California veterinarian Jennifer Conrad, is taking her crusade to ban declawing cats across the country with a new documentary.
Although most people think declawing means simply removing the animal’s nails, the most common procedure, known as an onychectomy, actually involves amputating the last bones in the cat's front paws, similar to removing the top knuckles of a human’s fingers. The wounds are then closed with surgical glue or bandages.
While most cats recover in a few days, some end up hemorrhaging and experience great pain. There is also a 25%-50% chance that the claws will grow back.
Even more drastic is some ways is deep digital flexor tendonectomy, which involves cutting the tendon on the back of the cats' paws. While the nails are not removed during this procedure, they often become thicker and grow into the paw pads since the animals no longer have control of them and thus lose their ability to maintain their length by scratching.
Conrad states that she was motivated to make her The Paw Project film after she began performing surgery to repair damage caused by similar operations done on lions, tigers, and other wild cats. As a resukt she then turned her attention to the millions of pet cats in the US. "I wanted to challenge this; I wanted to protect them," she told National Geographic.
The debate over declawing reveals deep divisions in the veterinary community, a fact noted by nearly every research paper on the subject. While some vets agree with Conrad, others believe that it should remain an option for pet owners.
“Scratching is perfectly natural for cats,” states Barbara Sherman, a professor of veterinary behavior at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. “Cats scratch and use their claws to mark their territory, condition their nails, defend themselves, capture prey, and play, she said. They also use their claws to stretch their backs.”
In the meantime, the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association have both declines to take any sort of (hard line) stance in the matter, with some members suggesting that two alternatives to declawing involve getting kittens used to having their nails regularly clipped at a young age (the same way you would with a puppy), or putting plastic tips on the nails to prevent them from scratching people and furniture, etc.
Groups who oppose the practice include the Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), who believe that “declawing should only be done under specific medical circumstances.”