Pet Talk: Cat owners conflicted by declawing |

Pet Talk: Cat owners conflicted by declawing

Melissa Rayworth
The Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Janet Winikoff, AP/Humane Society of Vero BeachVolunteer Joan Lehning clips the nails of Chang, a Siamese mix cat, at the Humane Society in Vero Beach, Fla.

For two years, Kara Johnson tried it all: scratching posts, bottles of citrus spray, blasts of canned air, even little plastic covers for the nails of her two cats. Nothing deterred them from doing serious damage to her house ” and each other ” with their tiny claws.

Sofas were reduced to shreds, shoes to tatters. The cats inflicted three serious eye injuries on each other. And then, Johnson and her boyfriend couldn’t find an apartment without proving the pets were declawed.

Finally, last month, they were ” during a routine surgery that removes the nails and part of the bones they grow from. For Johnson, ultimately, it was necessary. For animal-rights activists, it was nothing short of torture.

Such is the polarizing debate over cat declawing. Veterinarians across the country perform the procedure daily, sometimes marketing it in conjunction with spaying or neutering. But the opposition is vocal: “It’s permanently crippling and it should never be performed by anyone,” says Laura Brown, an animal care specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Some proponents see laser declawing ” more widely used in the last five years ” as a good compromise. It simplifies the surgery and minimizes recovery time and pain. But that hasn’t quelled the debate: A portion of the cat’s toes still has been removed.

Statistics on veterinary treatments other than rabies vaccinations are hard to find, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. But the declawing surgery, while common, “has slowly been considered less acceptable” in recent years, says Gail C. Golab, director of animal welfare for the AVMA.

New research in animal behavior has led to other methods for eliminating destructive scratching, she says. And anti-declaw activists may be dissuading some veterinarians from offering the procedure. One group lists the names of doctors who declaw in an online “hall of shame.”

Pet owners seeking hard facts about declawing ” the technical term is onychectomy ” will find much conflicting data. Opponents say cats are permanently disfigured, unable to walk properly, and likely to suffer severe joint and back pain. They also mention high rates of depression, aggressive biting and post-surgical complications among declawed cats.

But according to the Humane Society on its Web site, “there is just as much evidence to support the case against declawing as there is research to support it, with some studies finding few or only short-term adverse reactions to the surgery and others finding medical complications and significant differences in behavior.”

Both the AVMA and the Humane Society suggest that pet owners try as many other options as possible before declawing. But neither organization wants the procedure banned.

As for Johnson, declawing isn’t something she wanted to do, but she’s comfortable with the decision and believes her cats will remain happy. Before declawing, Johnson spent much of her free time spraying the cats with canned air to stop their scratching. Now, she says, those hours can be about play.

“We don’t have children and don’t plan to have children,” she says, “so they are our children.”

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