Vet, animal shelter talk declawing cats

Parker County vets voiced their thoughts on declawing cats, after New York passed a ban last week, making the procedure illegal.

While New York’s ban on declawing cats took effect last week, some thoughts on the practice in Parker County were mixed.

Grote Veterinary Clinic Veterinarian Dr. Tyler Martin described the declawing procedure as removing the claw portion, which is similar to a human fingernail, of a cat’s digits. The proper way to go about this procedure includes the use of post-operation pain medicine, anesthesia and analgesia, or administering pain medicine before the procedure and numbing the toes, Martin said.

If performed properly, the procedure can be successful. Martin also said the risk involved is similar to that of spaying and neutering procedures.

Declawing procedures at the Grote Veterinary Clinic are not frequent, Martin said.

Martin said cats can be submitted to animal shelters because of their destructive nature to tear things like furniture with their claws. Some cats might not get adopted because of that.

“I don’t think that every cat needs to be declawed,” Martin said. “I personally have four cats that aren’t declawed, but I do think there’s a time and a place for that.”

Martin said he prefers to use a surgical laser in declawing procedures because it tends to be precise, causes less post-operation pain and can heal faster.

Weatherford Animal Services Manager Ashley Woolnough said the Weatherford Parker County Animal Shelter does not encourage declawing “because it renders the cat defenseless and can cause behavioral and medical problems down the road.” 

“Typically, declawing is performed primarily to benefit the owner and does not provide benefit for the cat,” Woolnough said.

Woolnough described the declawing procedure as painful and similar to a human finger amputation up to the first knuckle. She also said declawed cats are more likely to have back pain, neuropathic pain, residual inflammation, joint problems, infection or remaining bone fragments.

Woolnough also said declawing can impair balance, climbing, social interactions, and limits a cat’s stretching ability and other normal cat behavior.

“Scratching is a normal behavior for cats and a cat who has been declawed is unable to scratch,” Woolnough said. “This goes against one of the principals of the five freedoms of animal welfare, the freedom to express normal behavior. By preventing a cat from scratching (such as on a tree or a scratching post) and expressing that normal behavior, the cat is subjected to emotional stress.”

Martin said cats do not tend to bear weight on the claw portion of their digit.

“The reality is is that cats don’t bear weight on that portion of the digit, those claws are retractible,” Martin said. “So, they’re not actually weight-bearing on that bone.”

In consultation for declawing, Martin said he would first ask if the cat is more often inside or outside.

“If they’re outside, they need those claws,” Martin said. “That’s why God gave them to them is to defend themselves against other cats and help them hunt and be a cat. Now if this is a fat Garfield cat that’s laying on the sofa for a living and that’s where he’s always going to be and the owners are pretty confident that that’s the case, then they would be a candidate.”

Woolnough said declawed cats run the risk of becoming prey since they can’t defend themselves and can’t climb properly.

Martin also said he prefers to declaw cats when they are less than a year of age because the trauma of the surgery can be worse for older cats. He also usually does not prefer to declaw a cat’s back feet.

When approached by clients about cat declawing, Martin said he would also ask them if they’ve tried to use scratching posts and talk about strategies to best use the scratching post. Martin said pheromones can discourage scratching from some areas and encourage it on the scratching post.

“The first thing [owners] think of when the cat claws the sofa is we need to get him declawed,” Martin said. “A lot of times [it’s] the first time they’ve ever heard about pheromones, treatment and everybody knows what a scratching post is but maybe they haven’t really looked into where to put it or where not to put it, etcetera, because all that has a component.”

Woolnough said declawed cats may also be more aggressive and defecate outside of their litter box. She also recommended the use of scratching posts and pheromones as well as positive reinforcement, regular nail trimming and using nail caps.

Weatherford Democrat made calls to members of animal rescue centers Parker Paws and Weatherford Whiskers for this story. Parker Paws did not return the Democrat’s messages and Weatherford Whiskers declined to comment.