To declaw or not to declaw

AVMA amplifies on its stance
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Responding to a request from the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee, the Executive Board approved a new position statement regarding the declawing of domestic cats. The committee advocated for a well-crafted, comprehensive statement addressing onychectomy, because certain animal protection groups have recently attempted to convince municipalities to ban the procedure. Since destructive clawing behavior can sometimes lead owners to euthanatize their cat, the procedure can be a lifesaver.

Dr. Joan M. Samuels, District X representative, spoke out in favor of the change, saying the issue is time-sensitive and "there is a need to act now." This winter, one of the states in her district, California, started exploring the legality of banning cat declawing. On Feb. 14, California assembly member Paul Koretz introduced a bill (AB 395) that would "prohibit a licensee of the (California Veterinary Medical) Board from performing surgical claw removal procedures, declawing, or flexor tendonectomy on a cat." If passed, this bill would make cat declawing a crime. (See JAVMA News, May 1, for more information.)

The committee believes the revised position, which allows for declawing in certain situations, will meet the profession's needs and help ensure that the decision to perform or not perform the procedure will continue to be made within the bounds of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

Previously, the AVMA's position statement read: "Declawing of domestic cats is justifiable when the cat cannot be trained to refrain from using its claws destructively."

The new statement more explicitly defines how veterinarians should educate clients, the pros and cons of doing the procedure, and the risks associated with the surgery.

Members of the Animal Welfare Committee decided to expand the content of the original one-sentence statement, because several AVMA members expressed concern that the statement placed insufficient emphasis on client education and failed to provide adequate direction and support for veterinarians performing onychectomy.

In November 2002, the committee asked the Executive Board to approve a revised position statement, but the board had several concerns they wanted addressed before granting approval. The revised version addresses the board's concerns.

At the request of the board, the committee reduced the length of the statement, which is still rather long because of the inclusion of what are thought to be critical components. The committee also responded to other concerns voiced by the board.

The committee removed a nail cap recommendation after the board raised concerns about potential negative effects of nail cap use, and committee members and staff could not find data that supported or refuted the appropriateness of their use.

And the committee changed wording that was vague and could have indicated that the declawing of all four paws should never be done. Members of the committee believe that only the front paws of cats be declawed, but recognize that declawing all four paws may, in some cases, be necessary.

The statement can be read in its entirety in the following; see "AVMA position statement on the declawing of domestic cats."