Declawing cats is an emotionally charged and hotly debated topic. Drew Weigner, Atlanta veterinarian and a past president of the Academy of Feline Medicine, offers his perspective on the topic.
Q: What is the actual procedure involved in declawing a cat?
A: There are several different techniques, but they all involve one thing. You have to remove the claw, and you have to remove the little piece of bone that the claw grows from. If you don’t, the claw will try to grow back.
The less you remove, the better, and that’s where the differences in techniques come in. The way cats are normally declawed, there’s an instrument with a sliding blade, almost like a guillotine, and it cuts a straight line through the joint between that little piece of bone and the next piece of bone, which is much bigger.
When you do that, right underneath that is the pad, and you actually cut that right in half too. So it’s like cutting the tip of your finger off.
With cosmetic declawing, you use a tiny curved blade to go in and dissect out the claw and the tiny piece of bone. The pad is intact; all the soft tissue is there. So the cat is walking comfortably very quickly because its pads are fine. When the pads are cut in half, the cat can’t walk on them without discomfort. That’s what cats put their weight on. And they can’t walk on them comfortably for weeks. Most of the pain comes from the trauma to the soft tissue.
But cosmetic declawing is not an easy procedure to do: It’s time consuming, so not many veterinarians do it.
Q: Many people are opposed to declawing. Why?
A: Some people feel it’s unnatural to remove a cat’s claws, and it’s done for the owner’s benefit and not for the cat’s benefit. There are many other arguments you can make for this -- the pain they go through, the complications after declawing. But I think it really boils down to cats are born with claws and they should keep them.
Q: Are there good reasons to declaw a cat?
A: There are a couple of good reasons. Medically, sometimes you have to remove a claw if the claw is damaged beyond repair or if it has a tumor.
Sometimes it’s also trauma to the owners. There are people whose immune systems are suppressed or the elderly on blood thinners who can’t be exposed to the bacteria on a cat’s claws.
But the majority of declawings are due to social issues -- where cats are being destructive and tearing up furniture.