The debate over cat declawing sharpens

The debate over cat declawing sharpens

Over the years, Jennifer Conrad has come to see her fight as one against greed and stupidity, a nasty pocket of the stuff festering deep in the heart of her own profession. When her crusade began, though, Conrad wasn't thinking that way. She was focused on one patient, Drifter, a three-year-old, 550-pound tiger who was in agony and pissed off about it.

Growing up in a family of physicians in Malibu, Conrad was always passionate about animal welfare. She'd gone to veterinary school with the idea of helping endangered species and had traveled to six continents, working with exotic animals and often trading her services for room and board. Around Hollywood, where she was known as "the Vet to the Real Stars," her patients included many famous film performers, including the tiger featured in The Hangover.

See also: Jennifer Conrad's declawing documentary has cat docs howling

But Conrad treated less-celebrated felines, too — big cats that had worked in circuses or in Vegas-style magic acts until they became too old or sick and were farmed out to carnivore sanctuaries. Many of them had been declawed in their youth in an effort to make them easier to handle on stage. The surgical procedure, known as an onychectomy, involves amputation of the final segment of toe bone as well as the attached claw, and can have numerous long-term complications, including chronic pain, bleeding, lameness, arthritis, aggressiveness and nail regrowth.

Several of the tigers and lions Conrad saw had been practically crippled by the anatomical changes wrought by the surgery. Some walked on their wrists or elbows or hardly moved at all because putting weight on their toes was too painful. One of the worst was Drifter, a Siberian mix with a pronounced limp. He was so debilitated that Conrad decided to organize a surgical team to reattach tendons in Drifter's paws that had been severed by the declawing.

In the course of the innovative five-hour operation, the team also removed hefty nuggets of nail fragments, several centimeters in length, that had been growing under the skin, causing pain and distorting Drifter's gait. The results were dramatic.

"After surgery he was standing up like a normal cat and walking like a normal cat," Conrad recalls. "He never fell back down onto his wrists. Then we knew we were on to something."

Beginning with Drifter's operation in 1999, Conrad began documenting on film her efforts to rehabilitate declawed exotics. She paid for the first eight surgeries out of her own pocket. She figured that the "before" images might help persuade authorities to ban the declawing of wild animals and that the "after" pictures could prompt their handlers to seek relief for those already afflicted. She was right on both counts. In 2004, thanks largely to her efforts, California banned the declawing of wild cats; two years later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture enacted a nationwide ban on declawing for virtually all large carnivores.

Conrad has now performed around 225 tendon-repair surgeries on 76 lions, tigers, panthers and other declawed exotics. But her film project has morphed into something else: an emotional, provocative yet scientifically grounded documentary, The Paw Project, about her decade-long battle to stop the declawing of the common American house cat.

Most pet-friendly nations already outlaw onychectomy. The United Kingdom's Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons deems the procedure "not acceptable" under most circumstances, and laws in most European countries explicitly prohibit it. In Israel, declawing a cat can result in a fine of 75,000 shekels — more than $20,000. Authorities in Brazil, Japan, Turkey and Australia also frown on the practice.

Yet in the United States, declawing is still a common — and lucrative — part of the veterinary business. A surgery that's now considered too barbaric for wild animals is widely marketed through coupons and special spay-neuter "package deals" to cat lovers of all stripes. Studies indicate that 22 million cats, about one-fourth of the country's total domesticated feline population, have been declawed. On average, vets charge between $400 and $800 for the surgery, which takes less than ten minutes per paw and can be done with a scalpel, laser or guillotine-type trimmer.

In more than 90 percent of the cases, pet owners request the surgery on a cat's front paws (and sometimes all four) because of concerns about Fluffy scratching the furniture. Veterinarians justify the procedure by describing it as an effective solution to a behavior problem that might otherwise lead to the animal being abandoned or surrendered to a shelter. But Conrad and other 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.

"If declawing helped the cat in any way, I would not be fighting like this," Conrad says. "Declawing does not keep a cat in its home. If someone is intolerant of a cat scratching a couch, they're really going to be intolerant of a cat not using the litter box."

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61 comments
ThomasF
ThomasF

I liked having a cat, but I don't think I'll ever get another one.  I don't think removing their claws is fair to the beast, but I also don't want my furniture destroyed and the cute little animal will decimate the wildlife around where I live.  Too bad, I like that they are more self reliant than dogs. 

drcodyhorton
drcodyhorton

The word declawing is a misnomer.  Declawing a cat involves a toe amputation.  It is not simply taking out a claw.  The bone is severed and the pain is excruitiating.  Remember when you stubbed your toe, how painful it was???  You probably jumped around because it really hurts!  Well when you decapitate a toe how do you think it feels.  As far as thinking declawed cats don't show up in shelters, this is completely false.  They develop biting problems and they also develop behavior problems such as not using the litter box because it is too painful.  You are taking away a cats first line of defense.  There are more humane ways to deal with scratching which is a natural behavior for cats.  Do you really think that it is ok to alter an animal to suit your needs???Cats do not show pain like a dog does and before you submit a comment here endorsing declawing please  . . . please . . .  do your homework.  This is an unconscionable practice which causes years of pain and suffering for these beautiful creatures.  I have three cats and have had 9 cats in my life and all of them were and are easily trained to use their scratching posts.  Society in general seems to feel that we must alter nature to conform to our needs.  This is akin to having you conform to meet societies rules even if they are harmful, painful and for monetary gain.  How would you like this?  How would you like to be submitted to an operation that was unnecessary?  How would you like your toes cut off?  I think you really must ponder this before you condone this sadistic and hedonistic procedure.  Just because people thought the world was flat didn't make it so.  So don't defend a procedure because someone had an idea.  Ideas can be bad for us as well as good for us.  Don't be a puppet and follow along like a numb non-thinking person, going along with the status quo and minutia!  Stand up for what is right and kind!

BuffaloBirdie
BuffaloBirdie

So what's worse - happy de-clawed cats living a long life with their owners, or dead cats with claws who end up euthanized because they couldn't remain as pets in a home??   You'll be looking at higher numbers of euthanized animals, I guarantee it.  We had our two sweet cats professionally de-clawed and they are now 10 years old.  They are as happy as can be.  I think there are tragic anecdotes, yes, but that is what they are; anecdotes. 

BlondyVanWeirden
BlondyVanWeirden

I qualified in every way to be a resident at Sakura Square.  Sadly, this senior community, owned and operated by the Buddhist Temple it is attached to, believes in torturing pets.  Unless I agreed to submit my five-year-old feline companion to this despicable cruelty, I was told that I was not welcome there.  The board of directors at Sakura Square feels that a cat with claws will damage the apartment (although I would have my own furniture and drapes).Actually, declawed cats cause more damage because it hurts their feet to use a litter box.(These presumed Buddhists are not of the “enlightened” variety.)

martin48484
martin48484

My cat has barbs on his claws that are almost like fish hooks so they can really rip and tear.  Ask me, I know.  But I take my kitty to the vet periodically and they trim his claws so neatly I hardly know they're there and he has no discomfort whatsoever.

Amelia Ebert
Amelia Ebert

They should not be outside with out claws. So I don't know how this surgery is going to benefit your vehicle. I don't ke cats and if people are worried about getting scratched, don't get one. They don't just remove the claws, but the entire last bone in the paw. It ruins their feet.

FakeAssName
FakeAssName

we had to get one of our cats declawed and it was an agonizing decision.

after rescuing my wife's childhood cat back from her mother, who had decided that he was too old to take care of anymore and refused to get him medical treatment despite knowing that he was suffering kidney failure; the stray cat we had adopted together reacted badly to having another cat brought into her territory and went semi-feral.

think of how a cat's claws can puncture the bark of a tree and suspend a cat as it climbs, now thinl of how that feels when it is your leg and 7lbs of rage is trying to get at your face.

she tore us up a couple of times but there was no way we were going to give up our little girl to die at a shelter, especially when most of her problems are due to the shit bags who we got her from used to kick her and lock her outside in a cage with a yard full of dogs.

but when she tore the hell out of my 61yo mom we had to get her declawed, though in context it was more off a disarmament.

I wish we hadn't taken her too the assholes that we did, bastards actively tried to up sale us to do all 4 paws and did her left paw wrong so that she limps on it at times, but it was a new town so we didn't know who was / wasn't a good vet.

... I wish we could give them back to her, but she is still a highly agressive cat even though we have rehabilitated her quite a bit.

(for whatever that story is worth, I just felt the comulsion to share)

ChrisHarris
ChrisHarris

Great article. Those who don't realize the negative effects of declawing on taxpayers & shelters as well as consumers should read the municipal legislation posted on the Paw Project site, and definitely see "The Paw Project Movie" documentary.


Veterinary professionals are aware that declawing causes physical changes to cats' paws. They will tell you they can tell if a cat is declawed by the way the cat walks. 

They should be willing to x-ray the paws to observe the changes over time if they think declawing is okay. 

The truth is that the paws become more and more deformed!  (See http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/physical-consequences-of-declawing/)

Declawed cats end up walking on toes that are at the wrong angle, resulting in arthritis and trying to shift their weight so it doesn't hurt. This changes their conformation and affects the rest of their body. This can be seen when you compare normal, healthy paws to declawed ones. Even the toe pads on declawed cats are shrunken; smaller toe pads mean more weight being borne on less area, and painful calluses often develop due to this abnormal pressure. The amputated ends of the bone press down and they have to walk on them for the rest of their lives. This pain and the complications goes largely unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated, which is cruel.

Force plate studies on declawed cats shows pain management for cats having this surgery is STILL not adequate, despite the evidence being published.   (See Declawing and Science - http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/declawing-and-science/)

For the veterinary profession to ignore the evidence as well as the evidence provided by the many shelters and rescues is unethical. Declaw bans are needed to protect not only cats, but taxpayers, clients, veterinary and shelter workers, and consumers.

ChrisHarris
ChrisHarris

It's possible to see the physical changes in cats' paws after they've been declawed. This webpage would be good to show to vets since photos of x-rays don't print very well. Also shows comparative photos and descriptions.


Over time, the toes of declawed cats can retract (100% of the declawed cats I've seen), so they end up walking on toes that are at the wrong angle. This changes how their weight is distributed and changes their conformation. If the same damage was done to dogs or horses, clients would be outraged. Other articles in this category include dealing with chronic pain of declawing. "Physical Consequences of Declawing", by Dr. Jean Hofve - (click on first picture for slide show) - 
http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/physical-consequences-of-declawing/ .

Jamie Kinsley
Jamie Kinsley

So you would be fine having your fingers amputated at the knuckles??

Carlie Lindgren
Carlie Lindgren

Its illegal in the UK... As well as docking dogs ears and tails... I had a rescue that was already declawed and his feet were super sensitive and he couldn't scratch to relieve frustration.... I would never declaw a cat... Teach them to use a scratching post and clip their nails :-)

Chad Kuntz
Chad Kuntz

I have two cats. Both are declawed. They suffer no ill effects from their surgeries. They are very happy pets. With that said, 'I've evolved' on this issue. My next cats will not be declawed. Cats are trainable, as I have found out. Do I feel guilty? A little, of course. Am I a cruel pet owner as some people are saying? Not in the least. My cats are treated like a king and queen, are loved, worshipped, and could not have had a better life. If I could, I'd do it differently. But they don't hold grudges against me. The joy and happiness they give me outweighs furniture scratching. I didn't realize this until after the fact, but I can't change it now.

Leticia Stewart
Leticia Stewart

its better to do it when their young..IF your gonna do it..i seen many cats declawed working in a vet clinic..and they all do just fine its a personal choice..some cats are also declawed because their scratching younger children..not purposely..but i knew a lady who had a cat that was scratching her child simply trying to play..but couldnt bring herself to get rid of the cat..so she declawed..cats fine and the child isnt getting scratched up outta playfulness of the kitten.

Seth Petersen
Seth Petersen

This is stupid. I'd rather have a declawed cat than a bloody child from the cats claws. Or scratch paint on my vehicles from them jumping and climbing on them. Its a cat. Its not like its a dog or a human. Geeze. Next thing you'll say is that we shouldn't get them fixed.

Shawn Wilson
Shawn Wilson

When animals are more important than peoe we have a problem. Thos is a non issue isue

Chris Estus
Chris Estus

How else am I going to keep my immune system up to speed other than cat scratches getting invected?

Legen Dairy
Legen Dairy

I personally dont think its that bad. My Ex/Friend is a Vet Tech. And never said it was inhumane to me. I dont think its a bad idea to keep claws on them if they scratch the furniture just train them not to. If your cat is indoors/outdoors definitely keep claws on them for defense. Whats your thoughts Leticia Stewart

Chris Martinez
Chris Martinez

Its cruelty to declaw cats. Ban it. It's banned in the UK and people live just fine with their kitties intact.

Siobhan Keleher
Siobhan Keleher

Declawing cats is illegal in several countries and states, and it should be illegal in Colorado too. It's cruel and painful.

Amelia Ebert
Amelia Ebert

I guess we should ignore all other issues because of vaginas in Africa. Blayne, it's good you care about vaginas, but don't rag on other people's causes because you believe there are more important issues.

Diane Stinson
Diane Stinson

Common misconception is that you can just use litter in boxes after the procedure ... cut up newspaper is what to use for a week or so after

Hayley Richardson
Hayley Richardson

i would never do it, but declawed cats sure are fun to play with.

Amelia Ebert
Amelia Ebert

Some cats suffer long term affects from this surgery. rescue is full of declawed cats who stopped using the litter box. I have more respect for Veterinarians who refuse to do this to cats, as much as I dislike cats.

Amelia Ebert
Amelia Ebert

agree not to declaw. They remove more than the nails and many people to not know this. They amputate the last bone in the paws.

Mark Gray
Mark Gray

Mark Ewell I did the same thing and I feel the same way. I feel bad about doing and will never do it again.

Axel Morlotte
Axel Morlotte

My cat has gatling guns for paws so it's all the same to me

Jessica Ross
Jessica Ross

But instead of declawing. I would cut their nails... They would still have their claws but not as long

Mark Ewell
Mark Ewell

I had a cat declawed about ten years ago. I had never heard about the effects and believed it was a simple way to resolve the scratching problems. Short version: I will never have a cat declawed (or have a declawed cat) ever again. RIP, Fog.

Heaven Northrop
Heaven Northrop

Declawing cats is a horribly cruel thing to do. How would you like it if someone ripped out your nails.

Blayne McMillan
Blayne McMillan

Oh no! Someone cares about people in Africa more than they care about cats, let's rag on him!!! Go fuck yourself.

Skid Jarrett Gilmore
Skid Jarrett Gilmore

It's called a Denver Westword online article that will likely be spammed 12 times over the next few weeks along w/lists of the top ten lamest local EDM shows, not Time magazine.

Craig Hawkins
Craig Hawkins

Just had someone I know gleefully take their cat in to get declawed because of their precious home furniture. So selfish. If you can't handle everything a cat comes with, then you shouldn't get one to begin with. I'd gladly go through a few couches and scratches to keep my cat clawed.

Blayne McMillan
Blayne McMillan

The point I'm making is that there are more pressing issues available for public forum.

Craig Hawkins
Craig Hawkins

Yah let's send veterinarians over to Africa to help out with that genitalia problem. Makes complete sense.

thewreckingbelle
thewreckingbelle

@Chad Kuntz I think it's nice that you have evolved but it seems a little presumptuous to say with certainly that cats that you rendered physically incapable of doing normal cat things "suffer no ill effects from their surgeries." No one can ever know. 

ChrisHarris
ChrisHarris

@Leticia StewartIt's possible to see the physical changes in cats' paws after they've been declawed. This webpage would be good to show to vets since photos of x-rays don't print very well. Also shows comparative photos and descriptions.


Over time, the toes of declawed cats can retract (100% of the declawed cats I've seen), so they end up walking on toes that are at the wrong angle. This changes how their weight is distributed and changes their conformation. If the same damage was done to dogs or horses, clients would be outraged. Other articles in this category include dealing with chronic pain of declawing. "Physical Consequences of Declawing", by Dr. Jean Hofve - (click on first picture for slide show) - 
http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/physical-consequences-of-declawing/ .

medea1919
medea1919

@Seth Petersen A cat is supposed to have claws... don't get a cat if you don't like that they have claws. How is a dog or human better? It's an animal... have some compassion, geez. 

ChrisHarris
ChrisHarris

@Shawn Wilson  Your position is a logical fallacy because not one suggested what you are saying. It's also possible to be against animal cruelty and care about several issues.  Declawing also affects more people than you'd think. It's a consumer protection issue because many vets still don't educate clients about the procedure, the complications, the humane alternatives or feline behavior, and it affects taxpayers when declawed cats with behavior issues are given up to your municipal pound. 

ChrisHarris
ChrisHarris

@Legen DairyMost veterinary professionals will tell you they can tell if a cat is declawed from across a room by the way the animal walks. Do you know why that is? It's possible to see the physical changes in cats' paws after they've been declawed. This webpage (link below) would be good to show to veterinary professionals since photos of x-rays don't print very well.  Also shows comparative photos and descriptions. 

Over time, the toes of declawed cats can retract (100% of the declawed cats I've seen), so they end up walking on toes that are at the wrong angle. This changes how their weight is distributed and changes their conformation. If the same damage was done to dogs or horses, clients would be outraged. Other articles in this category include dealing with chronic pain of declawing. "Physical Consequences of Declawing", by Dr. Jean Hofve - (click on first picture for slide show) - http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/physical-consequences-of-declawing/ .


ChrisHarris
ChrisHarris

@Craig Hawkins You might want to share the article and the link below with them since there are changes to their paws and bodies that happen over time. 

Most veterinary professionals will tell you they can tell if a cat is declawed from across a room by the way the animal walks. Do you know why that is? 
It's possible to see the physical changes in cats' paws after they've been declawed. This webpage (link below) would be good to show to veterinary professionals since photos of x-rays don't print very well.  Also shows comparative photos and descriptions. 

Over time, the toes of declawed cats can retract (100% of the declawed cats I've seen), so they end up walking on toes that are at the wrong angle. This changes how their weight is distributed and changes their conformation. If the same damage was done to dogs or horses, clients would be outraged. Other articles in this category include dealing with chronic pain of declawing. "Physical Consequences of Declawing", by Dr. Jean Hofve - (click on first picture for slide show) - http://www.littlebigcat.com/declawing/physical-consequences-of-declawing/ .

ChrisHarris
ChrisHarris

@Blayne McMillan Then leave and go elsewhere.

peggy70a
peggy70a

@medea1919  So sad. The spirit of mankind seems to be to always want to change what is natural  to suit their wants and needs...  Cats have claws for a reason. To everyone that is fighting to ban this inhumane practice please keep the fight going.   I totally agree with you.  Don't get a cat if one does not want scratching.   Don't get   a dog if one does not  want barking.

 
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