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Declawing

The American Animal Hospital Association strongly opposes the elective declawing of domestic cats and believes it is veterinarians’ obligation to provide educational tools and guidance for effective alternative training programs for owners.

Background:

Scratching is a normal feline behavior. Cats scratch to:

  • Condition their claws by removing old nail sheaths
  • Stretch and exercise their bodies
  • Communicate visually and through scent left behind from glands on the paws   

Veterinarians and cat owners must work together to establish appropriate scratching behaviors by:

  • Providing suitable implements for normal scratching behavior, such as scratching posts (many varieties available), cardboard, wood, carpet, or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects. Implements should be tall or long enough to allow full stretching and be firmly anchored to provide necessary resistance to scratching.
  • Making appropriate scratching objects more attractive than furniture, which often includes placement near the current object being used and in favorite resting areas.
  • Training cats through positive reinforcement to use appropriate scratching sites by employing treats, catnip, verbal praise, and/or hormone attractants.
  • Trimming cats’ nails often.
  • Considering artificial nail caps.
  • Avoiding rough play; owners should not use their own body parts (feet, hands) as play toys.
  • Using furniture protectors as needed to deter unwanted scratching.  

Veterinarians are strongly encouraged to fully educate owners as to why declawing cats is no longer supported. The following points are integral to understanding why declawing is no longer viewed as a reasonable procedure:

  • Declawing is not just removal of the claw; it is an amputation of the third bone in each toe.
  • There are inherent risks and complications with any surgical procedure including, but not limited to anesthetic complications, analgesic side effects, hemorrhage, infection, and pain.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not list declawing as a means of preventing disease in either healthy or immunocompromised individuals.

Recent retrospective studies have found significant increase (three to seven times more likely) of the following in declawed compared to non-declawed cats: chronic back pain, inappropriate urination, biting, and overgrooming.

This statement does not apply to claw removal when medically necessary to treat conditions such as tumors or chronic infections. If declawing is performed, the procedure must follow current best practices for amputation, including multimodal pain control before, during, and after for an appropriate length of time after surgery.

Resources:  

Adopted by the American Animal Hospital Association Board of Directors October 2003. Revised October 2009 and August 2015. Last revised June 2021.