Pain & Adverse Behavior in Declawed Cats

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

By: Catherine West, MCC Practice Manager

Did you know declawing cats is illegal in most developed countries? While the American Association of Feline Practitioners has issued a position statement against the surgery, the surgery is still offered by some veterinarians in Canada and the United States.

Declawing is actually a surgical procedure consisting of ten amputations
Declawing is actually a surgical procedure consisting of ten amputations

This surgery is actually an amputation of the last digit on each of the toes per paw. This leaves the bone exposed without the protection of the joint encapsulation and forces the cat to walk on the soft cartilaginous ends of the middle phalanges (P2) and placing weight on the bone in an unintended manner (Martell-Moran & Townsend, 2018). While there is no study currently evaluating the impact of bone remodeling due to walking on bone post-surgery, 11 cats in this study did exhibit bone remodeling (Martell-Moran & Townsend, 2018).

An astounding 63% of the hundreds of cats evaluated still had bone fragments from the bone which was supposed to be removed during the surgery left in the toe. These P3 fragments were found to lead to increased odds of adverse behavior, biting and ongoing pain (Martell-Moran & Townsend, 2018).

Here is a direct quote stating the conclusions of the study:

“This study found that declaw surgery in cats was associated with a significant increase in adverse behaviors, including biting, barbering, aggression and inappropriate elimination, as well as signs of back pain.

There was a high prevalence of P3 fragments in declawed animals in this study and this was associated with an increase in all adverse outcomes in these animas compared with non-surgical controls. As well, declawed cats with retained P3 fragments had higher odds of back pain, inappropriate elimination and aggression when compared with declawed cats without retained fragments. Although cats receiving optimal surgical technique had fewer adverse outcomes and lower odds of these outcomes being present, these animals were still at increased odds of biting and undesirable habits of elimination as compared with non-surgical controls. We propose that persistent pain and discomfort subsequent to declaw surgery is an important risk factor for the development of behavioral changes such as biting, aggression, barbering and inappropriate elimination. These are common reasons for the relinquishment of cats to shelters. In view of these findings, the ongoing practice of declawing in North America should be further questioned.” (Martell-Moran & Townsend, 2018, p.287)

There are options for teaching your cat appropriate scratching.

Give us a call at 205-985-2023 and we can help you troubleshoot.

Work Cited

Martell-Moran, N.K & Townsend, H.G. (2018). Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 20, 208-287.

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