Monday, March 21, 2016

Declawing cats

Moisie the kitten gives her cardboard Incline Cat Scratcher a flogging.

The practice of declawing cats, essentially to stop them scratching stuff, has come under fire in the US. Geezer, the bassist from the band Black Sabbath and self-professed “crazy cat person” is the latest toadd his celebrity weight to a campaign to ban declawing of cats in New YorkState.

The declawing of cats is not performed routinely in Australia, and is deemed unacceptable by the Australian Veterinary Association on the grounds that it does not benefit the animal and in fact may cause harm (acute and chronic pain, for example). Declawing is NOT simply removing the nails or claws. It involves multiple amputations.

As Geezer put it, “Can you imagine having your fingers chopped off at the last bone? That is what the equivalent is for cats who are declawed. It is dreadfully inhumane!"

Moisie's claws are important to her.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners released a position statement on declawing acknowledging that the procedure is controversial and suggesting that veterinarians working in contexts where declawing is permitted strongly advise clients about alternatives. Declawing is currently prohibited in the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Israel and some cities in California, with other regions considering prohibition. Its likely that other jurisdictions will ban declawing of cats in the near future.

According to the American Associationof Feline Practitioners (AAFP) position statement, declawing should be undertaken only when certain conditions are met. These include:
  • Owners must be informed of alternatives to declawing;
  • Owners must be informed, with reference to anatomic details, that declawing entails amputation of the third phalanx (P3) and that this is a procedure that is associated with acute and chronic pain;
  • Owners must be informed of all risks and benefits to surgery;
  • Owners must be informed that scratching (which declawing is designed to prevent) is natural, normal feline behaviour which is an important means of visual and olfactory communication;
  • Owners must be informed of alternatives to declawing (described in the position statement);
  • Deep digital flexor tendonectomy is not recommended;
  • Multimodal analgesia should be employed(American Association of Feline Practitioners, 2015).

I’ll fess up. A couple of chairs in my house have been destroyed, or at least rendered less aesthetically pleasing to my human eye, due to scratching by the feline residents. 

That was before I discovered the wonder that is corrugatedcardboard. I am also generous with throw rugs. Both interventions are cheap, simple and associated with zero morbidity. No one is hurt.  

I do feel for veterinarians working in areas where this is legal, many of whom perform the procedure - although they disagree with it - because they feel that at least they will do a good job and use maximum pain relief. For them that is the lesser of two evils. I'm grateful that I work in a veterinary clinical context where no client has ever asked me to declaw a cat.  

Declawing is a convenience procedure performed for the benefit of humans and to the detriment of cats. It is good example of why veterinarians and scientists need to review surgical procedures regularly, and consider – as stated by the AVA – the probability of undesirable events if the surgery isn’t performed; the prognosis and success rates associated with an elective, prophylactic procedure and the potential for alternative, non-surgical procedures that could provide superior or equivalent outcomes.