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Pets Q&A: Declawing is, indeed, amputation – and unnecessary

Q: We don’t consider a declaw an amputation, as you insist it is. Our cats survive longer because we keep them indoors. We love our cats; they even sleep in our bed. Don’t you believe under those conditions it’s OK to declaw? – H.T., Tampa, Fla.

A: It is likely your cats will live longer because you keep them indoors, but just because you offer them this benefit is no justification for amputating parts of their toes.

Whether or not a declaw is an amputation is not a matter of opinion, as Vancouver, Canada-based feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk explains: “Declawing (onychectomy) is removal of each ‘finger/toe’ at the last knuckle. By definition, this is amputation. An amputation is the removal of a part of the body from the rest of the body. In humans, amputations are done only for medical reasons to save a person’s life or for torture.”

Scherk, also editor of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, points out that:

• Declawing is an unnecessary procedure that may involve a painful recovery for the animal. Also, as with any surgical procedure, there are inherent risks, such as anesthetic complications, hemorrhaging and pain.

• Scratching is a normal feline behavior. Cat owners are therefore responsible for providing suitable items for scratching, such as scratching posts, cardboard boxes, etc., and rewarding good scratching behavior with positive reinforcement.

• Too often, cats are declawed before owners educate themselves and research humane alternatives.

“If we love the creature that is a cat, then scratching is part of who they are,” stresses Scherk. “Who gives us the right to amputate someone’s fingers or toes, let alone someone we love and are responsible for?”

No matter how you feel about declaw surgery, even in rare instances where it may be deemed necessary, it is an amputation.


Q: Does my dog think she’s a person? Rusty is a Terrier-mix. When we see a city rat, she just wags her tail and barks like she wants to play. Is this what happens when you spoil a dog? – B.D., Chicago

A: I’m not convinced that given an opportunity (off-leash), your dog wouldn’t deal with a rat as terriers were bred to do.

That wagging tail might indicate, as you suggest, that your dog wants to play. My money, though, is on the wagging tail and corresponding barking as expressions of excitement; your dog wants to get at the rat, but not exactly to play.

Genetics has changed some dogs. For example, American Cocker Spaniels and Irish Setters have been bred for so long solely as pets that many individuals have lost a hard-wired drive to hunt. However, “spoiling” doesn’t erase instinct, although one dog might not be as efficient as another with more natural ability and more practice. Also, if a dog is obese, this may make its natural hunting or herding behavior more challenging.

In any case, please don’t tempt fate! City rats must snack on steroids for all their size. But such formidable vermin will fight for their lives and could inflict serious wounds. They also spread disease.


Q: My lady friend has an 8-month-old Chihuahua. This dog is like a baby to her and even sleeps in her bed, snuggling between the sheets. Is this dangerous? – R.S., Cyberspace

A: Your lady friend’s dog is very small, so doesn’t require the amount of air we do. The pup isn’t likely to suffocate. If for some reason the dog becomes uncomfortable, it’s likely easy enough to squirm out from under the sheets or bark to get your lady friend’s attention.

Parasite protection is always important, but arguably, even more so for people like me and my wife and your gal pal, who allow pets to share our beds.

Steve Dale welcomes questions and comments from readers. Send email to Be sure to include your name, city and state.