Monday 3 August 2009

No Definitive Evaluation of Declawed Cats

I talked about this in passing on this page: Declawing kills more cats than saves them. Here, I discuss the fact that there is no definitive evaluation of declawed cats in more detail. Shocking as it sounds, at 2001 (and I believe it is still the case) there was no definitive scientific evaluation of the short and long term complications associated with the declawing of cats. What I mean is that veterinarians in America have no clear, scientifically based idea whether the declawing operations that they routinely perform in the tens of millions causes short or long term health problems. Staggering but true.

Of course there is a pile of anecdotal evidence and vets have some ideas of their own (always biased I would say, if they declaw) but there is no sound and reliable survey in existence upon which a decision could be made by the American Veterinary Medical Association or individual vets whether to operate or not. In short all the veterinarians in America who carry out the operation act recklessly in performing a brutal operation for the convenience of the owner without being able to formulate an assessment as to the medical effects and risks, which by the way are all extremely negative.

That must be a act of mass medical negligence. Responsible medical personnel should never perform medical procedures without knowing the risks. That is obvious but the American vets do not know the full risks because they do not understand the full extent of the complications. The information for what I have said comes from a research paper on the AVMA website entitled: Assessment of claims of short- and long-term complications associated with onychectomy in cats - by Gary J. Patronek, VMD, PhD. It might be fair to say that his conclusion came as a surprise to him. He says this at the end of the article:
"It seems unthinkable that an elective surgery performed on a quarter of owned cats could lack definitive evaluation, but that appears to be the case."
"Unthinkable" means, "Impossible to imagine; inconceivable"....Is this a criticism of the AVMA? You bet it is. The AVMA is presiding over a state of affairs in relation to the declawing of cats that is impossible to imagine by any right minded person and this assessment is on the AVMA website.

He did, however, go over a mass of data all of which was almost inconclusive at a scientific level, he said, but which nonetheless points to some real post operative problems, which I touch on below.....

Note: People will say that if there is no definitive scientific research on the complications of declawing sugery how can people like myself say it is bad. Well, this is the answer. Firstly, there has been research and it points to the fact that serious complications exist. The author of the report mentioned above concludes:
"The most that can be said about adverse behavioral sequelae to onychectomy is that they remain as hard to dismiss as they are to quantify."
In other words he is saying that we cannot say that there are no adverse complications. Secondly, as a matter of pure commonsense if an animal has the tips of their toes removed by a knife (usually) and given large amounts of pain killers afterwards it can be concluded that there will be a lot of healing to do over a long period of time. It is major surgery causing a very serious injury. What people like me say is that to put an animal through that for the sake of a piece of furniture that might well be thrown out before the cat dies is madness.

The act of declawing is nicely described by the dictionary definition of "to mutilate", which is this:
  • To deprive of a limb or an essential part; cripple.
  • To disfigure by damaging irreparably.
  • To make imperfect by excising or altering parts.
I have quoted the (I hope they will excuse me if it is a minor breach of copyright).

Thirdly, it is not for us, the people who object to declawing to prove that it is wrong at a scientific level. It is for the perpetrators to prove that it is acceptable. The onus falls on them to carry out all the research before the procedure is accepted. They are the "doctors" who do the mutilation. They have to justify it and act professionally. Fourthly, there are a significant number of owners who requested and got declawing and who regretted it. Over 5% had a negative attitude about 9 months after surgery - remember that this is from people who favour declawing. If there are 22.5 million declawed cats and 2 cats per household that makes 11.25 million owners requesting declawing of which more than 500,000 would report problems 9 months after surgery (if the survey could extend to such a sample size).

A small selection of summarised findings of the report, Assessment of claims of short- and long-term complications associated with onychectomy in cats - by Gary J. Patronek, VMD, PhD.. The reason why the selection is small is because the findings are not precise enough. You can see the whole report here - (it will cost you $15)
  1. Declawing is a common elective procedure. About 25% of all domestic cats at least are declawed. If there are 90 million cats that makes 22.5 million cats that have been mutilated.
  2. The author says that the AVMA takes "a cautious approach". How can this be? The author concludes that vets carry out declawing not knowing what the consequences will be. Isn't that reckless rather than cautious?
  3. As at 2001 in respect of a study on adverse behavioural outcomes of declawing cats it was found that:
  • biting was reported for about 12% of declawed cats
  • house soiling was reported for about 25% of declawed cats (is this why declawed cats are given up? - Declawing Kills More Cats)
The author says that veterinarians are well aware that declawed cats suffered unrelieved pain in the past (all that pain for what?). Modern techniques "substantially reduce"....pain. But by how much and what about the long term pain? Do we know if the cat is feeling pain?

The author says that information on the long term behavioural outcomes of declawing cats is desperately needed. That was in 2001. It has not happened to the best of my knowledge. Wrong? Please tell me. If research has been conducted it has been buried and if that is the case it would be an horrendous indictment of the callous and cavalier approach that the AVMA has towards the domestic cat. There is still no definitive evaluation of declawed cats.

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