Saturday, January 14, 2017

The war between the veterinary profession and the passionate welfare advocates. The declaw debate.

Magpie, the editor..
My very good friend, Karen, called me yesterday to borrow some battery juice. She has found her second calling in life as a feral cat rescue lobbyist and welfare reform advocate. She wanted my thoughts on declawing and why it is so impossible to find affordable help from the veterinary community for the multitude of rescue organizations she is trying to assist? She has spent enough time entrenched in the horror reality of cat rescue to become bitter about how my side was crippling her efforts to get where she wanted cat welfare and their critical medical needs to be.

The conversation started as they always do... We reminded each other how much we needed each other. How hard we were working, and, how the road blocks never seem to lessen, soften, widen, or cease. We always start with gratitude for our friendship and commiseration on common ground.

Karen has made numerous trips around the country visiting rescues, organizations and other role models for feral cats in the hopes she can pick up some of the tips and tools of their successes to carry back home for the benefit of New Jerseys over whelming under served misplaced community cats. She is a woman on a mission and she has gumption, intelligence, and resources. I admire and adore her.

Her dilemma du jour was causing her ulcers to erupt. She was curious and reluctantly pessimistic to see what my opinion and stance on declawing was? I could hear the trepidation and despair in her voice as she muttered, "I cannot believe this ban might actually stall in NJ? The veterinary association and even my own vet, who I have known and trusted for years, is opposed to the ban. How could anyone be opposed to this ban?" (see more on NJ's proposed ban here)

I knew that the long pause at the end of her question was laden with despair should my title provide another disappointment in the current state of animal care humanity.

Her naive misplaced assumption was that NJ Vet Association, and, her own beloved vet who are sworn to the "protection of animal health and welfare, and the prevention and relief of animal suffering" love cats. How then could they oppose banning the removal of the end of these cats fingers? Anyone with any personal investment in animal care wouldn't accept this as appropriate form of animal husbandry?

Sad truth be told, it is the well affirmed time honored tradition for all of the Vet Med associations to oppose anything that might infringe on their ability to do anything they want to. We can speak out of one smiling side of our mouth passing out cartoon books to kids about the honor and pride in being a custodian of the livestock, food supply and bed fellow, but, the other side is desperate to maintain a veil of blind trust. This includes too many horrific antiquated realities like debarking, animal testing, and almost completely unregulated (wrt compassion seeking hidden cameras) protected slaughterhouse practices which are definitely not for the feint of heart. We also vehemently rationalize pets as property for every reason, including that we euthanize when owners cannot, will not, or do not want to pay for care, services, assistance or treatment. We want to do whatever we can to earn a living without any government interference, oversight, or laws, just like every other professional organization big enough to have a bank account, a lobbyist firm and eyes to monitor every animal related rule, law or proposal.

My Wren.. My heart fills with her near me.
What is declawing? It is, in very simple terms, the amputation of the last part of the digit of the fingers/toes. It either involves removing the piece of the toe that has the nail attached to it, or, surgical alteration of the toes that paralyzes the nails ability to extend or use the nails at all. This latter method, the tendonectomy, is not recommended by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), versus an onychectomy (surgical removal of the end of the toe) which is neither recommended nor disallowed. The AVMA position can be found here. 

I wrote a blog on this a long time ago, What You Need To Know Before You Declaw, about my feelings on amputating toes to save furniture.

I admitted to my dear friend that of all of the amazing things I am proud of at my clinic there was one subject that caused more dissension and resistance than anything else; my declaration of prohibition of declawing. It was the first, and subsequently only, time that I refused to allow the vets to do what they want to based on what they think is best practice. I would hate to work for someone who micromanaged me, and therefore, I don't, (or at least try very hard not to), do it to others. We had varying opinions on the practice, but my heart, our practice philosophy and how we look ourselves in the mirror when these declawed cats come back to us for euthanasia (after I feel responsible in some part for their current state) left me feeling like I just had to say no, for good, and forever.

I decided that I feel obligated to be true to our motto of being a "cruelty free safe haven" and this is will remain our first obligation. I also did not want to profit on something I did not support. The ban has been in effect for one year. It has been the right decision. My conscious is clear as I help the cats in our community find a better life and a more accepting attitude for them to be who they are.

Jitterbug full on cat nap on our bed.
Let me summarize some of the reasons I hear vets still supporting declawing;

1. We can provide it safer than the back yard do-it-your-selfers. My response; I cannot answer this other than to hold up a coat hanger and remind ourselves cats wouldn't choose to have their toes cut off regardless of the degree of expertise yielding the blade.

2. We provide pain management. Me; OK, isn't that ethically responsible for everything we do?

3. We only do it if the pet has no other options to stay in the home. Me; And those peeing cats? What do we remove to save from euthanizing them? We do not lower our standards of acceptable care because others lack them to begin with.

4. We do it to protect people who have bleeding disorders. Me; There are other ways to keep nails from being so sharp, like trimming, or even use glue on nail covers.

5. Economics. No one wants to say it out loud but we vets make money on declawing cats. At my clinic it was about $500. I know of other clinics who charge upwards of $1500 to declaw.  The surgery is quick, easy and lucrative.

The nephews start to socialize the newest clinic orphans
The overwhelming reason I have clients requesting declaws is two fold;

1. The cats are clawing their owners furniture. Protect the furniture by maiming the housemate?

2. It has been a practice vets have offered for decades. In the USA it is accepted as a matter of historical precedence. We vets have failed to provide the time to educate owners on why cats use their claws, and how to curb it. We fail to provide the needed network of support to save these cats from surgery, surrender, frustration when they inevitably try to evolve from a predator who hunts, climbs, and explores to a sedentary pet with as much inconvenience as a fish. Neither party has made a strong effort to evolve into a more compassionate caretaker.

Like every unwanted behavior intuitive to a species it takes time, training, and patience, and yes, some degree of acceptance that we can live together with each others undesirable ticks and compulsions.

Cats are compulsory stubborn persnickety unyielding souls with solid reasons for doing what their ancestors have seeded as a life preserving habit. For my kitties, who are in truth the children I will never have, I see their marks on the side of my side chair (worth all of about $200) as a calling card for their staking claim to our home as theirs. Magpie greets me every morning with a long stretch of worship and begging for a hug on the back of the chair I keep in her room. These cat calling cards are touchstones of anointment scattered around our home. The key to my acceptance is that this is OUR home. We share it. Cat hair, disposable upholstery, litter box scatter, and love. There is an unwritten mutually agreed upon acceptance as to what is off limits and what is cat Parvati territory.

Jitterbug photosynthesizing
The personal side of declawing runs deep and painfully pierces my gut. These cats suffer, they are subjected to a painful unnecessary procedure. Even with providing this surgery with the highest standards of pain management, careful dissection and after care, many of these cats become less inclined to being affectionate companions as we have removed their natural tendency to feel and interact with their own environment by touching and leaving their scent behind. Cats are furry graffiti artists intent on marking their world and tagging their friends as next at bat.

Where was my friend to go take her rescue organizations rallying for a bill everyone should be agreeing upon from here? Simple; to remember that if we can find our common ground, our common purpose, we can start the discussion and make meaningful change for the betterment of cats everywhere.

My personal advice for her dilemma given the lack of compassion she sees her vet possessing: Find someone else to care for your pets after telling her why you are leaving. In the end I would guess her position is based on the reasons I list above. Support the vets who you find common ground with. Ultimately your vet needs to be someone you trust and believe in.

Here are my tips to providing resolution to scratching and clawing;

1. Learn how to trim your pets nails. I have YouTube videos to help with this. At my clinic we offer free demonstrations with the technicians to help get our clients comfortable with restraining and trimming.

2. Offer your cats options to be the tactile I love the corrugated scratching mats. I bait them with fresh dried organic catnip weekly. They are placed all over my home. They are the disposable demolishable offerings I provide to allow them to release their inner prowess. I vacuum them weekly and replace them about every 6 months.

3. I discourage clawing the furniture by providing acceptable options in the areas they choose to scratch. I either place a blanket over the corner of the chair, or place a scratching board or mat nearby.

4. I understand and acknowledge that my cats claw in my presence for attention. It is their non-verbal way of saying "HEY! I am here! What's up with you today?" I always reply with a "Good Morning!" and pick them up for an acknowledgement cuddle. Yelling at them when they are saying 'hello', looking for loving attention does not articulate to them that I am upset they are scratching. They DO NOT correlate the scratching to my disapproving discipline. They just hear "BLAH! BLAH! BLAH! Magpie!" Which translates to "I hate you Magpie!" She has no idea what she did or why I would be harsh to her. NEVER EVER EVER YELL AT A CAT! It is counterproductive and cruel.

It is up to us, the veterinary profession, to place patient care above all else. Not our wallets, not our clients furniture, and not the rest of  the excuses to not advocate for our patients welfare. Period. My gut tells me that this won't happen. We will remain stuck in old outdated unshared beliefs and actions and further grow the divide. I also believe that the masses demanding change will call us out on our hypocrisy.

Be on the first wave of turning the tides. Build your practice on compassion. I can attest to it being the most lucrative way to grow with a direction you aren't stuck killing an angry painful cat on.

I will stand on this soapbox alone as the single vet screaming at the rest of my profession and declare that we know better. We see the best of our clients affections for their companions. I will challenge us to never place personal or financial gain above the health, wellness, happiness, and personal protection we owe our patients. They should be who we serve to protect first. It will happen. One state at a time, one vet shaming at a time, one bold outspoken animal advocate at a time chipping away on tradition, fear to embrace the true side that builds our businesses and aligns with our own experiences and sad declaw stories. We do know better. We owe our cats better. We have an opportunity to really be the trusted advocate we portray ourselves as. I don't believe that many of us really still regurgitate the empty words that "just because we have been doing it for decades" is a valid excuse to keep on putting ourselves first.

If you have a pet question that you would like to ask me please go to Pawbly is free to use and open to all pet lovers. If you want to visit me at the clinic we are open 7 days a week. Also please follow us on Facebook, my YouTube channel ad on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.


  1. I'm a middle of the fence person about declaring. Grew up with all of our family cats declawed and no one had huge behavioral issues.

    I have 2 cats now and use the rubber soft claws with super glue. When they have them on, they cannot retract their claws at all. Is that bothersome or damaging to them?

    We don't use them to protect furniture, but to protect flesh! The youngest cat and attacks the dogs and us... LOL

    1. Hello Jessica,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and leave your experiences and thoughts. I think that cats get used to the nail caps and most don't seem to mind them at all. Medically there is no adverse side effect to using them.
      Take good care of yourself.
      Much love,

    2. You say you use nail clips to protect yourselves yet you have dogs who are far more likely to seriously injure you. 4.5 million people bitten by dogs in the USA each year, 800,000+ need medical treatment, 30,000 need reconstructive surgery and 30-50 will die, by contrast, 30,000 people get cats scratch fever (cats are NOT the only cause) of which only 2000 require medical care (sources, WHO and American medical journal).
      As for being middle of the fence about declawing, perhaps (hopefully)this will bring you down on the right side of the fence. Declawing is illegal i.e. a criminal offence (as opposed to a civil offence) which will carry a custodial sentence, a fine, or both, in over forty countries which includes the whole of Europe. Here in the UK, not only has declawing never been practiced, not even when technically it was legal, because it was against the ethics of the ruling veterinary body, but say 'Soft Paws' to any cat owner and they won't know what you are talking about. That's how small an issue cats' claws and the occasional scratch are here in the UK.

    3. very interesting insights! I appreciate you taking the time to add your perspective. Amazing how it changes when the community views issues so differently. Thank you for all that you do to promote education, welfare and compassion. hugs and well wishes from the other side of the pond,, where i hope we are learning to evolve.

  2. I had to gelp my grandmother assist her cat Sheeba with the after effects of a poorly done declaw at one point. I admit that this was probably a rare occurrence and probably gives me a right answer wrong reason outlook on declawing but it surely didn't help me to support the process of declawing. Another reason I don't support declawing is because if you have a cat that ever spend any time outside it is an absolutely defenseless animal at that point with the exception of course of its capacity to move being its primary defense.
    Institutional inertia can be an extraordinarily powerful thing and that can be both good and bad sometimes things just aren't broke and do not need fixing other times this can be the absolute worst excuse for why a certain process is adhered to. Anyone using it as an excuse and of itself without any kind of support really is confessing that they have no leg to stand on if there are other better options around.
    Thank you for another great article it's always good to see your thoughts come up in my feed and read not just more about what you think but to see how you progressed over time.

    1. Hello,
      Thanks for reading and saying hello! My very best to you and your family.

  3. We in the UK and other countries where declawing is banned and in fact in our country was never done even when it was legal, are shocked that it is still quite common in the USA and Canada. How can it still be legal in 2017 to mutilate and disable for life, cats this way and cause many of them physical and/or mental problems? The civilised world is watching and waiting for this cruel surgery to stop and cheering every time a clinic admits it is wrong and stops declawing. (Co-founder of The International Coalition Against Declawing) Thank you for this article which I will share with our group.

    1. Hello,
      Thank you for reading and adding your thoughts. Thank you most especially for being an advocate and a voice for these pets.
      With love and admiration.
      PS If possible please join me on I could really use some assistance trying to offer free education and tools to other pet people around the globe. My hope is to provide a free online community of support and education to assist pets in getting better care globally. I would also love to talk to you about adding your group to our list of partner organizations.
      Have the best day ever!

  4. I love this post. Where I'm from in Australia, declawing is banned, and I am shocked and amazed that it is still allowed in the US. Thank you for being a voice of kindness and reason!

    1. Thank you for reading and your kind words! I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to add your thoughts too! I am still shocked and appalled too! Maybe together as enough voices add to the chorus the tides and attitudes will change.. gotta have hope and keep up the good fight!
      take care,

  5. As a UK resident it is so weird to read of 'war' between the veterinary profession and animal welfare advocates. Here, they all pull together, here declawing - in fact all animal mutilation - is a criminal offence.

    1. I sincerely hope that the war turns into a discussion about putting our cats lives and rights first... until that happens I will be firmly entrenched in challenging my profession to do and be better.
      thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts

  6. Please consider joining the Paw Project.

    1. thank you! I will! please also consider joining me on It is a free online community dedicated to providing credible help to peoples pets needs. Please also inquire about partnering with us (also free of course) to advance animal welfare globally.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. I'm sure more vets feel this way but are afraid to step on that soap box alone. The more that are willing it shows everyone that it is okay. That their practice doesn't suffer, that they aren't shunned. And more people need to thank vets who don't declaw

    1. I agree! I am sure many vets know the adverse consequences of providing a surgery that harms our cats. We see it in litter box aversion, chronic pain, post op infection and complications and the pain they have immediately post op. In some cases these cats also become terminally unhappy and aggressive which is inevitably a death sentence. Last night I saw a urinary blockage cat whose family could not afford to pay for the emergency care he needed, He was a year old and declawed. All I could think about was ow much better ff he would be if his family had left the declaw fee as an emergency fund for care. I ended up doing his surgery as a bare bones last ditch effort to save his life. It was the only option he had. Fingers crossed for him

  8. Such a shame to see that this is still dubbed a debate, as in the UK declawing is an offence and unheard of, good job for keeping up the fight and hopefully soon it will no longer have to be one, best of luck!