Our mission at the Potter League for Animals is to educate our community about the nature and extent of this surgery, it’s possible complications, and especially about the alternatives to curb the unwanted behavior. Our position is that onychectomy is never acceptable unless it is the only alternative to euthanasia after all other alternatives have been used and have proven unsuccessful.
I. What is it?
Onychectomy is the medical term for the procedure involved in declawing a cat. This surgery is almost always an elective procedure (not medically necessary) that requires the amputation of the last digital bone on each front toe in the cat’s paw to which the claw is attached. This amputation is normally performed only on the front paws as injury to humans/other pets and damages due to scratching occur less commonly with the rear paws.
There are three common methods used to declaw a cat:
II. Why would one do it?
Cats have an instinctive need to scratch surfaces to remove excess claw material, and to keep nails clean and in good shape. Cats also scratch surfaces to mark their territory visually and with their scent, and to stretch their muscles. Cats are typically declawed for the benefit of the owner to alleviate damage to property, or injury to humans/other pets. Rarely, a cat may be declawed for medical reasons such as paronychia or neoplasia. Paronychia is a bacteria or fungal infection at the boundary between claws and skin. Neoplasia is defined as abnormal tissue growth around the claw.
In the USA, most animal welfare organizations estimate that between 20 and 25% of domestic cats are declawed.
V. Alternatives to onychectomy
Onychectomy is an ethically controversial procedure. It is currently prohibited in the European Union, including the United Kingdom, and Australia, Brazil, Israel and some other countries. Eight cities in California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beverly Hills, have also banned the procedure. However, legally banning the procedure may present problems where onychectomy is the only alternative to euthanasia. Crafting legislation with this exception to the ban is very difficult to enforce. Both the ASPCA and the AMVA strongly discourage the practice in their most recent policy statements and opine that it should only be used as an alternative to euthanasia.