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Opposing Declaw, Banfield Hospitals & AVMA Make History


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I’ve been adamantly opposed to declaw for many years. Yesterday, I was talking with a cat behavior consultant colleague who edited Think Twice Before You Declaw a handout, which we co-authored with several others back in 2006. Since then, we know much more:

  • Not declawing doesn’t mean more cats will be given up to shelters (which is a long-held but inaccurate supposition).
  • No declaw doesn’t mean more immunosuppressed or elderly people will land in the hospital as a result of cat scratches.
  • Declawing cats isn’t a skill most veterinary students want to learn, and rarely do learn. Even more experienced veterinarians don’t always do it correctly, sometimes leaving a part of the nail inside the cat.
  • Of course, pain meds are appropriate after about any surgery, and certainly after an amputation (which is exactly what a declaw is). However, many (arguably most) declawed cats suffer a lifetime of chronic pain, particularly as they age.
  • If phantom pain occurs in humans following amputation, the same is very likely true for cats (as their nuero-chemistry is wired the same as ours).
  • Simple behavior modification combined with a pheromone product called Feliscratch is usually effective at encouraging cats to scratch on posts (if you have enough posts and they’re proper, sturdy posts).
  • From an ethics perspective – would cats vote to have their paws amputated?

In 2019, New York State became the first state in America to ban declaw. And seven (of the 10) Canadian provinces have chosen to ban declaw. I happen to know more states are cued up to follow the New York state ban.

And today, organized veterinary medicine in the United States has been slowly changing course as data regarding optional amputations (declaw) continues to mount.

Banfield Takes a Stand: Now Opposing Declaw

Now, Banfield Pet Hospital, the largest group of pet hospitals (over 1,000 hospitals) in the U.S. has adjusted their declaw policy to oppose the procedure:

Every medical procedure supported by our practice has been put in place with the health and wellness of pets in mind and, based on this, we do not support the elective declawing (removal of normal digits) of any animal.

Current evidence does not support the use of elective declawing surgery as an alternative to relinquishment, abandonment, or euthanasia. This position statement aligns with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) 2017 Declawing Position Statement and current bans in various US cities and municipalities.

Declawing includes surgical onychectomy, digital flexor tendonectomy, or phalangectomy. This includes surgical procedures performed with a laser. Banfield veterinarians should educate and encourage owners on alternatives to declaw. Surgical declaw is only performed when the following criterion is met:

  • Declawing is determined to be medically necessary as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to relieve pet pain or illness

If the above criterion is met and a medically necessary declawing procedure is to be performed, the providing medical team shall review the surgical procedure with the owner, including outlining all possible complications and post-operative care.

Banfield also requires that any surgical procedure be performed only with the medically appropriate use of anesthetics and analgesics and adherence to careful surgical and post-surgical protocols.

The above guidelines do not apply to the removal of dewclaws.

American Veterinary Medical Association Revised Declaw Policy

The AVMA House of Delegates did the right thing (surprising some but not me), and even strongly suggests behavior advice to clients which I think is hugely important in their excellent newly streamlined declaw policy.

The AVMA discourages the declawing (onychectomy) of cats as an elective procedure and supports non-surgical alternatives to the procedure. The AVMA respects the veterinarian’s right to use professional judgment when deciding how to best protect their individual patients’ health and welfare. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the veterinarian to counsel the owner about the natural scratching behavior of cats, the alternatives to surgery, as well as the details of the procedure itself and subsequent potential complications. Onychectomy is a surgical amputation and if performed, multi-modal perioperative pain management must be utilized.

What does the new declawing policy mean?

Though the language was revised, its content is fundamentally the same:

  • The AVMA does not support routine declawing.
  • Declawing should only be undertaken if it is medically necessary, or if alternatives to eliminate harmful or destructive scratching have failed and the cat is about to be relinquished or abandoned.
  • Veterinarians and cat owners must work together to make a decision that will provide optimal health and welfare for their pet and family.
  • Veterinarians are urged to thoroughly educate cat owners about normal scratching behaviors of cats and provide support as their clients explore and implement alternatives to declawing. These include nail trimming, providing a variety of scratching surfaces, and positive reinforcement training.

The AVMA provides resources to assist with client education and the decision-making process at avma.org/declaw.

Organized veterinary medicine likes data, and increasingly data suggests declaw is generally more harmful than beneficial. And my message is that if you want to partake in the inevitable legislation, it’s important to be reasonable.

 

 

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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