Why are we still declawing cats in Canada?

CattoesWhen I speak with veterinary colleagues in Europe and Australia, I am simply embarrassed. I live in this wonderful country where we are often leading the way of research and innovation in animal health and welfare. And yet, we still declaw. Twenty-eight countries (and counting) have made declawing illegal and considered inhumane. Why is Canada so far behind?

declaw

 

I know that my Canadian veterinary colleagues hate to declaw. When I ask them why they still declaw they will answer:  “I would rather perform the surgery than have another cat abandoned at a shelter” or “I would rather do it myself so I know it is being done well and with proper pain management”.  As long as our clients have the option to declaw they will and so will the veterinarians.  And there is no judgement here. Many of my friends and even family members have cats that are declawed. I don’t believe in it and they know that. All I can do is speak the words and promote the CHANGE in OUR BEHAVIOUR.

We all know why cats have claws and what they can do with them. There are so many websites available to give you great tips on how to make your cat’s claws house-friendly! And certainly your veterinarian has given you these websites and promotional materials which tell you all about enriching their environment with posts, cutting their nails, Soft Paws®, etc. They have also likely given you a detailed description of what the surgery is (amputation of the final digit). But for many people, this simply is not enough and “I’ve always had declawed cats and it was never a problem. My cat seems fine and so is my couch!”

declaw-graphic

SoftPaw

 

 

When I was in veterinary school I had an ethics class. We had many speakers come in to discuss relevant and controversial topics in the veterinary world. There was one speaker who really stuck out in my mind. She was an owner of a small animal practice that refused “healthy euthanasia”.  Her message to us “to-be-vets” was: “I knew by refusing to do a healthy animal euthanasia, the owners were simply going to go down the street to the nearest clinic, but if I changed even 1% of the people’s minds, then it was worth it. I had to sleep with myself that night, knowing what I did. And I couldn’t sleep knowing I euthanized an animal that was healthy”.

When I opened my practice, I made the choice with our team. We are a no-declaw clinic. And more and more clinics are doing so. At this time, there are approximately 5 clinics in Montreal area that I am aware of that are pro-claw.

declawing081409

Let’s all stop taking the easy road. Stand for what you believe in, as a cat lover, as a veterinarian, as an animal health professional, and as a citizen and policy maker. We CAN make these changes. We CAN be one of those countries that have made declawing illegal. Those countries have no more cats in shelters than we do! In fact most of them have very few cats in shelters. Let’s move into the 21st century and do something about it. Talk to your friends who have kittens and are thinking of declawing, write to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association or your provincial veterinary order/college and ask them what they are doing? Some provinces (not Quebec) have made progress by outlawing tail-docking and ear-cropping. So we are getting somewhere! I believe that change can happen, one person at a time. I believe we can sit back and wait for it, or we can do something about it.

For more information on declawing please check out these websites: www.declaw.com, www.declawing.com, www.pawproject.org. You can also visit the Sherwood Park Animal Hospital FAQ section on why we chose NOT to declaw:  http://sherwoodparkvet.com/en/hospital-faq/#declaw

19 comments

  1. What an excellent, excellent post, Dr Stiles!!! It’s time that this issue is in the forefront, where we can all talk about it more!

  2. Mary Klinck, DVM, DACVB

    A part of this issue that is particularly disturbing is that landlords sometimes automatically require that any cat owned by a tenant be declawed, and so owners simply go ahead and have the procedure done, no questions asked. These policies may be flexible; you can refuse to have the cat declawed, and many landlords will accept this. After all, a good (non-destructive) tenant with a cat with claws will likely take (management, not declawing) steps to prevent destructive clawing. A bad tenant with a declawed cat can damage the property in other ways.

  3. By and large, declawed cats have the best homes. The owners of declawed cats almost always confine them to indoors. These are owners who care about their lives, and are responsible pet owners and responsible tenants or homeowners. I would not like to be a landlord if my tenant’s cat would cause damage. A cat can cost a landlord thousands in replacing carpeting, wood work, kitchen cupboards. I know, because I have gone through this. It is illegal in Ontario to discriminate against pet owners, but not in BC where I have a rental property. There would be fewer homes for cats if declawing were outlawed. Stress levels are much lower for cats that are not chased away from couches and door jambs.

    We use laser for declaws, and very effective analgesia including numbing the paws with bupivicaine so that patients feel no pain on anaesthetic recovery. Even without laser, declawing can be done humanely. Veterinarians can declaw humanely-there are lots of video’s on the internet describing humane techniques for declaw.

    I am signing with my real name-I stand behind this letter.

    Koos Toxopeus

    • I take it by these comments you have never worked in a shelter or with a rescue agency? So you would have no idea the numbers of cats we see abandoned because of declawing. The cat all of a sudden doesn’t want to use the litter pan. Maybe that’s because they now have to scrap to cover their waste with bone because their claws are gone. Or there’s the they hiss and won’t let me touch their paws excuse now that they are declawed. Maybe that’s because they now have burms on their bone from the laser that declawed them or they have developed abcesses.

      I could gone on and on with this list being involved in the rescue industry for 10 yrs. You may stand behing this procedure but make no mistake if all vets were always truthful about the fact that declawing is mutilating cats do you honestly think people would do this to their animal?

      You defend people who declaw as the best owners. Well let me tell you sir I have helped save hundreds of cats and fostered hundreds as well. I do NOT and will NOT ever declaw a cat and my furniture is fine because I do what a good owner does and I teach them what’s appropriate for them to scratch. Cats are smart they get it.

      Cats and other animals people choose to have in their homes can damage appartments in other ways that have nothing to do with scratching.

      Next time you wish to defend harming a cat you better make sure you actually have an argument to stand on because there’s another very serious side to this issue that rescue workers have to deal with all the time because we are forced by some of these owners you think are excellent to clean up after the mess people in your profession have made by deciding to amputate a cats fingers. You know better because there’s just as many articles and material out there that shows the reprecussions of this procedure and life long consequences to the poor animal.

      We find lots of declawed cats living out on the streets I’m sorry to say. Owners don’t always keep them in. Or they could have developed issues because of being declawed and the owners solution was to dump them.

      At least some people go to a rescue with declawed cats and have them help the cat. I’ve always wondered how many owners just give up and euthanize?

    • I think the research is going to show that declawed cats have higher cortisol levels. Declawing now appears to be a factor in cats developing feline diabetes. Failing to examine, x-ray and document the paws of declawed cats over the years does not mean that the evidence of harm isn’t there.

      After seeing the movie “The Paw Projec”t, Mike Fry at Animal Ark shelter in MN decided to inspect the paws of their declawed cats in detail.

      He said: “I was able to observe everything described in Animal Ark’s current population of 22 declawed cats. Even worse: Every declawed cat Animal Ark currently houses displays one or more of the problems described in the [“Paw Project”] film. We observed limping, curled toes, callouses on toe pads, sensitivity to having toes touched and more. We have concluded that every one of Animal Ark’s declawed cats are suffering to some degree.

      When we printed the list of declawed cats to inspect, one thing immediately caught our eye: nearly every diabetic cat Animal Ark currently houses was on the list, with only one exception. To be clear: the general population of declawed cats is always around 25% of the total population. The fact that the percentage of diabetic cats that were declawed was near 100% was startling, to say the least. I decided to review the diabetic cats Animal Ark has seen over the last couple of years. More than 50% of them were declawed.

      I began asking veterinarians about the possible connection to declawing and diabetes. One topic kept coming up: Cortisol. Cortisol is a chemical produced by the body to manage chronic pain. It also dramatically affects blood glucose levels. Ironically, elevated cortisol is also a risk factor for diabetes.

      The linkage may be even more compelling than that, because cats with pain in their paws are more likely to be sedate, get less exercise and are, therefore, more prone to being overweight, another contributing factor for diabetes. Take Miracle, for example, a very overweight, diabetic declawed cat…

      When she came to Animal Ark, we had assumed the fact that she limped so badly was a result of her severe weight problem. However, as she has been trimming down, her limping is getting worse. After watching the Paw Project and examining her paws, it seems clear she is suffering from several of the long-term complications from the declaw procedure.

      Animal Ark’s relatively limited data set may not be enough to prove a link between declawing and diabetes. However, if a link were to be demonstrated it would go a long way toward clinically proving that declawed felines, even those with no obvious complications from the procedure, are suffering from long-term, chronic pain.”

      To help compile a more complete data set, Mike is asking shelters and rescue organizations to review records of their diabetic cats to determine how many of them had been declawed. He has created a simple form they can fill out to submit their findings – https://www.animalarkshelter.org/animal/NonprofitRegistration.nsf/DiabeticCats?OpenForm

    • Dogs also scratch people and things, including woodwork, floors, doors (you should see our front door!), and can scratch people and furnishings. I have a scar on my face from when I was scratched as a child. It looks like a neighbour’s dog even scratched the paint on our van. We all know this to be true, but I have never met a vet that recommended declawing dogs. Can you explain the double standard? Is it is because the distal phalanx on dogs is not retractable, which would make the mutilation that is occurring visible? Your thoughts?

      • Thank you for the comments. I also feel that it is a double standard. I believe that it truly comes from the behaviour of “scratching” that cats have. People place a great deal of importance on their possessions (such as furniture). If they simply took time to learn more about how to redirect these behaviours or use soft paws, the issue would be moot.

    • to sum it up, those cats are “mutilated prisoners”

  4. Thank you for this piece, Dr. Stiles, and for standing up for ethical veterinary behaviour. I support banning this practice and would like to address some myths vs facts that Dr. Jean Hofve has provided.

    Assertion: A ban would result in increased relinquishment, causing many cats to be euthanized and increasing the cost for animal control.

    Facts: The actual data suggest just the opposite: declawed cats are more likely to be relinquished than normal cats, so relinquishments should go down. Unwanted behavior is a major factor in reliquishment of cats to shelters. House-soiling, aggression, and biting are the top 3 reasons why cats are surrendered; as noted, these are the very same problems that 1 in 3 declawed cats will develop after surgery.

    While declawing (as a single variable) appears to “save cats’ homes,” analysis using a more reliable statistical method (that accounts for all variables) shows that declawed cats are nearly twice as likely to be relinquished to a shelter than clawed cats (actual odds 1.89 to 1, range 1-3.58). (Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. “J Am Vet Med Assoc”1996;209:582–588.)

    While veterinarians have opined that up to 75% of people who request declawing would get rid of their cat if surgery couldn’t be done (thus providing the rationale that declawing somehow “saves” cats), a survey of their own clients found that only 4% would euthanize or relinquish if declawing weren’t an option. (It is a well-known tendency among veterinarians to vastly underestimate both the resources and the compassion of their clients. They don’t know, because they don’t ask.)

    In a survey of Canadian veterinarians, only 102 were willing to venture a guess as to how many of their clients would have given up their cats if not for declawing (their estimate was 57%). This brief (1-1/2 page) article has become the foundation for claims that declawing “saves” cats’ homes or lives. The entire argument rests on this flimsy excuse that was proved completely false by the next study by the same author. (Landsberg GM. Declawing is controversial but saves pets. A veterinarian survey. Vet Forum1991;8:66-67.)

    A survey of 276 clients (of those same veterinarians who guessed that 57% of their clients would have gotten rid of their cats) found that a whopping 4% would have seriously considered doing so. Because this study was published in a journal that few vets even know exists, it has remained obscure, and most vets who favor declawing use only the flawed and 99%-wrong figures. (Landsberg GM. Cat owners’ attitudes toward declawing. “Anthrozoos” 1991;4:192-197.)

  5. Dr. Stiles, I disagree with your statement that suggests veterinarians are giving clients all the facts about what is involved with declawing, or what the humane alternatives are. No vet clinics I’ve walked in to have info on display about dealing with normal scratching behaviour of cats. The info has to be requested, then they dig around in a file or print some off. One clinic even has a promotional declawing video that does not mention possible long-term complications or humane alternatives to this radical surgery. None of my local clinics even stock vinyl nail covers.

    No Canadian vets that I’m aware of are making special examinations of the declawed feet of older cats, so they don’t note the severe, likely painful deformities that are affecting the way they walk and move (their overall conformation and way they bear weight). If you’re not aware of these long term physical consequences and haven’t seen the x-rays, or video on paw repair surgery, imagine how many other vets are in the same position, so can deny that declawing is harmful?

    A huge ethical concern: All this speaks volumes about the lack of protection for cats and their owners in Canada. Vet associations assert that they are supposed to protect pet owners too, but they have an obvious conflict of interest when they also protect the business interests of member veterinary professionals as well. And declawing is profitable compared to spay or neuter surgeries so there is incentive to keep doing it and ignore the physical evidence of harm.

    Some Canadian vet associations prohibit declawing animals, except for domestic cats. Nail trimming is routine maintenance for dogs, and I don’t know any who promote amputating the ends of weight bearing toes for dogs, even though cats and dogs are both digitigrades. Why this dog-centric attitude? In my opinion, it promotes the idea that cats, and their toes, are disposible.

    • Thank you very much Chris for your thorough response and questions/comments regarding the blog. Although I am aware that there are veterinarians who do not necessarily follow the same thoughts as I do and perhaps do not discuss the act of declawing and alternatives available with their clients, I do not wish to alienate these veterinarians. It is my heartfelt wish to move forward WITH them (and the public in general) to make declawing illegal throughout Canada. As more and more veterinarians refuse to do this procedure, more and more veterinarians will become sensitized. This is an unnecessary and esthetic procedure which we know is done for the simple convenience of our clients. Although there are methods that are “less painful” than others, there is still pain and the possibility for long-term issues and complications exists with ANY surgical procedure. So point in case – why do we need to do it?

      I also question how we ever came to doing this procedure and it being essentially “routine” in North America. Why did we not start doing it to dogs too???

      I believe that as we educate the public, veterinarians and veterinary students that this is not required to keep our cat shelters free of cats OR that it will affect our bottom-line as practice owners, we will see change…. slowly but surely, we will see change.

      • Dr. Stiles, I encourage you to contact a vet I know who is going to publish a paper on declawing. He has intimate knowledge of the physical changes and consequences. He’s been able to save the lives of cats who had bad behaviour, or who’s paws were going to be amputated due to severe lameness from previously being declawed. He can describe what happens and the to obtain detailed x-rays to see the issues. This is proof in black and white. Please contact Dr. Ron Gaskin at Main Street Vets in MN.

        A few other vets are also trying to help these cats and educate about why declawing needs to stop. See Paw Project-Utah on Facebook. Dr. Conrad at the Paw Project.org likely has a list of vets doing repair/declaw salvage surgery.

        You can also get a copy of the “The Paw Project” documentary on DVD, available for a limited time. Why not host a screening of the film?

        “”The Paw Project” doesn’t have gruesome, bloody imagery or try to horrify you or guilt trip you. It explains how declawing actually works, why many people are against it, and leaves you empowered knowing you can do something about it.”
        Danica Davidson, MTV

        • Thank you so much Danica. I had placed the pawproject.org as a link at the end of the blog. It is an excellent documentary and the website associated is also a go-to for people interested in learning more about declawing. I love the idea of screening the film here in Montreal! The blog was a brief intro to the subject and by no means going into any details on the issues surrounding this procedure. I hope to do a follow-up blog but my main objective at this time is to work closely with veterinary regulatory bodies in Canada….As long as it is legal to do this procedure, people will have it done and vets will do what they ask.

          • @Dr. Enid Stiles,

            I cannot wait to meet you in person! I will do whatever it takes to help make this procedure illegal in Canada. The Oreo Cat and I are very proud that a vet from here is taking charge and spreading the word!

            I think getting the film screened in Montreal is a great idea. People need to know more about this. I am in the South Shore and ALL the vet clinics here offer the procedure. A very small handful will try to discourage their clients from it and offer alternatives as well as all the pertinent information. However, they still do the procedure. I commend you for taking the step and teh responsibility as a vet to just say no. You have nothing but my highest repsect.

  6. Hi, this is one of the most recent articles I can find about Cat De-Clawing. The Paw Project was a hit in 2013 but I feel like this initiative didn’t really take off in Canada. I was wondering if you know any associations with current, active initiatives? I am very interested in helping with this cause. Thank you for this post, I really appreciate it.

  7. I can’t believe this is an option in our country. I am ashamed to be even in my home country canada! What I am going to do it try and make a difference through my school and manny others and hopefully get my classmates, family, and friends to support me and spread the word about how harmful this really is and how upset we are making our animals. If you are interested there is a documentary on netflix also explaining the dangers and how it is animal abuse! In this documentary one woman helpd millions of cats from being declawed by pushing to make it illigal in as manny city’s as she could in the U.S. and that is what I think we should be doing here in Canada.

  8. The Paw Project is on Netflix! I really encourage everyone to find it and watch it!

  9. So apparently the author would rather cats be abandoned at shelters than be declawed. My cat was declawed on Monday and was rolling and playing in her cage less then 24 hours later. People really need to educate themselves about declawing before jumping on the bandwagon.

    • @ProDeclaw. On the contrary. It is people like yourself that need to be educated. Declawing a cat poses many risks and is considered a mutiliation in over 22 countries that have made it illegal. Declawing is an amputation of the first bone joint, so like cutting off the tips of your fingers. Just because your cat is rolling around playing 5 days later does not mean that it is the case for the majority of cats. The stakes are high, and the numbers show that more often than not, declawing will result in side effects that the cat has to live with for the REST of their lives. Declawing a cat causes the cat’s weight to shift. Cat’s walk on their toes. When the claws are removed, the bone structure changes. This change causes the cat to put weight on bones that they normally would not. This causes arthritis. I know, I have a cat with arthritis as a cause of the declaw. Moreover, in over 66% of declawed cats, peices of bone are left under the skin causing a pebble in the shoe effect that gets worse over time and is extremely painful. Many cats stop going to the bathroom in the litter box after a declaw because in their mind “that place hurts”.

      Your comment is actually the complete oposite of reality. It is cats who ARE declawed that wind up in shelters MORE than cats who are NOT declawed. WHY? Because delcawing cause MANY psychological problems that owners just can’t deal with after a time. I work with shelters in my area. Apart from small kittens or cats found as strays, the majority of the cats brough to the shelters are delcawed. There is notrhing wrong with having done the procedure as a result of not having the facts before. But people such as yourself who either refuse to educate themselves or after reading still decide that declawing is OK… you guys are in the wrong sorry to say. This procedure is illegal in 22 countries for a reason. It is a controversial procedure even here in Canada. Declawing is considered as veterinary malpractice and there is no reason why it should be OK. If you feel that your furniture is more important than your cat, then do all the cats in the world a favor and don’t adopt one. You should be ashamed of yourself for your above remark. I suggest that you actually take the time to educate yourself before commenting with such ignorance. If you really knew the reality, that comment never would have been made.

      http://www.pawproject.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>