There are a few veterinary clinics in Montreal who have decided to take a solid no-declaw stance and have stopped performing declaws. The Pierrefonds Animal Hospital and the Centre Vétérinaire Riv Sud are two such veterinary clinics. I have reached out to them for an insider view of declawing and why they have taken this major step to stop practicing it. The good news is that both clinics report a growing awareness among their clients about what declawing is. These clients are very willing to accept the many humane alternatives. However, there still seems to be that tiny percentage who will insist, but they now happily decline them. Eventually with persistence and education, hopefully these requests will be a thing of the past. Below is my interview with Anita Cuisinier DVM and Susan Brown DVM.
The Pierrefonds Animal Hospital has staff with experience ranging from new graduates, to vets with 5-10 years experience who have worked in other clinics and hospitals, to hospital owners with 20 odd years experience.
Anita Cuisinier is Australian and graduated from the University of Sydney in 2009. Declawing is illegal in Australia, so it was a big shock for her to learn about it when she moved to Quebec five years ago. In her first job in a small animal clinic, performing declaws was a condition of her employment. Luckily for her, she now works for more morally conscientious employers. Her main passions are shelter medicine and surgery, and she works for the Montreal SPCA, Pierrefonds Animal Hospital and the Centre Veterinaire Laval. In addition to this she still finds time to volunteer in spay/neuter clinics in Native American communities for the past four years with Chiots Nordique, a not-for-profit organization.
Sarah Brown graduated from the Faculté de médecine vétérinaire de l’Université de Montréal in June 2011. She went on to perform an internship in pet medicine and surgery at the Hôpital Vétérinaire Rive-Sud, where she has worked since June 2012.
In your career have you witnessed any adverse side effects in declawed cats, if so, what was the main side-effect? (litter box issues, chronic pain, arthritis etc)
It’s always hard to state that illness or undesirable behaviours are unequivocally due to declawing, because all the commonly noted issues such as inappropriate urination due to litter box avoidance, arthritis etc. can of course be seen in any cats. However, in my experience and that of my colleagues, the vast majority of cats that we see in hospital that are considered highly ‘aggressive’ (ie fearful, but that is a whole other discussion) have been declawed. I have the impression that these cats are reacting to previous traumatic memories of their declaw surgery, and become dangerous biters because they have no other way to defend themselves. Certainly when we see cats for aggression issues, a higher proportion of them have been declawed. I believe the aggression is a result of the declawing and not the other way around, since the vast majority are operated on very young in life, usually around 3-4 months of age, before any ‘personality’ problems would arise. This would be the most common side effect that I see. Others include botched surgeries leaving painful bone remnants behind, uncontrolled bleeding from cats that are discharged from hospital too soon after surgery, declawed cats that refuse to jump or use litter trays and extreme paw sensitivity and pain, even many years later.
Declawing can cause acute or long term complications. Acute pain and infection are the most common complications after surgery. Some cats may develop behavioral problems, chronic pain or persistent lameness.
What made you decide not to declaw at your clinic?
As animal lovers and advocates for cats, Pierrefonds Animal Hospital vets have been uncomfortable about declawing for as long as most of us have been practicing. However, until now our concern was for the cats that were having declaw surgeries done elsewhere with insufficient pain control and old-fashioned techniques. We would therefore perform the surgery for our clients, but only under very stringent conditions, which included:
- an extended hospital stay, multimodal pain relief
- 24-hour monitoring as befits any amputation.
Ultimately we all agreed that even with this much care, we were no longer comfortable with putting our patients through surgery that did not benefit them. We are still extremely concerned for the cats whose owners will take them elsewhere to be declawed, but we feel that attitudes in Quebec will not change until we make a stand for our furry friends.
Declawing is a surgical procedure that prevents cats from expressing normal behaviours and causes pain. In almost all cases, it is not a medically necessary procedure. We want to provide the best care possible to our patients, so we prefer to educate cat owners and provide them with alternatives to declawing. With proper training, it is possible to positively reinforce the use of a scratching post and minimize unwanted behaviors. Temporary synthetic nail caps can also be used during the training period. We teach our clients how to regularly trim their cat’s claws.
On average, how many requests does your clinic receive for declawing?
Requests can vary from 1-2 per week to 4-5 per day.
We stopped performing this procedure last Fall 2015 and most of my clients seem to be happy with the alternatives to declawing. I have had very few requests for declawing during pediatric appointments. Our clients can also get detailed information and answers to their questions on the phone, given by our veterinary technicians.
Do you think most people are more aware of the risks of the procedure, or do they still think it’s just a manicure?
It seems to us that the majority of clients are more educated about the reality of declaw surgery than they were a few years ago. Responsible pet owners who take their pets for regular check-ups are already suspicious of the procedure and are happy to try more humane alternatives. Sadly, however, we have frequently been witness to ultimatums by family members who will only accept a cat on the condition that they be declawed, or conditions of rent imposed by landlords that push cat owners towards the surgery.
Compared to a few years ago, I feel there in an increasing awareness that declawing is amputation of the last phalanx of each digit.
When you inform clients about all the risks and the alternatives to declawing, do you know whether they go somewhere else to have them declawed anyway?
Although we don’t have any exact data or means of following up with clients who don’t come back after we have explained our no-declaw policy, we can usually tell when clients have their minds set on having the procedure done, and therefore presume they go elsewhere. I would estimate that this occurs in around 10% of cases.
I don’t think so. We see most of our pediatric patients for spay or neuter when they are a little older (around 6 months old), and most of them still have their claws!
Is the province of Quebec anywhere near outlawing this practice, like it has outlawed tail docking and ear cropping in dogs recently?
The Ordre des Médecins Vétérinaires du Québec, who manage our licenses to practice veterinary medicine, have already published a statement strongly advising cat owners to consider all options carefully before proceeding with declaw surgery. Since the OMVQ considers onychectomy (declaw surgery) as not medically necessary, and is working towards increasing public awareness of the risks of complications associated with the practice, we are hopeful that declaws will one day be just a bad memory for us all.
Thank you to Anita Cuisinier and Sarah Brown for providing some insight and shedding light on this matter. Bravo for taking a stand to help our furry friends who don’t have a voice to speak. Future generations of very happy cats will be thanking you that they have their claws intact!