Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The "urban myths" of cat declaw surgery (a volunteer's perspective)

Popoki the cat resting in the sun, showing off her mutilated paws
I had a completely different blog post planned for today, but I stumbled across an article that really pissed me off. And after spending about 15 minutes responding to comments individually, I came across one little tidbit that sent me over here to write a longer response.

The article is about pending legislation in New York that would make cat declaw surgeries illegal. If you dive into the comments section, you'll see impassioned notes from people who claim that their cats never, ever struggled with declaws.

I expect these comments on declaw articles. And I understand why people would write this sort of thing. If they admitted that they had harmed their kittens with surgeries, they'd have to do a lot of soul searching. It's just easier to suggest that the cats weren't harmed in the slightest, rather than examining the issue closely.

But there was one little statement in there that gets me.

"I have seen many (front) declawed cats (my parents adopted one that lived to be 21) and I have never seen behavioral issues, litter box problems etc.). It's urban legend."

Urban legend?

As most readers know, I volunteer at my local animal shelter. I'm on the board of Willamette Humane Society, as a matter of fact. I am deeply involved in the cat program at the shelter, which means I am often working with cats when they're new to the shelter and unsure about what everything means for them.

That's how I got Popoki. She was a terrified and sick cat in the shelter, unwilling to eat and very shy about what her future held. And, Popoki was a front declaw.

Popoki with her declawed front toes

Her surgery was inexpertly done. Her toes are ragged and uneven, and some are almost missing altogether. And she perfectly demonstrates all of the "myths" this reader is discussing in her comments.

For example, Popoki is very particular about her cat litter. I tried using a pellet-style litter with her recently, as I was looking for an eco-friendly option, and she simply would NOT use it. It's easy to understand why that's the case. Big pellets that look a little like gerbil food are too rough for her little foot pads. Her toes probably hurt, so she needs to keep things soft. If I hadn't switched to a softer litter, she very well may have demonstrated very real litterbox issues.

Next up: Behavior.

I've introduced cats to one another many, many times. I've been a successful cat foster to both adults and kittens, and I know all about how to combine cat colonies gracefully. Popoki absolutely stymies me. She flies into deep, deep aggressive states when she feels even slightly cornered by my other cats. If they so much as walk by her, she will dive for cover while growling and screaming.

It's possible, if not likely, that she does this because she has no natural weaponry. She is worried these cats will kill her and she'll be unable to fight back. She CAN'T fight back. She has no claws.

I've seen cats in the shelter that react in a slightly different manner. These cats are terrified in their kennels about the people they don't know, and they cower and slink about. When you peek into their kennels, you see this.

Hiding and scared cat

Cats can't stay hidden in their kennels at the shelter. Their cages need cleanings, and the cats need exams and shots. A frightened cat with claws can scratch when cornered, and that scratch could buy the cat time. There are no real consequences for a cat that scratches, and typically, shelter staff gives an upset cat like this some time and space before the issue is readdressed.

But a declawed cat can't scratch. Often, these cats go from hiding to out-and-out biting, and that is a disastrous choice for a cat. Every cat bite has to be reported to the state health department, and a cat that bites often enough can be considered a public health issue. A biting cat could lose her life due to that behavior.

This isn't a myth, people. It's a fact, and it's something that happens every single day in shelters all across the country.

Cats come into the shelters because they don't use cat litter, due to the pain it causes their deformed toes. And when they're in the shelter, they bite their caretakers.

The real myth here is that declawing a cat can save its life. In my experience, the opposite is true.

Now, I'm going out on a limb to publish this, as the last time I talked declawing, I got a nice little death threat as a comment. I HATE being controversial.

But we all need to start talking about the problems we're seeing in our cats that are declawed. We need to share their stories. We need to voice their pain. That's the only way we can combat the idea that declaw pain is a myth.

So who's with me? You? If so, check out the article that spurred this rant right here. Dive into the comments, and let's start fighting!

And thanks to all of you for reading to the end of my rant. I appreciate you!


  1. I am going to be honest and say my angel cats were declawed. The one scratched everything and destroyed our furniture. He had a million scratching posts but that wasn't enough. This was the 90s and the vet recommended it, so since we were doing one, we did both. We had no problems with either. They were the same before as after. Would I declaw a cat now, I don't think so, because I know more, but I did what I did. I am not going to feel shame for it. (Note, my vet had declawed ever cat he owned). I am sorry to hear other cats had problems. That makes me sad. I think we do need to get the best information about this procedure out there.

    1. I like your honesty.

      I would never suggest that people feel shame for things they did in the past (unless you have a time machine, it can't be changed). But I would love to see more people like you who take a thoughtful approach to future surgeries.

      If you really do want to learn more, I might suggest the Paw Project. They have a great deal of data about this stuff.

      For example, they talk a lot about mechanics. These surgeries involve removing the last bit of a cat's toes, and that changes how they walk. My last rescue had a great deal of mobility issues, more than likely caused by decades of walking in a really weird manner on parts of his feet not made for walking. I'm already giving Popoki supplements, because I'm sure she's at risk for this same problem. I learned a lot about that on the Paw Project site. It's a tough read, but a good one.

  2. I'm with you. We, too, volunteer at an animal shelter, and have seen SO many declaw-related behavioral issues. Thanks for your great and honest article!

    1. Thanks for reading (and thanks for volunteering, too!)

  3. Very good post! And thank you for coming by and leaving a kind comment about Sam's health.

    1. You're very welcome. I hope sweet Sam is feeling better really soon.

  4. we have seen issues over and over and wish that those who claim these are "myths" would have to sepdn time with these cats. it is sad.... as for death threats - holy cod! thank you for taking a stand

    1. I was a little stunned to get that comment, too. Hoping that's the only one I'll ever get!