Friday 7 August 2009

AVMA Misrepresents the Reasons for Declawing

Here is correspondence between a colleague of mine, Susan Woodhouse, and the AVMA in 2007. This is correspondence about surveys on declawing. The AVMA muddy the declawing surveys to suit their objectives and misrepresents the reasons for declawing. The true AVMA reason is to continue the practice for financial profit. However, one consistent argument that the AVMA puts forward for declawing is that it prevents relinquishment of the cat and therefore saves lives. This is incorrect. In addition to the arguments presented by Susan below please also see, Declawing kills more cats…. Susan says:

..note they cite a study where 1 in every 3 declawed cats having a behavioral problem is not "statistically significant" to matter! And another study where vets were asked to "guess" how many of their clients would relinquish without declaw! Absolutely NO protection, voice, or justice for our fellow felines!

ME (Susan Woodhouse):
AVMA, Regarding the statement, "Scientific data does indicate that cats that have destructive clawing behavior are more likely to be euthanized, or more readily relinquished, released, or abandoned, thereby contributing to the homeless cat population", I was wondering if you could provide me with the scientific data that you've found that cat scratching leads to relinquishment, etc for research for a declaw website that I am working on. I have only found that, according to the “Top Ten Reasons for Pet Relinquishment to Shelters in the United States" survey done by the NCPPSP, destructive behavior / scratching is not listed as a reason cats are relinquished from their homes but “house soiling , a common behavioral effect of broken down, declawed paws, is listed as a prime reason for disposing of a pet cat. This survey seems more reasonable since it is much easier to curtail natural scratching (trimming, training, Soft Paws) than it is litterbox issues.

We are in the process of completing and getting ready for publication a very extensive review of the peer-reviewed literature pertaining to onychectomy in cats. Part of the reason for doing this extensive review is frustration with all the misinformation that has been presented with respect to this procedure (on both sides of the fence). With respect to your specific questions regarding relinquishment and objectionable behaviors…the following information may be of value. Please understand that this information only touches the tip of the iceberg of what information is available.

  1. Relinquishment… In a 1991 survey of Ontario veterinarians (Landsberg, 1991) respondents indicated that approximately 50% of their clients would no longer own their cat if it had not been declawed. A comprehensive review performed by Patronek also showed that unacceptable behaviors increase risk of relinquishment to shelters (Patronek, 1996). Daily scratching was shown to increase risk of relinquishment, and declawing to decrease risk of relinquishment.
  2. House soiling… A survey of 57 owners of onychectomized or tenectomized cats reported that 3 of 18 (16%) ten ectomized and 13 of 39 (33%) onychectomized cats developed at least one behavioral change following surgery (including house soiling, increased frequency or intensity of biting, or refusal to cover feces), but the difference was not statistically significant (Yeon, 2001). Six of 39 (15%) onychectomized cats house-soiled following onychectomy (Yeon, 2001); however, because the overall incidence of house-soiling in cats (clawed and declawed) has been reported to be 16% (Morgan, 1989) there does not appear to be an increased risk of house-soiling following onychectomy. The study addressing risk factors for relinquishment of cats to animal shelters (Patronek, 1996) did not identify a statistically significant difference in aggression or inappropriate elimination between declawed and clawed cats.

THANK YOU for taking the time to respond to my question. I really appreciate it because I know how busy you must be. I reread the studies you sited in your response, and found some interesting points, such as in Dr. Patronek study where he found that in the multi-variate analysis, declawing was associated with increased incidence of relinquishment and in the Landsberg study where it said only 4% of the cat owners themselves said they would have relinquished their cat if it wasn't declawed, versus the 50% that Dr. Landsberg guessed in the survey.

I believe this is the exact kind of frustrating misunderstanding of this issue that you referred to in your email! I'm so glad to hear the AVMA is taking a serious look at cat declawing because much of the public is becoming disheartened & disillusioned since declawing is being sold as routine cat care by so many veterinarians, and even included in "preventive health care" packages like Banfield is doing, with absolutely no education being given to the human client about how natural & normal scratching is for felines, the short & long term realities of the surgery, and the easy alternatives that allow humans & cat claws to coexist without any scratched flesh or furniture.

I'm hoping the AVMA knows of any studies/surveys of vets documenting the number of cat parents (who requested declaw) who were sent home on a "30 day waiting period" so to speak, with education about the surgery and the alternatives, and who actually came back for surgery versus how many were educated & enlightened. Or studies of actual numbers of cats that were truly relinquished because a vet refused to perform the surgery. I'm also trying to find how much more financial profit vets make when they don't declaw cats and sell regular nail trims over the life of the cat, plus sell nail trimmers, cardboard scratch pads, etc out of their offices. Do you know of any statements or studies that contain this information? I can't find any.

Also, I found 2 other studies/surveys done in 2000 about how many cats are relinquished due to litter box problems with HUGE statistical differences than those relinquished for claw issues. These both confirm that litterbox issues are the number one behavioral reason cats are relinquished from the home. It seems to me that, considering the anecdotal evidence that declawing increases the likelihood of litter box problems, and these high percentages of cats relinquished because of house soiling behavior, veterinarians have even more reason to discourage the surgery and counsel/educate their human clients about the humane alternatives if keeping the cats from being relinquished from their home is truly their goal.

According to "Behavioral Reasons for Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats to 12 Shelters" (Salman, Hutchinson, & Ruch-Gallie) in the Journal Of Applied Animal Welfare Science 2000, "soils house" was the #1 reason cats were relinquished from the home, and "aggression toward people" was #3.

  1. Soils house=43.2%,
  2. Problems between new pet & other pets=18.9%,
  3. Aggressive toward people=14.6%
  4. Destructive inside=12.4%,
  5. Aggressive toward animals=12.4%,
  6. Bites=9.2%,
  7. Disobedient=5.9%,
  8. Euthanasia for behavioral reasons=5.4%,
  9. Unfriendly=5.4%,
  10. Afraid=3.8%

According to "Reasons for Removing a Cat from the Household" (Ralston Purina 2000) as tabled in the article "Indoor Cats, Scratching, and the Debate over Declawing: When Normal Pet Behavior Becomes a Problem" (Grier & Peterson), The State of the Animals III:2005, "Eliminating Outside the Litterbox" was the #1 reason cats were relinquished from the home, and "biting people" was #2.

  1. Eliminating Outside the Litterbox=33%,
  2. Biting People=14%,
  3. Intolerant of Children=11%,
  4. Scratching People=11%,
  5. Destroying Household or Personal Items=8%

p.s. Regarding the Landsberg study that you mentioned...if the AVMA considers this survey as scientific evidence where vets were asked to guess how many of their clients would relinquish their cats if they weren't declawed, wouldn't it be fair to amend your position statement where you state there is "no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral problems" and include the national shelter survey information that says 70-80% of cats relinquished with stated behavioral problems are declawed?

Even vets like Dr. Patronek have stated in JAVMA "Some cats may also exhibit behavior problems in the longer term, including soiling and aggression. We have no idea what the frequency of this is, or how to identify cats at risk". There are many vets, and many humane shelter workers, cat consultants, cat parents, and animal behaviorists coming up with this same conclusion - declawed cats use their teeth more and their litterbox less!

From AVMA misrepresents reasons for declawing to home page

See also: Declawing Cats for lots more links and AVMA Policy on Declawing Cats

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