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Onychectomy (Declaw) of the Domestic Felid – Position Statement

November 30, 2011

Position

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) strongly discourages onychectomy (declawing) of domestic cats for routine purposes.  Surgical amputation of the partial digit prevents cats from expressing normal behaviours and causes pain.  Veterinarians should inform clients of the potential negative consequences of declawing and educate them about tools and techniques available to prevent and minimize personal and property damage so that the procedure may be avoided.
 

Background

  1. Onychectomy involves the amputation of the third phalanx of each digit. Even with appropriate  perioperative analgesia, this procedure causes pain (1). Controversies exist regarding the potential for short- and long-term pain following this procedure (2-4).
  2. Scratching is a normal feline behaviour. It is a means for cats to mark their territory both visually and with scent. Scratching also assists with nail conditioning and whole body stretching. Scratching posts and regular nail trims can help to minimize deleterious scratching.
  3. Veterinarians should educate clients about scratching posts, including preferred substrate, size, and location; normal scratching behaviours; nail trimming; artificial nail caps; and techniques for furniture protection. This will help clients understand normal felid behaviour and become familiar with techniques to positively reinforce desirable behaviours and minimize unwanted scratching behaviours.
  4. Only when there is a serious risk to client health (e.g., immunodeficiency) or cases in which the owner will relinquish the cat for euthanasia should onychectomy of the forepaws be considered. In these rare cases, careful attention to perioperative pain management is essential (5,6). Four paw declaws are rarely warranted.
  5. With proper education, most of these surgeries can be avoided.

References

  1. Romans CW, Gordon WJ, Robinson DA, Evans R, Conzemius MG. Effect of postoperative analgesic protocol on limb function following onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227:89-93.
  2. Patronek GJ. Assessment of claims of short- and long-term complications associated with onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;219:932-937.
  3. Cambridge AJ, Tobias KM, Newberry RC, Sarkar DK. Subjective and objective measurements of postoperative pain in cats. J AmVet Med Assoc 2000;217:685-690.
  4. Conrad J, Wendelburg K, Santinelli S, Park A. Deleterious effects of onychectomy (declawing) in exotic felids and a reparative surgical technique: A preliminary report. Proc Am Assoc Zoo Vet 2002:16-20.
  5. Lemke KA, Crook AD. Examples of Anesthetic and Pain Management Protocols for Healthy Dogs and Cats. 2nd ed. Ottawa, Ontario, CVMA 2011. Available with restricted access. http://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/anaesthetic-pain-management-protocols-for-healthy-cats-and-dogs
  6. Tranquilli WJ, Grimm KA, Lamont LA. Common feline procedures. In: Pain Management for the Small Animal Practitioner. Jackson, Wyoming: Teton NewMedia, 2004.

(Revised November 2011)