will see this as an acceptable move toward better medicine for our feline friends, and that some pet owners will find this to be a difficult change to understand. As such, we welcome and encourage conversations between cat owners and their veterinarian! Ultimately we all want the best for these tiny panthers with which we share our homes. We may never understand them, but that’s part of their charm!