Onychectomy, commonly referred to as declawing, is an elective procedure performed in cats that involves removal of the third phalanx using a guillotine-type nail clipper, surgical blade, or laser.1,2 The most commonly reported reason for performing onychectomy is unwanted scratching behavior that results in personal injury or property damage.1,3 Because there is no direct medical benefit to the cat, performing the procedure has become increasingly controversial. There is movement to ban the procedure in some states and jurisdictions,4 and this raises concern in a profession that has traditionally supported the procedure and requires a closer look at the associated benefits and risks. Some veterinarians consider elective onychectomy unethical and choose not to perform the procedure, recommending alternatives such as deep digital flexor tendonectomy or nonsurgical approaches such as environmental changes, behavior modification, and application of plastic nail coverings to prevent injury or damage associated with unwanted scratching.2,3 However, others believe that onychectomy is preferable to the possible negative consequences, such as euthanasia or abandonment, for cats that have undesirable scratching behaviors. Nevertheless, concerns about the procedure remain, in part because of the short- and long-term complications that have been attributed to onychectomy. Many veterinarians believe the procedure causes a substantial amount of pain, leading to concerns about appropriate anesthesia and analgesia.5 Other concerns include the belief that declawed cats are more likely to have other behavioral problems, including increased aggression, biting, and house soiling.3,6 It has also been suggested that onychectomy increases stress among cats because it prevents them from performing natural behaviors.3
In 2001, the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy estimated that approximately 14.4 million of 59 million (24.4%) owned cats in the United States were onychectomized,3 whereas other, earlier estimates have varied substantially. In a survey of cat owners administered through an online bulletin board, 12 of 60 (20%) owners reported having cats that were declawed,7 and results of a telephone survey of 662 randomly selected cat-owning households in Indiana revealed that 298 (45.1%) of respondents indicated they owned declawed cats.8 One report9 from a private practice in New York indicated that 27.6% of cats underwent onychectomy at the time of neutering, whereas a survey of veterinary practices in Colorado found that a mean of 5.3 onychectomies was performed for every 23.7 feline neuter surgeries.10 More recently, a 2013 study11 found that approximately 374 of 1,794 (21%) cats seen in veterinary hospitals near Raleigh, North Carolina were onychectomized. Although the exact numbers are not clear, taken together, these studies suggest at least 1 in 5 owned cats in the United States has undergone onychectomy. The percentage of practicing veterinarians in the United States who currently perform the procedure and the techniques used by these practitioners are also unknown. Despite the interest and controversy that surrounds onychectomy, there is a dearth of data to help guide the field forward. The purpose of the study reported here was to estimate, through use of an online survey of VIN members, the proportion of veterinarians working with feline patients in private practices who do or do not perform onychectomy and to assess the attitudes and practices regarding onychectomy in this large population of practitioners.
No third-party funding or support was received in connection with this study or the writing or publication of the manuscript. The authors declare that there were no conflicts of interest.
Veterinary Information Network
The survey instrument was an electronic document; copies of the survey questions are available from the corresponding author upon request.
SPSS, version 21.0, IBM Corp, Armonk, NY.
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