Onychectomy, popularly known as declawing, is an operation to remove an animal's claws surgically by means of the amputation of all or part of the distal phalanges, or end bones, of the animal's toes. Because the claw develops from germinal tissue within the third phalanx, amputation of the bone is necessary to fully remove the claw. The terms "onychectomy" (origin: Greek ὄνυξ onyx, nail + ἐκτομή ektomē, excision) and "declawing" imply mere claw removal, but a more appropriate description would be phalangectomy, excision of toe bone.
- 1 Medically indicated onychectomy
- 2 Elective onychectomy
- 3 Methods
- 4 Recovery, health and behavioral effects
- 5 Declawing practices
- 6 Alternatives to declawing
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Medically indicated onychectomy
The amputation of the distal phalanx is indicated in case of chronic inflammatory processes, tumours, persistent and severe infections and gangrene that are limited to the distal phalanx. The procedure is usually limited to the affected claw, leaving the healthy claws (if any) intact.
In North America, declawing is commonly performed on cats to prevent damage to household possessions by scratching and to prevent scratching of people. The surgery involves amputating the distal phalanges of all toes on the front paws, and sometimes the rear paws as well. Although no precise figures are available, peer-reviewed veterinary journal articles estimate that approximately 25% of domestic cats in North America have been declawed. Some privately owned apartment buildings in the U.S. ban cats unless they have been declawed. This is not the case in publicly subsidized housing, however, because in 2007 the U.S. Congress enacted legislation that forbids public housing authorities from having such rules. Laws have been passed in California (2012) and Rhode Island (2013) that ban landlords from requiring the declawing cats as a condition of occupancy.
Some North American veterinarians hold the position that people with compromised immune systems, due to conditions such as AIDS, should have their cats declawed to prevent health risks to themselves. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control affirms declawing as an option, but acknowledges the controversy and offers the alternative of avoiding situations where scratching might occur. Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests avoiding rough play. As a precautionary measure, Familydoctor.org advises people should avoid provoking cats into scratching them.
Despite the prevalence of elective onychectomy in North America, no standard practices exist regarding the surgical techniques or surgical tools used, the administration of post-operative analgesics or other follow-up care, or the optimal age or other attributes of cats undergoing the procedure. There are three surgical methods: scalpel blade, guillotine trimmers, and laser.
Recovery, health and behavioral effects
Onychectomy is an orthopedic surgery involving 1 (or more) separate phalangeal amputations, which requires general anesthesia and multi-modal pain management before, during, and after surgery.
In a survey of 276 cat owners, 34% reported post-surgical discomfort in their cats while 78% reported primarily tenderness. Recovery time took from three days to two weeks. Increased biting strength or frequency was reported in 4% of cats, but overall, 96% of owners were satisfied with the surgery. Some other studies found lameness after onychectomy lasting >3 days, >1 week, 8 days, > 12 days, 180 days, and 96 months.
At one veterinary teaching hospital, between 50 and 80% of cats had one or more medical complications post-surgery; 19.8% developed complications after release. Other studies have reported medical post-op complication rates as 24% (Jankowski 1998), 53% (Martinez 1993), 1.4% (Pollari 1996), 82.5% for blade and 51.5% for shear technique (Tobias 1994), and 80% (Yeon 2001). Reported medical complications include: pain, hemorrhage, laceration of paw pads, swelling, reluctance to bear weight on affected limb, neuropraxia (transient motor paralysis), radial nerve damage, lameness, infection, abscess, tissue necrosis, wound dehiscence, incomplete healing, protrusion of 2nd (middle) phalanx, claw regrowth, scurs (growth of deformed claw segments), retention of flexor process of third phalanx, chronic draining tracts, self-mutilation, dermatitis, lethargy, palmigrade stance (walking on wrists), chronic intermittent lameness, chronic pain syndrome, flexor tendon contracture, and cystitis (stress-associated bladder inflammation). Claw regrowth has been seen by veterinarians anywhere from weeks up to 15 years after onychectomy.(Veterinary Information Network).
In post-operation follow ups Yeon, et al. (2001) found six of thirty-nine cats (15%~) were house soiling and seven (18%) had increased biting frequency or intensity. The authors concluded based on this and previous studies that "behavioral problems following onychectomy were not pronounced". Follow-ups in this study were conducted an average of eleven and a half months after surgery.
Behavior problems are a primary cause of cats being relinquished to shelters. Proponents of declawing argue that declawing reduces undesired behaviors (scratching) and thus reduces the likelihood of relinquishment. Opponents of declawing argue the surgery itself creates more behavioral problems leading to relinquishment of cats. A study by Patronek et al. (1996) found in a univariate analysis that declawed cats were only 63% as likely to be relinquished as non-declawed cats. A multivariate analysis conducted in the same study shows odds of being relinquished to a shelter were 89% higher for declawed cats. The authors concluded that the conflicting results of the two analyses made it difficult to interpret the effects of declawing. In a shelter setting, more declawed cats were reported by their owners to have problems with inappropriate elimination (house soiling). However, this study ultimately found no association between the declaw status of cats and their aggression towards humans or frequency of inappropriate elimination (house soiling).
In another study, 16% of declawed cats developed behavior problems (12% biting), and more declawed (55%) than clawed (45%) cats were referred to a vet teaching hospital for behavior problems. This was the second-longest follow-up period (2 years) ever examined.
Patronek, Glickman and Beck (1996) found no association between the declaw status of cats and the frequency of inappropriate elimination (house soiling).
In another study of 275 cats, 11 cats (4%) developed or had worse behavior problems post-declawing; 5 clients (less than 1%) reported that their cats had developed litterbox and biting problems.
Chronic pain syndrome of onychectomy has been described by a pain management specialist as leading to unwanted behaviors, including increased aggression.
A prospective study comparing declawing with tendonectomy noted many medical as well as behavior complications.
An internet survey found that declawed cats were more likely to jump on tables and counters and house-soiled more than non-declawed cats (25% vs. 15%).
Laws and policies governing onychectomy vary around the world. For example, many European countries prohibit or significantly restrict the practice, as do Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Turkey. It is banned in at least 22 countries. The list below gives an overview of the situation in different parts of the world.
In Australia, declawing has never been common, and for all practical purposes, does not exist. Nationwide legislation was recently enacted that prohibits the declawing of cats except for medical need of the cat. The Australian Veterinary Association's policy states: "Surgical alteration to the natural state of an animal is acceptable only if it is necessary for the health and welfare of the animal concerned. Performance of any surgical procedure for other than legitimate medical reasons is unacceptable."
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association officially opposes the practice of declawing, stating "We strongly oppose (declawing) because from an ethical viewpoint, the surgery is unacceptable. It offers no advantage to the cat" and that "It is evident that felines suffer needlessly when undergoing this surgery as an elective measure". However it is up to the Veterinary regulators in each province to ban the practice. Declawing has been banned by the Veterinary Associations of seven out of ten Canadian provinces; Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. All of the Canadian prohibitions still allow for declawing-type procedures in the case of medical necessity to treat an injury, deformity or pathology affecting the animal.
In Israel, the Knesset Education Committee voted unanimously to send a bill banning the declawing of cats not for medical reasons. The bill has passed second and third readings on November 28, 2011, effectively making declawing a criminal offense with penalty of 1 year in prison or a fine of 75,000 Shekels.
In many European countries the practice is forbidden either under the terms of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals or under local animal abuse laws, unless it is for "veterinary medical reasons or for the benefit of any particular animal." Some European countries go further, such as Finland, Sweden, Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, where declawing cats for non-medical reasons is always illegal under their laws against cruelty to animals.
In Austria, the Federal Act on the Protection of Animals, in Section 7, states, surgical procedures "carried out for other than therapeutic or diagnostic purposes...are prohibited, in particular...declawing."
In the United Kingdom, declawing was outlawed by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which explicitly prohibited "interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, otherwise than for the purposes of its medical treatment." Even before the 2006 Act, however, declawing was extremely uncommon, to the extent that most people had never seen a declawed cat. The procedure was considered cruel by almost all British vets, who refused to perform it except on medical grounds. The Guide to Professional Conduct of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons stated that declawing was "only acceptable where, in the opinion of the veterinary surgeon, injury to the animal is likely to occur during normal activity. It is not acceptable if carried out for the convenience of the owner ... the removal of claws, particularly those which are weight bearing, to preclude damage to furnishings is not acceptable."
Declawing was outlawed in West Hollywood, California, in 2003, the first such ban in the U.S. The ordinance was authored by West Hollywood Councilmember John Duran and sponsored by The Paw Project, a non-profit organization started by Dr. Jennifer Conrad based in Santa Monica, CA. The California Veterinary Medical Association challenged the law in court. The CVMA maintained that West Hollywood had overstepped its municipal authority by enacting an ordinance that infringed on licensed professionals’ state-granted rights. It did not directly address declawing as an animal welfare issue. The CVMA initially prevailed in Superior Court, but in June 2007, the California Court of Appeal overturned the lower court ruling, thus reinstating the law banning declawing in West Hollywood.
In 2004, California became the first state in the U.S. to enact a statewide ban on the declawing of wild and exotic cats. The bill was introduced by California Assemblymember Paul Koretz and sponsored by the Paw Project. In 2006, the United States Department of Agriculture enacted a ban on declawing of all wild and exotic animals held by USDA-licensed owners.
In 2009, the California state legislature approved a measure, sponsored by the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), intended to stop other cities from passing bans similar to West Hollywood's. The bill included all professions licensed by the state Department of Consumer Affairs, and it was signed into law by the Governor in July, 2009. However, the law's effective date, January 1, 2010, provided enough time for seven more California cities to pass local bans against the declawing of domestic cats: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Burbank, Santa Monica, Berkeley, Beverly Hills, and Culver City.
In 2012, a California bill, authored by Senator Fran Pavley and sponsored by the Paw Project, was signed into law that prohibits landlords from requiring declawing and devocalization of animals as a condition of tenancy. In 2013, the state of Rhode Island enacted a law, similar to the California law, prohibiting landlords from requiring declawing as a condition of occupancy.
Denver, Colorado, approved the first ban on declawing in a U.S. city outside California in November 2017. The effort was spearheaded by Aubrey Lavizzo, DVM, a veterinarian and Paw Project-Colorado Director. The ordinance was introduced by Denver City Councilmember Kendra Black. 
Ethical viewpoints on declawing in the US
Declawing is widely practiced but ethically controversial within the American veterinary community. Some American and Canadian veterinarians endorse the procedure, while some have criticized and refused to perform it. Two animal protection organizations in the U.S., the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, discourage the procedure. The Humane Society of the United States has supported legislation banning or restricting declawing. Multiple surveys and polls taken from 2011 reveal that the majority of U.S. cat owners are against declawing, believing the practice to be cruel. These surveys also suggest that the U.S. public believes that the majority of veterinarians who perform declawings only do so because it is a lucrative practice.
Opposition to attempts to ban or restrict declawing has come from veterinary trade organizations, such as the California Veterinary Medical Association. On the other hand, the American Veterinary Medical Association states that declawing "should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents a zoonotic risk for its owner(s)." Surveys suggest that 95% of declaw surgeries are done to protect furniture.
Alternatives to declawing
Tendonectomy involves cutting the deep digital flexor tendon of each claw, resulting in the cat being unable to move its distal phalanges. Without the ability to expose its claws, the cat is unable to wear down or groom its claws. For this reason, the cat subsequently requires regular nail clippings to prevent its claws from growing into its paw pads. A 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association comparing cats undergoing onychectomy to cats undergoing tendonectomy found that, although the cats undergoing tendonectomy appeared to suffer less pain immediately post-operatively, there was no significant difference in postoperative lameness, bleeding, or infection between the two groups. A 2005 study found no evidence that tendonectomy is less painful than onychectomy. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association explicitly do not recommend this surgery as an alternative to declawing.
According to board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg, "For most cats, appropriate client advice and a little effort is all that is needed to prevent scratching problems." However, many veterinary practitioners are unwilling or unable to offer solutions to behavioral problems such as scratching, other than declawing.
A non-surgical alternative to declawing is the application of vinyl nail caps that are affixed to the claws with nontoxic glue, requiring periodic replacement when the cat sheds its claw sheaths (usually every four to six weeks, depending on the cat's scratching habits).
Other alternatives include regular nail trimming; directing scratching behavior to inexpensive cardboard scratchers or scratching posts, or emery scratching pads that dull the claws; rotary sanding devices; covering furniture or using double-sided sticky tape or sheets such as Sticky Paws; remote aversive devices such as Scat Mats; or acceptance of cats' scratching behavior.
- "Phalangectomy | definition of phalangectomy by Medical dictionary". Medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Patronek GJ (Oct 2001). "Assessment of claims of short- and long-term complications associated with onychectomy in cats". J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 219 (7): 932–7. doi:10.2460/javma.2001.219.932. ISSN 0003-1488. PMID 11601788.
- "Congress Takes Swipe at Pet Declawing - Wayne Pacelle: A Humane Nation | HSUS President & CEO". Hsus.typepad.com. 2007-07-12. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Declawing Cats: The Truth". Ask The Cat Doctor. 2016-02-03. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "For Veterinarians | Bartonella | CDC". Cdc.gov. 2015-12-14. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Guidelines for Preventing Opportunistic Infections Among HIV-Infected Persons - 2002". Cdc.gov. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Cat-Scratch Disease | Prevention". Familydoctor.org. 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Shelley Knudsen. "Declaws". Allfelinehospital.com. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 30, 2014. Retrieved August 1, 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Landsberg GM. Cat owners' attitudes toward declawing. Anthrozoos 1991;4:192-197.
- Landsberg GM. Feline scratching and destruction and the effects of declawing. Vet Clin North Am Small An Pract 1991; 2: 265-279.
- Yeon SC, Flanders JA, Scarlett JM, et al. Attitudes of owners regarding tendenectomy and onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001; 218: 43-47.
- Martinez SA, Hauptman J, Walshaw R. Comparing two techniques for onychectomy in cats and two adhesives for wound closure. Vet Med 1993; 88: 516-525.
- Holmberg DL, Brisson BA. A prospective comparison of postoperative morbidity associated with the use of scalpel blades and lasers for onychectomy in cats. Can Vet J 2006; 47: 162-163.
- Romans CW, Gordon WJ, Robinson DA, et al. Effect of postoperative analgesic protocol on limb function following onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005; 227: 89-93.
- Jankowski AJ, Brown DC, Duval J, et al. Comparison of effects of elective tenectomy or onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998; 213: 370-373.
- Tobias KS. Feline onychectomy at a teaching institution: a retrospective study of 163 cases. Vet Surg 1994; 23: 274-280.
- Tobias KS. Feline onychectomy at a teaching institution: a retrospective study of 163 cases. Vet Surg 1994; 23:274-280.
- Pollari FL, Bonnett BN, Bamsey SC, et al. Postoperative complications of elective surgeries in dogs and cats determined by examining electronic and paper medical records. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996; 208: 1882-1886.
- "Veterinary Information Network (VIN) - For Veterinarians, By Veterinarians". Vin.com. VIN. 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Yeon SC, Flanders JA, Scarlett JM, et al. Attitudes of owners regarding tendonectomy and onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:43-47.)
- Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. "Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter". J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1996;209:582–588.
- Patronek GJ. "Assessment of claims of short- and long-term complications associated with onychectomy in cats". J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001 Oct 1;219(7):932-937.
- Bennett M, Houpt KA, Erb HN. Effects of declawing on feline behavior. Comp Anim Pract 1988;2:7-12.
- Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:582–588.
- Landsberg GM. Cat owners’ attitudes toward declawing. Anthrozoos 1991;4:192-197.
- Gaynor J. Chronic pain syndrome feline onychectomy. NAVC Clinicians’ Brief. 2005 April.
- Jankowski AJ, Brown DC, Duval J, et al. Comparison of effects of elective tenectomy or onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1998;213:370-373.
- Morgan M, Houpt KA. Feline behavior problems: the influence of declawing. Anthrozoos. 1989;3:50-53.
- "Laws and regulations | Australian Veterinary Association". Ava.com.au. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Surgical alteration to the natural state of animals | Australian Veterinary Association". Ava.com.au. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "UNESP: Câmpus de Jaboticabal - Faculdade de Ciências Agrárias e Veterinárias" (PDF). Fcav.unesp.br. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Keep the claws: Canadian vet association now opposes declawing cats | CBC News".
- "'1 declaw is 1 too many': Nova Scotia cat declawing ban takes effect today | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
- "B.C. College of Veterinarians bans declawing of cats | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
- "P.E.I. veterinarians to stop performing cat declawing surgery | The Guardian". www.theguardian.pe.ca. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
- "No more declawing of cats, N.L. College of Veterinarians decides | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
- "Alberta veterinarians call for end to unnecessary surgeries | CBC News".
- "New Brunswick veterinarians vote to ban cat declawing | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2019-05-30.
- "Manitoba vets vote to ban cat declawing | CBC News". CBC. Retrieved 2019-05-30.
- "C'tee: OKs Bill to Ban Declawing of Cats - Latest News Briefs - Arutz Sheva". Israelnationalnews.com. 2011-11-14. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, Chapter II - Principles for the keeping of pet animals, Article 10(1)". Retrieved August 22, 2005.
- "Kupering, tatuering, avlivning och andra ingrepp - Jordbruksverket". Jordbruksverket.se. 2016-04-21. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Loomakaitseseadus – Riigi Teataja". Riigiteataja.ee (in Estonian). Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Tierschutzverordung (Swiss Animal Protection Ordinance), 2008, §24(a)". Retrieved August 31, 2015.
- "Federal Act on the Protection of Animals (Animal Protection Act – TSchG)" (PDF). Ris.bka.gv.at. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Animal Welfare Act 2006" (PDF). Opsi.gov.uk. 2015-10-19. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "RCVS Report on Animal Mutilations". Cdb.org. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Declawing of Cats Is Banned in West Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. April 8, 2003.
- "San Francisco considers ban on cat declaw surgeries". Veterinarynews.dvm360.com. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "CVMA Wins Lawsuit to Overturn the West Hollywood Ban on Animal Declawing". California Veterinary Medical Association. Archived from the original on 2006-02-08.
- Egelko, Bob (June 22, 2007). "CALIFORNIA / Court says city can ban declawing". The San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on December 22, 2007.
- Koretz. "AB 1857 Assembly Bill - Bill Analysis". Leginfo.public.ca.gov. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Information Sheet on Declawing and Tooth Removal" (PDF). USDA. August 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-27.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 21, 2009. Retrieved December 13, 2009.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Aanestad. "SB 762 Senate Bill - Bill Analysis". Leginfo.ca.gov. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Animal Welfare Legislation". The Paw Project. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Pavley. "SB 1229 Senate Bill - CHAPTERED". Leginfo.ca.gov. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "State of Rhode Island General Assembly". Webserver.rilin.state.ri.us. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Murray, Jon (2017-11-13). "Denver approves first cat-declawing ban in a U.S. city outside California". The Denver Post. Digital First Media. Retrieved 2017-11-15.
- "Veterinarians who do not declaw". Declaw.com. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 14, 2007. Retrieved June 24, 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 8, 2007. Retrieved June 24, 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Name * (2011-04-06). "Polls Show Large Majority Against Declawing Cats; Majority Also Favours Anti-Declaw Laws". Metaphorical Platypus. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- "Declawing of Domestic Cats". Avma.org. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Declaw Update, Pulse, Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, November 2009, p. 4
- Jankowski AJ, Brown DC, Duval J, et al. (Aug 1998). "Comparison of effects of elective tenectomy or onychectomy in cats". J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 213 (3): 370–3. ISSN 0003-1488. PMID 9702225.
- Cloutier, S.; Newberry, R. C.; Cambridge, A. J.; Tobias, K. M. (2005). "Behavioural signs of postoperative pain in cats following onychectomy or tenectomy surgery". Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 92 (4): 325. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2004.11.009.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 29, 2010. Retrieved July 30, 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 25, 2007. Retrieved April 21, 2007.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Veterinary Information Network, 2009
- Patronek, GJ; Dodman, NH (1 December 1999). "Attitudes, procedures, and delivery of behavior services by veterinarians in small animal practice". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 215 (11): 1606–11. PMID 14567423.
- "ARF Column: The Itch To Scratch | Patch". Walnutcreek.patch.com. 2011-12-11. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Studies Pertaining to Feline Onychectomy A summary of various studies and surveys
- Declawing and Its Alternatives from The Pet Health Library
- "Indoor Cats, Scratching, and the Debate over Declawing: When Normal Pet Behavior Becomes a Problem." from The State of the Animals III: 2005 Humane Society Press.
- The Paw Project Non-profit anti-declawing advocacy group
- Declawing: What you need to know anti-declawing site
- Ask the Cat Doctor: Declawing Cats Includes an anatomical chart for better understanding of the declaw procedure.
- Declawing Alternatives Alternatives to declawing.