Cats, claws and commentaries

January 1, 2018
Kristi Reimer Fender, News Channel Director

Kristi Reimer is editor of dvm360 magazine and news channel director for Before taking over

Its easy to forget to be thoughtful in the noise of this debate.

I've had cats most of my life. And those cats have always had their claws. Not necessarily because I was so enlightened about feline welfare-my two cats growing up were indoor-outdoor, so we figured they needed their claws to survive, and we could always boot them outside to scratch a tree trunk. (Miraculously, they both lived to 19 or 20.)

The gentle fluffball I had in my 20s and 30s was easy. A few sprinkles of catnip on the scratching post, a few treat rewards after a good scratch, and she had it figured out. The cat I have now … well, we're still working on it. And we'd talked about replacing the couch anyway.

A few years ago a friend of mine adopted two beautiful Birmans. She took them to a veterinarian in the family to have them spayed, who told her he might as well take the claws since my friend would “be back soon anyway” to have the procedure done. He did all four paws on each cat. When I saw those cats afterward, they were bandaged, terrified, hiding from the world and in obvious pain. I felt sick.

But I also feel sick when tribes of activist bullies launch cyber-crusades against veterinary clinics and individual veterinarians who provide declaw services-no matter how responsibly and reluctantly these veterinarians do so. Some become the target of hate-filled social media campaigns just for refusing to join forces with these activist groups, whose erratic behavior often borders on the unhinged. (Do they not understand that their vitriol alienates many who may agree but who also espouse reason and rationality?)

Both sides of the declaw debate invoke shelters in their arguments-declawing prevents euthanasia, abandonment and relinquishment of cats; shelters are full of declawed cats with behavior problems. Both arguments are compelling. But without a clear body of evidence one way or another, it's all anecdotal: “I worked in a shelter and it's obvious to me that … ” If it's as clear-cut as all that, get it published in JAVMA!

Personally, I found both our experts' essays in this issue (see and to be well-crafted and convincing. Based on the feedback we've already received, it seems that they both resonate with different segments of the veterinary population. My own opinions on declawing (or “amputation,” if you prefer) have always been mostly anti but with some allowance for a responsible approach. I've had opportunity to examine those beliefs fairly deeply after working with these commentaries and the responses they've generated, and I hope they will provoke thought for you too.

I also hope we can all find some charity and grace toward those colleagues who disagree with us, most of whom are simply trying to do the best they can for the people and pets they encounter every day.