Onychectomy is the act of surgically removing the nails, or
most often of a household
occasionally of other animals such as
circus lions or dancing bears. This process involves amputating the ends
of the digits under anaesthesia, and is popularly known as declawing.
The incidence of declawing varies widely from country to country. In the
United States and Canada, it is
widespread, although precise figures are hard to come by and there is
considerable variation within North America. It is a controversial subject, and
often causes heated debate between those who believe it is cruel and that owners
who declaw are putting the health of their furniture before that of their cat,
and those who argue that declawing is better option in some cases than sending a
cat to a shelter where it may be
euthanised. A few places, such as
West Hollywood, have outlawed the practice entirely, but this is not a
United Kingdom, declawing is extremely uncommon, to the extent that most people
have never seen a declawed cat. The procedure is considered cruel by almost all
British veterinarians, who refuse to perform it except for medical reasons. The
"Mutilations report" found in an annex of the Royal College of Veterinary
Surgeons's Guide to Professional Conduct
This procedure is only acceptable where, in the opinion of the
veterinary surgeon, injury to the animal is likely to occur during normal
activity. It is not acceptable if carried out for the convenience of the
owner ... the removal of claws, particularly those which are weight-bearing,
to preclude damage to furnishings is not acceptable.
In many European countries, it is forbidden under the terms of the
European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, unless there is a medical
indication for the procedure, or a veterinarian considers it beneficial to the
animal. Some European countries go further, such as Germany and Switzerland,
where declawing cats is always illegal under their laws against cruelty to
In Australia, legislation concerning animal welfare is enacted at the state
level and is highly inconsistent. There are ongoing efforts to develop a
National Animal Welfare Act; in its current state, the bill would prohibit the declawing of cats except for medical reasons.
However, some pro-wildlife campaigners advocate declawing (and possibly
defanging) to protect native wildlife from pet cats.
One popular, relatively inexpensive alternative to declawing is the
application of vinyl nail caps (marketed in the US as Soft Paws® or Soft Claws®)
that are affixed to the claws with nontoxic glue, requiring periodic replacement
when the cat sheds its claw sheaths (usually every four to six weeks).