Reminiscing on Declaw Surgery for Cats

I have been practising for 33 years now and have learned a lot during that time. I have and continue to meet great pets with their equally great humans. Since I graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College veterinary medicine has evolved with many new, exciting and life enhancing treatments being available for our four-legged friends. Some of the treatments and surgeries I learned in Vet school I still practice, some I do not and some I should not.

This will be the first in a series of reflective blogs dealing with advances and new understandings in veterinary medicine over the past 30 odd years. These reflections will be my own from my own career and I am sure over the next few years some of the ideas I hold now may change.

A big change I have noticed mostly in the last 10 years is the steering away by most veterinarians from doing what is termed Medically Unnecessary Veterinary Surgeries (MUVS). These, for the most part, are cosmetic surgeries done on animals and include ear cropping, tail docking (shortening) of dogs, debarking, removal of dewclaws on dogs.  I have chosen to stop doing these surgeries many years ago as I feel they are of no value to the dogs. There are veterinarians who continue to perform these surgeries and although some provinces have termed these surgeries inappropriate, Ontario has yet to do so.

The one MUVS which is performed that is not cosmetic is declawing in cats. This procedure, normally confined to the front feet of cats, removes the last bone of each digit where the claw grows from. I have been doing these surgeries for over 30 years. I have rationalized doing feline declaw surgeries by saying we provide excellent pain control for these cats. (we do), if I don’t do them, someone else will and these cats are going to stay inside the rest of their lives. Twenty years ago I was doing many of these surgeries per week and this last year we did 10 for the entire year. This strongly suggests to me people are smarter than I am and realize this surgery for cats is medically unnecessary. For that and other reasons, I have chosen to stop performing declaw surgeries and since I was the last holdout, these surgeries will not be performed at North Hill Animal Hospital anymore.

In 1984 I was a newly graduated veterinarian and I performed declaw surgeries. Today I am older, hopefully, a little wiser and the cats in my practice can keep their claws.

Written by Dr. David Kerr, DVM