Monday, March 12, 2012

Our Declawed Wild Ones

For years, a lot of us grew up thinking that declawing a cat (exotic or domestic) did not cause any permanent damage to the animal. The reasons for declawing a tiger, lion, cougar, or other big cat ranged from protecting owners from deep scratches (human skin is like tissue paper in comparison to the skin of a big cat) to limiting the ability of the animals from damaging enclosures and other wild cats housed together.

Interesting to note, declawing is uncommon outside North America and banned or significantly restricted in several European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey.

In the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association “opposes declawing of captive exotic and other wild (indigenous) cats for nonmedical reasons."  Because of their size, weight, and environment, exotic and wild cats commonly experience adverse effects when onychectomy (declawing) is performed. Therefore, the welfare committee believes the procedure is ill advised for these cats, unless required for medical reasons."

What is the USDA position on declawing wild animals? 

Declawing or the removal of the canine teeth (fangs) in wild or exotic carnivores or on human primates is no longer considered to be appropriate veterinary care unless prescribed by the attending veterinarian for treatment of individual medical problems of the paws or teeth. These procedures are no longer considered to be acceptable when performed solely for handling or husbandry purposes since they can cause considerable pain and discomfort to the animal and may result in chronic health problems. These procedures are no longer allowed under the Animal Welfare Act. This notice is consistent with the current position statement issued by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
This applies to all regulated nonhuman primates and captive wild or exotic carnivores, including, but not limited to, big cats, canid species, and bears.  This policy applies to all AWA licensees (breeders, dealers, and exhibitors) and registrants (research facilities).  This policy does not apply to private wild animal ownership. Often times, sanctuaries receive animals from private owners that declawed their animals when they were young (cubs), therefore sanctuaries will not be found in noncompliance by the USDA inspector (with the AWA provision) since declawing cannot be undone.

So what is the big deal about declawing a big cat, especially if it’s for safety reasons?  After all, if it was such a bad procedure, why does the practice continue for domestic and exotic cats in the United States?

It is not surprising exotic pet owners chose to declaw their cats, especially if there are small children in the family interacting with these big cats.  Some veterinarians actively market and recommend the procedure without disclosing the details of the procedure to their clients. Many private exotic pet owners don't understand that declawing is a very serious surgical procedure; choosing to think instead that they are doing "all the right things" for their beloved animal and family.  Let’s examine what really is involved when a wild one is declawed. 

Declawing, also known as onychectomy (än-ik-ek-tō-mē), is a major surgical and potentially crippling procedure.  Declawing is described by the term de-knuckling and is not merely the removal of the claws, as the term "declawing" implies. In animals that hunt prey, the claws grow from the bone; therefore, the last bone must be amputated so the claw cannot re-grow. Also, the tendons, nerves, and ligaments that enable normal function and movement of the paw are severed. An analogous procedure applied to humans would be cutting off each finger at the last joint.

Like any major surgery, declawing exposes cats to risks of general anesthesia and complications associated with the surgical procedure, which include bleeding, infection, lameness, nerve damage, gangrene, extensive tissue damage, and death.

Amputating bone joints is a very painful experience for the wild cat.  A cat's behavior may be misinterpreted because not all cats show outward signs of pain after surgery, such as crying, whining, or licking at a paw. What the wild cat often does is curl up and goes to sleep in the back of the enclosure, as far away from people as possible. Owners or veterinarians may think they're sleeping comfortably and not in any pain, but the reality is this surgical procedure is extremely painful and often pain medication is not part of the post-op care.

As if that isn't bad enough, there are thousands of horror stories of de-clawings gone bad—from claws growing back, deformed and having to be amputated as many as six times until the full digit is gone. 

Since lions and tigers are heavier than domestic cats, they often require further surgery to correct the gait abnormalities and pad damage caused. Then there is the issue of how removing their nails makes it difficult for them to eat meat as they no longer have their claws so they can grip their food.

Other health issues include:
Joint Stiffness:  In declawed (and tendonectomizedized) cats, the tendons that control the toe joints retract after the surgery because they are no longer anchored to the bones, and over time these joints become essentially "frozen." The toes can no longer extend, but remains fully contracted for the lifetime of the cat. The toes become like hammer toes. Cats may continue to "scratch" after they are declawed, this is probably explained by the cat's desperate desire to stretch those stiff, contracted joints and not evidence that the cat does not miss its claws.

Arthritis:  Researchers have shown that in the immediate post-operative period, newly declawed cats shift their body weight backward onto the large central pad (the three-lobed pad on the palm) of the front feet and off the toes. This altered gait may persist over time, and can cause stress on the leg joints and spine, and could lead to damage and arthritic changes in multiple joints. X ray images of declawed cats confirm this theory. 
Okemo arrived declawed
Does In-Sync Exotic have any wild cats that were declawed?  We sure do.  In-Sync Exotics would never declaw an animal, but sadly we have a lot of animals that arrived at our sanctuary declawed.  For instance, all of our cougars, except Freddie, were declawed, along with tigers and lions, Takoma, Kiro, the Leona 6, Okemo, Jynxie, and Sabu.  A few of our smaller wild ones were also declawed:  Otis (bobcat) and two of our servals, Jasi and Nefertiti were also declawed by their previous owner.

Two of our tigers and cougars had to undergo additional surgeries to correct past botched declawing procedures:  Harley, Smuggler, Crimson and Cherokee.  Bless their hearts for having to undergo another painful procedure in order to correct past botched declawing surgeries.

As our wild ones get older, we watch them very carefully to see if any them experience joint or arthritis problems.  We have several senior and geriatric cats on medications to help alleviate some of the pain associated with arthritis and joint issues. 

We hope you found this posting informative!  If you like to contribute to our wild one’s care, please visit our donation site HERE.  Please share this information to others who may be contemplating this type of surgery for their own domestic cats.

Shoes and Reebok
There are non-surgical options that can protect one’s furniture and the health and welfare of the furry companion.  Regular nail clipping, nail caps, double-sided sticky tape, and scratching board are great ways to reduce furniture destruction.  The Internet offers solutions to just about every cat scratching issues out there and, of course, discussing non-surgical options with your vet may also yield additional solutions.

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