The No Kill City With the Highest Save Rate in the Nation Just Outlawed Declawing Cats
On March 4, 2021, Austin, Texas banned declawing cats, making it illegal to declaw a cat for aesthetic or convenience reasons. It took over two years of regular meetings of veterinarians and others opposed to declawing, and the same amount of time lobbying Austin city government, to get the law passed.
When cats’ claws are removed, the entire front joint of their toes have to be removed so the claw doesn’t grow back. This can result in fragments of bone that then grow and burrow under the paws, causing the cat to become crippled.
From the website of Austin Pets Alive, “Studies have even shown that more than 60% of declawed cats surrendered to shelters have bone fragments in their toes. Those bone fragments make walking painful, and can sometimes even cause the claw to regrow under the skin, like what Grandma Hugs is experiencing.”
Grandma Hugs is a 13 year old cat surrendered to Austin Pets Alive. She came in barely able to walk, and in extreme pain. Every toe had bone fragments, and claws had regrown under her skin.
Dr. Breitreiter, director of the Texas chapter of Paw Project, performed the repair surgery on Grandma Hugs. The $1000 cost was raised through donations to Austin Pets Alive. Paw Project’s mission is to repair the damage to cats who’ve been declawed at some point in their lives. The Paw Project’s founder, Jennifer Conrad, DVM, says she wants to have declawing banned throughout the United States. Declawing is already banned in 20 countries throughout western Europe and Australia.
Declawing can lead to arthritis, and a change in posture, as the toes are shortened and resulting pain may cause the cat to put less weight on the front paws. Permanent lamesness can result from the excruciating pain from bone fragments and regrown claws under the skin.
Other complications are anxiety, caused by losing their primary defense, and biting behavior when the cat is stressed. They may begin going outside of the litter box because the litter is painful, or because they can’t mark territory by clawing, so they do it with their scent. They are also prone to death by predators because they can no longer defend themselves, or escape by climbing trees.
That’s what happened to my Maine Coon cat, Max, at age 13, while being chased by a large dog. Max didn’t make it up the tree.
Looking back, I can see that certain of his behaviors were related to having his front claws removed and the resulting anxiety. I wish I’d known then what I know now, and had never had his front paws declawed. Fortunately, he never developed the severe complications. If he had, there was no restorative surgery available before he died in 1996. The procedure was developed in 2001 by Doctor Jennifer Conrad, and she first used it on a tiger. When that was succesful, she realized the same procedure could be used on domestic cats.
Dr. Conrad teamed with veternarian surgeon, Kirk Wendelburg in the beginning of the Paw Project to further develop the procedure now used nation wide. First, the bone fragments are removed. Then, they attach the digital flexor to the digital extensor tendon. This creates shorter toes for the cats, but it allows them to curl and flex their paws again. After surgery, they are able support their body weight, and any pain is relieved.
Grandma Hugs came through her surgery with flying colors. She is ready for adoption at Austin Pets Alive, in Austin, Texas. Her ID is cat 5486. She loves to bathe in the sun.
Photo of Grandma Hugs by Austin Pets Alive. ID cat 5486.