Declawing Cats

The Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL) strongly opposes the procedure of elective onychectomy  or declawing, for the purpose of owner convenience or to prevent property destruction.

Scratching is a natural behavior utilized by cats to mark territory, exercise forelimb muscles, and promote nail health through physical removal of worn nail sheaths.  Preventing a cat from scratching denies the cat the freedom to express normal behavior, thus denying it one of the Five Freedoms.[1]

Surgical onychectomy involves amputation of the entire P3 bone in each digit preventing any future nail growth.  This invasive surgery has the potential to cause significant post-operative discomfort when analgesia (pain control) is not managed adequately.  There is also the potential for long-term neurogenic discomfort post-operatively.

Declawing is not a humane or effective means to manage concern for an owner’s health either due to zoonotic disease transmission or injury from cat scratches.  The Center for Disease Control does not recommend declawing, but rather advises appropriate hygiene for cat owners and avoidance of situations likely to provoke scratches.[2]  Declawed cats can still cause injury through biting, thus declawing does not sufficiently mitigate risk from injury.  Consultation with a trained expert in feline behavior management is a more effective and appropriate way to eliminate cat behavior that is putting the owner at risk of injury.

Destruction of property due to scratching can have a significant impact on the human-animal bond in the home and may be a cause for relinquishment when not adequately controlled.  Numerous effective strategies to control scratching exist including: application of a temporary soft pad (i.e. Soft Paws) to the nails, frequent nail trimming, providing appropriate surfaces, such as cardboard scratches, sisal fabric or rope, or carpeted posts, for the cat to scratch in both vertical and horizontal orientations, and applying deterrents to scratching on furniture such as double sided tape.

Therefore, the Animal Rescue League of Boston will:

  1. Not perform elective onychectomy on any of the cats in its care.
  2. Counsel adopters seeking to declaw their cats about our policy and provide resources regarding alternative methods for preventing unwanted scratching behavior.
  3. Counsel adopters about the importance of developing a relationship with their new cat’s veterinarian as soon as possible after adoption.  Their veterinarian will ultimately play the most important role in counseling about declawing.
  4. Act as a proponent of our policy against declawing whenever appropriate in the veterinary community.
  5. Support legislation to outlaw the elective performance of this surgery in Massachusetts.
[1] Farm Animal Welfare Council 2009
[2] Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.  Bartonella Infection.  Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/bartonella/cat-scratch/index.html

Click here to read more ARL Policy and Position Statements.