October 25, 2009

Declawing - of cats and tigers and lions... oh my!

The continuing saga of the lions at the northern Lion Park in Whangarei continues. As a vet, I read today's news with some horror... ( as if the recent death of their Head Lion Keeper and strange business dealings aren't enough)..
Big cats featured on The Lion Man hit TV show are suffering after having their paws 'mutilated' so they could perform with their handlers, says the wildlife park troubleshooter now overseeing the animals’ welfare.Some 29 of the 37 lions and tigers at Zion Wildlife Gardens have been declawed - a practice condemned as 'barbaric' by consultant Tim Husband, hired after the fatal mauling of Zion ranger Dalu Mncube in May.
"One only needs to watch these animals trying to eat to see how they struggle to grip their meat without having the use of claws to hold it. To my mind it's absolutely barbaric,'' Husband told Sunday News.
and perhaps the saddest part of all for the veterinary profession - it was (surprise, surprise), all about money and increasing the public exposure of the lions for the tourists and television! 
The findings of a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry investigation into declawing at Zion is a 12-page report that considers the possibility of charges being laid over the declawing. But the fact most of the controversial operations, from 2000-2008, were supervised by MAF vets was "problematic to any prosecution".
"Front pad declawing was deemed necessary by Zion's principal veterinarian at the time in order to facilitate close interaction with both handlers and veterinarians, and the need for a commercial income stream to be generated by Zion."
"Key drivers" given by the vet - whose name was withheld - behind his declawing of the big cats included "the animals were being used commercially to permit the financial survival of the zoo", and "close contact with handlers and film crews was required and personal safety was an issue".
Claw removal ( Onchyectomy)  in cats is one of the issues vets rank with tail docking and debarking in New Zealand. Cropping of dogs' ears is illegal here, but the rest falls in the category where it is encouraged that vets only consider performing these procedures when other measures have failed. In Vetscript, October 2008, the NZ Veterinary Association issued this, apparently specifically in response to the declawing of lions.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 defines declawing as ‘the removal from the foot of a cat by a surgical procedure of the whole or part of one or more claws of the cat’ and categorises this as a ‘restricted surgical procedure’. This means that it can be performed only by a veterinarian or veterinary student supervised by a veterinarian, and that the veterinarian, whether performing the procedure or supervising it, must first satisfy himself or herself that the declawing is in the interests of the animal.
The NZVA has specifically stated said that this procedure
is to be considered contrary to the welfare of large cats.

From The Facts about Declawing

Removal of the last digits of the toes of a cat alters the conformation of their feet and causes them to meet the ground at an unnatural angle that can cause back pain similar to that in humans caused by wearing improper shoes. In my experience on the few I had to do when in practice, they also bleed heavily and there are risks of post operative complications...
Contrary to most people's understanding, declawing consists of amputating not just the claws, but the whole phalanx (up to the joint), including bones, ligaments, and tendons! To remove the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. Thus declawing is not a “simple”, single surgery but 10 separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe. A graphic comparison in human terms would be the cutting off of a person's finger at the last joint of each finger.
Complications of this amputation can be excruciating pain, damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, painful regrowth of deformed claw inside of the paw which is not visible to the eye, and chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken. 
Don't forget, lions and tigers are heavier than domestic cats. They often require further surgery to correct the gait abnormalities and pad damage caused... and then there is the issue of how removing their nails makes it difficult for them to eat meat... with no grip.

This Lion Park recently lost their Head Ranger..sadly he was bitten in the head by one of the tigers while working with him in front of a group of tourists. But when I read this - I have to wonder what impact claw removal might have had on the personality of the tiger - if this is what is reported in domestic ones!
Some cats are so shocked by declawing that their personalities change. Cats who were lively and friendly have become withdrawn and introverted after being declawed. Others, deprived of their primary means of defense, become nervous, fearful, and/or aggressive, often resorting to their only remaining means of defense, their teeth. In some cases, when declawed cats use the litterbox after surgery, their feet are so tender they associate their new pain with the box...permanently, resulting in a life-long adversion to using the litter box. Other declawed cats that can no longer mark with their claws, they mark with urine instead resulting in inappropriate elimination problems, which in many cases, results in relinquishment of the cats to shelters and ultimately euthanasia. Many of the cats surrendered to shelters are surrendered because of behavioral problems which developed after the cats were declawed.
and for those of you who own a furniture shredding feline... check out some alternatives, ( good article)
 or learn to trim them yourself!

One popular, non-surgical alternative to declawing available through veterinarians is the application of vinyl nail caps (marketed in the US under brand names such as Soft Paws and Soft Claws) 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).
Apparenly these have arrived in New Zealand - sigh... they do coloured nail caps...

and I am not commenting as I don't know enough about them - but please, think twice before asking for your cat to be declawed.


  1. Horrendous declawing thankfully banned in uk unless for a medical reason.. ie damage to body not environment.

    I would urge people NEVER to use soft caps either they cause many problems as well.
    They hold the nail and feet at an open therefore unnatural angle. They damage the claw which is unable to break apart as it normally would.
    We have had quite a few FUS cats in since they arrived with these things on. The stress they cause has brought on fus. One cat was put down after repeated bouts as the owner refused to remove them.
    Other cats have had no recurring bouts post removal.
    The cat is still not able to perform it's natural clawing functions.

    If your cat claws get it toys and environmental enrichment. If there is a bigger problem that doesn't go away get a behaviourist. De clawing and soft caps cause stress to be expressed in other ways and often the owner assumes the problem has gone away as l think the article said.

  2. thank you Vetnurse - for the non vet related readers, FUS is a urinary problem in cats... also known as FLUTD or Feline Lower Urinary Tract disease.

    Right with you on the scratching pots/ toys - and interesting that the alternatives are causing problems too.
    No easy answer folks..

  3. The easy answer is leave cats as they are born and as they are intended to be and that is fully clawed.Declawing is an owner elective convenience mutilation of cats in the most part carried out to protect furniture and stop the need for owners to take responsibility for teaching cats to use scratching posts. As for Soft Paws, at last someone who doesn't think they are the be all and end all, they must feel horrible on cat's claws as I'm sure their claws won't retract properly.Plus I have heard of a nursing queen being fitted with soft paws of which one came off and was ingested by a kitten..... In the UK we manage very nicely with clawed cats, we have nice furniture, our babies and children aren't scratched excessively unless they ask for it! Our old and immunosuppressed people aren't any more at risk from clawed cats than other hazards, so what makes the USA and Canada so different that they think it's acceptable to surgically remove claws?

    Petition to ban declawing in the USA http://www.petitionthem.com/default.asp?sect=detail&pet=4312

  4. Out of all the cats I had, I never had any declawed. I think it's horrible. And you are right about the behaviorial changes. My sister-in-law had her siamese declawed. The cat went into the litter box, associated this with the pain, and didn't go back in except to poop. The siamese peed everywhere in their house.

  5. good post, very informative, we have two female cats (indoor cats) who scratch the furniture, wallpaper, yes it's an inconvience but de-clawing just sounds barbaric and having soft claws doesn't sound much better, we take them both to the vets to have claws trimmed every 6-8 weeks and also try to trim them ourselves but one of them, Kitt, she wriggles and meows and hisses, so please any suggestions welcome on how to make this a more enjoyable part of thier grooming.
    Josie x

  6. I read this with utter horror. It would be so much kinder to just euthanase those poor animals. To me it amounts to cruel & unusual torture.

  7. Excellent site to follow this up
    A quest to ban declawing.... and other resources and suggestions :)



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