Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Declaw, debarking, tail docking, and ear cropping: justified or procedures that should be banned?

Listen to internet radio with Roger Welton DVM on Blog Talk Radio

Airs Wed November 16, 2011, 9PM EST.  Listen to this podcast directly from my show page by CLICKING HERE.

Dear Readers, Viewers, and Listeners:

This week, I will be talking about the very controversial and polarizing topics of declaw, debarking, tail docking, and ear dropping procedures.  I plan to present these procedures objectively based on medical and scientific facts, not rhetoric or passionate feelings one way or the other.  Of course, since I am here to offer my opinion, I plan to do that as well, but it does not mean that I expect you to necessarily agree with me.  I am sure this podcast is likely to draw lots of comments and I invite them, either posted here at the blog or sent by e-mail to be addressed on the air in my next podcast.  Your comments are welcome and encouraged, but I ask that despite the intense feelings these topics can conjure up, that you keep your posts civil and respectful. 

As always, you can submit e-mail comments/questions to be address by me on the air, by sending them to comments@web-dvm.net.

Thanks as always for caring about what I have to say!


Roger Welton, DVM

Dr. Roger Welton is the President and chief veterinarian at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne Florida, as well as CEO of the veterinary advice and health management website Web-DVM.net.


catgirl said...

Declaw is horrible and barbaric. It should not be done under any circumstances! Doc, I love you, but condoning it in the name of more cats getting homes is a poor argument. In California where the procedure is banned, they have seen no decrease in feline adoptions, nor any spike in feline surrenders to shelters since enacting the law. People that will nto adopt a cat without having them declawed or would surrender a cat because it is not declawed, from my view are not fit cat owners and should not have them in the first place. I do not think that the majority of vets do it because they are greedy for the money procedure money, nor do I think that the majorioty of vets are in any rush to perform the procedure. To think otherwise is just ignorant. But, they continue to allwo the procedure out of some misguided notion that in the end, they enable more cats to be adopted because the option to have them declawed remains. This is simply not true.

Roger Welton, DVM said...


I am glad that you recognize that for the majority of vets, greed for the money we make in performing the procedure is not a factor in the decision many of us have made to allow the option to have it done. However, your contention that people who would have their cats declawed are unfit cat owners is very unfair. Some of the best pet owners I have known, have had their cats declawed, with their cats otherwise provided the best healthcare and treated like pampered royalty in their homes.

In my own home, my wife and I rescued a cat 9 years ago. From the beginning, Enrique was a scratcher, through and through. He had no interest in scratching posts, and hissed, screeched, spit, and even soiled himself when we tried to apply the nail covers. There was no way to apply them without sedation. Even with sedation, Enrique would walk as if crippled with the nail covers in place, and the one time we tried them, he chewed them off. Left with no other recourse, my wife and I had him declawed. There were no complications, and any signs of soreness were gone by one week post op. Now 9 years later, he has lived the life of a pampered prince, fat and happy, and is my cuddle buddy on the couch. He still tries to shred our furniture, but thankfully, he has no success without his claws. To have given up all of this for the sake of an obstinate idealistic stand against declaw would have been a travesty. To generalize my wife and I who care for our pets tremendously, it is grossly unfair to generalize us an unfit pet owners because we had our cat declawed. There were extenuating circumstances and we exhausted all of our options. Our other 2 cats are not declawed, as they LOVE their scratching posts and leave the furniture alone.

Your information about California is not accurate. Declaw is only banned in LA, San Fransisco and Beverly Hills. The rest of that massive state do not have such law in place, so you cannot consider the impact of declaw ban when only a tiny percentage of the state bans it. Also, the full impact is not yet known, with the laws in those muncipalities having been in place since only 2010.

Not everything is in black in white, Catgirl. There are circumstances where people have no choice. And in the less common cases where it has to be done, it is hardly barbaric. I will not belittle the fact that it is a surgery that leads to discomfort and is not without possible complication, but if you followed the cases of declaw from pre-surgical though intra and post op, you would see that the term barbaric is an extreme term to use in this context. I perform patellar knee surgeries all the time on cats to repair dislocating knee caps. Part of that procedure is to cut and transpose part of the shin bone, then pin it in place. That is far more painful a procedure, yet no one would call it barbaric, especialluy when we use aggressive pain management to optimize the feline patient's comfort.

Anne said...

I am personally very against declawing cats. I will never do it, am disappointed when I see people have it done, and basically find a way to not have to do it, whatever that may be.

But...I do not think the procedure should be banned legally. This is a moral issue, and I am staunchly against government trying to legislate morality. The best way to deal with this is awareness and education. As the doc stated, with vets these days offering a more objective light on what a declaw really means, offering declaw as a last option only after other measures have failed or even better, taking a moral stance against performing it altogether, is a good start, but it needs to go further. The rest of the industry from vet techs to breeders, groomers to pet store owners, have to spread awareness of the seriousness of having this procedure done, as well as the knowlege that there are alternative methods to help circumvent the need for this.

This issue DOES NOT belong in the courts, however. Keep government out of it!

Anonymous said...

I agree that the government banning anything leads down a slippery slope of morality legislating that I am not comfortable with. But there really is no place for these types of procedures in what is supposed to be a humane field of health care for animals. Education and awareness is a big part of this, but most importantly, it needs to be rejected by the governing body of veterinarians, the AVMA. Once this happens and it is subsequently deemed unethical in the veterinary profession, then we will see the biggest decline of any of these procedure being done.

Dottie said...

I take offense that people would call me an unfit cat owner because I had my cat declawed! My cat gets the very best veterinary care. She is never late on her shots, and I do everying the vet recommeds. If she so much as has a sniffle, she is at the vet.

Sofie lives indoors, but has access to the back screened in porch to get some fresh air and take in the outdoors without risk of contact with wild animals or getting hit by a car.

She eats only the best organic cat food I can find (Evangers), shares the couch with us, and sleeps in bed with my husband and I. She is a princess through and through, gets loved and brushed freqnently and could not be happier...AND YES, SHE IS DECLAWED!!!

I am sorry, but I want a cat to love and care for better than 99.9999999% of cat owners out there AND keep a nice home at the same time. All you idiots that get on your moral high horse about declaw refuse to ackowlege that beyond the one week of healing from the procedure, is AN ENTIRE LIFETIME OF PAMPERING, LOVE, AND THE BEST VET CARE MONEY CAN BUY!!!

I especially love my neighbor who had a mouth full to lecture me about how aweful and inhumane declaw is, meanwhile, her OUTDOOR CAT who has his claws, eats crap grocery store bought road kill cat food, AND THE CAT HASN'T SEEN A SINCE HE WAS A KITTEN (8 YEARS AGO)!!!

You're all so full of $h!t its spewing out of your mouth. You want to ban something, how about ban morons like you from speaking???

pw1974 said...

Whether you are for the option to declaw or against it, why do people feel the need to imposed their own beliefs on others? Simply provide the facts and let each person decide from themselves. I get so tired of people arguing to try to get one another feel like they do. People that work to get things banned undermine our freedom. Say you peace and let it go, there is no reason why anyone should be lobbying the government to tell me what I can and cannot do as a pet owner.

I choose not to declaw, but that is my choice for my own reasons. I personally do nto give a rat's @$$ what anyone else decides to do!

GRT said...

Besides the fact that there is no real good reason (unless there is a medical problem) to declaw a cat there are two reasons for not declawing that are not often mentioned.
One is mobility. The claws function as fingers and allow the cat to grasp and pull themselves up and on to places and surfaces a declawed cat cannot or would find more difficult. Once they reach a surface the claws allow them stabilize them selves on precarious places by grasping with their claws in ways that a declawed cat cannot.
A second reason is exercising their muscles. Cats love to dig in with their claws and pull and stretch their muscles. One can look at the front legs and paws of a declawed cat versus the cat with claws and see a noticeable difference. The cat with claws will have more muscled legs and larger paws. (A disheartening thing to watch is that even cats without claws attempt to dig in with their claws and pull).
I am not of a mind that owners who declaw their cats are unfit. It is more a matter of not knowing or not considering the consequences.
The point about destroying furniture does not hold water for me. Will cats damage furniture? Yes. I have had my own cat do this. But it was lack of diligence and persistence in training on my part that was the cause. And in no way did I see a damaged piece of furniture being a legitimate reasoning for removing his claws.
Barking, tails and ears all function as ways of communicating for dogs. To hinder that in anyway seems inhumane.
Any time we alter a pet we limit their choices, we have taken away an important part of living, being able to choose how, when and what to do. This in the end decreases the quality of their lives.
All of these procedures seem to most often function to serve some need of the owner or vet and have nothing to do with the quality of life of the pet.
As to why vets perform this procedure I have no idea, I honestly can't think of a rational reason.
My answer to the question: Should declawing, debarking, tail docking and ear docking be banned? Absolutely! Unless there is a medical reason for the procedure.

Roger Welton, DVM said...


Very well written and thoughtful perspective. I am not certain about the muscle distribution problem you wrote of - cats are among the most adaptable creatures around and I am not certain if muscle atrophy is a trully identified consistent problem, but it is something I plan to look into. I will say that I cannot say that I have seen that phenomenon in my one declawed cat -he is actually rather well muscled. Of course, I am also well aware that one example is hardly evidence that any generalizations can be made.

As to why veterinarians continue to perform the procedure, I think most prefer not to, and first and foremost engage in educating the owners as to other options and alot of the points that you made. We basically treat it as our governing body, the AVMA which holds their position on declaw and debarking: that it should not be banned, but that is should instead be considered only as a last resort when other options have failed, and when performed, that the highest level of pain management technology be applied.

At any rate, I enjoyed the tone of your post, as the board was heading toward getting a bit heated prior to your post! :) Very polarizing topic!

andrea m said...

What about a tendonectomy as opposed to declaw?

Roger Welton, DVM said...

Interesting that you brought this up, Andrea, and great question. The proponents of tendonectomy like it because there is no amputation involved, is less painful and overall less invasive. This is true...to a point.

Its oponents on the anti-declaw side of the argument, maintain that it is still a mutilation that renders the third phalanx of each digit, unable to extract making the entire digit nearly as useless in contributing to balance and grip as declaw does.

From veterinary perspective, with digital flexor tendonectomy, there are still incisions that need to heal and the end result is very similar to declaw, so many do not perform it not seeing much difference between the two clinically. Tendonectomy is also a bit more technical and requires longer surgical time and thereofre cost for the client.

I personally would perform tendonectomy in lieu of declaw if someone preferred that approach, but none have justififed the increase in cost and overall difference in comparison to declaw in my 10 years of practice.

Again, great question!

GRT said...

I would like to add to the comments I made on November 23rd on the subject of declawing.
What I failed to mention was that if one wants a declawed cat, there are declawed cats in rescue shelters all over the country. They are sometimes more difficult to find but they are there. This I think serves two noble goals. One is to prevent another declawed cat, the other is to provide a good home to a cat who might otherwise spend there life in a shelter or be euthanized.