Becoming a no-declaw veterinary practice


Becoming a no-declaw veterinary practice

Deciding to not offer declaws anymore was only the first step. The next steps involved training our team and updating our materials. Here’s how we did it.
Jan 02, 2018

This article is part of the Leadership Challenge: Vet life transitions package. Check out more articles about navigating change in your professional life here.

Editor's note: This article explores how one veterinary clinic made a major change in a clinical protocol—no more declaws—but the process can apply to any protocol change you might be making in your clinic, including vaccines, pain management, anesthesia and so on.

“Did we stop offering front declaws?”

The question, posed by one of my customer service representatives, caught me off guard. I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Can you tell me what happened?” I asked.

“Well, I just asked a technician to make a front declaw estimate for a client. Dr. A was there and interjected to say we don’t do these anymore,” she said. “Why wasn’t I made aware of this policy change?”

Great question, I thought. I wasn’t aware of it either! I thanked my customer service representative for bringing the issue to my attention and asked her to give me a little time to figure out what was going on. I promised to follow up with her later.

After a little investigating, in which I gained the perspectives of my doctors and technicians, I learned that there had been a discussion about considering ending this service. Due to some miscommunication, a final decision was never made, leaving everyone on different pages.

Step 1: Doctor meeting

I scheduled a meeting with all three of the practice’s doctors for the following day. I told them the purpose of the meeting beforehand and requested that they come prepared to discuss their thoughts and concerns on front declawing.

During the meeting, I learned that Dr. A felt strongly that continuing this procedure would go against her oath of preventing animal suffering. Conversely, Drs. B and C were still willing to perform the procedure, though they weren’t against stopping it either. Dr. C noted postop complications as a reason for stopping, citing a recent patient with bleeding issues.

All three doctors were able to fully discuss their views and also weighed the financial pros and cons of becoming a no-declaw practice. On the one hand, it could give our practice the opportunity to advertise the change and receive positive PR. We’d already experienced positive feedback from clients after explaining why we don’t perform ear-cropping or tail-docking procedures. On the other hand, it could result in a loss of clients and a loss of income (though requests for declaw procedures were admittedly declining every year).

In the end, all three doctors were able to agree on becoming a no-declaw practice.

Step 2: Team meeting

At our next team meeting, Dr. A presented on the reasons why our hospital would stop performing declaws and included the thoughts of the other two doctors in the explanation.

Next, the entire team brainstormed on what we would need to do to make the change successful. Here are some of the ideas that emerged:

> Teach clients how to clip nails at new kitten visits.

> Offer a client handout on how to decrease scratching on items that aren’t meant for cat claws (like, ahem, curtains, couches and human flesh, to name a few).

> Update handouts for clients with new kittens to reflect our policy change.

> Develop talking points for the team on how to discuss the change with clients that avoid sounding judgmental if clients decide to declaw elsewhere.

Tasks were delegated and the meeting adjourned. The very next day, a longtime client came in and asked us to declaw her kitten because her mom, who lived with her, had a medical condition that required the kitten to be declawed. We’d declawed all of her previous kittens.

This conversation caught Dr. A off guard. She wasn’t prepared to have a confident discussion with this client about our new policy. Doctor A agreed to perform the procedure with a technician who wasn’t opposed to declawing—a decision that did not sit well with her and made her realize that we need to be better prepared to explain to clients why we are a non-declaw hospital. Dr. A used this experience to develop a list of talking points.

Step 3: Team training

At the next team meeting, those who’d been assigned tasks were able to present and discuss their work with the rest of the team. Dr. A passed out copies of the talking points she’d created, and Dr. C gave everyone a copy of the AAFP’s scratching handout, explaining that it would be added to the literature given to clients with new kittens. We discussed how we would incorporate nail trims in new kitten visits and how we would help clients who still desired to declaw their cats. For example, instead of “recommending” a hospital, we elected to say, “We’ve had several clients tell us they’ve had a positive experience with 'X' hospital. If you would like its contact information, let me know.”

The transition to a no-declaw hospital has been great. With proper education, most clients understand why we no longer offer this service. We maybe had two or three clients this year who elected to have their cats declawed. We’ve also used this change to drive positive PR for our hospital and in Facebook advertising. 


Visit the next page for a peek at some of the talking points from Dr. A ...

Ditching declaws: Common client concerns

While this list isn't comprehensive, it can serve as a starting point for preparing your team should you decide to follow in my practice's footsteps. Here's Dr. A's advice for turning a client's concern into an opportunity for education and training:


Client says: “I thought that’s just what you do with cats.”

You say: "Declawing isn’t a necessary procedure, and the majority of cats are not declawed. Just like you can train a puppy to not chew your furniture, you can also train a kitten to not scratch certain items. We can help you get the information you’d need to train your kitten ... "


Client says: “My other cats are declawed so this one has to be too.”

You say: "Most cats living together in a household don’t fight with each other. Cats tend to use subtle signs to warn other cats to stay away if they don’t feel like interacting. If your cats fight to the point where they’re injuring each other, intervention is necessary whether they have their claws or not."


Client says: “I just got new furniture and I don’t want it ruined.”

You say: "We definitely understand your concern, and we’re happy to help you train your kitten to use appropriate items to scratch and to stay away from the ones that aren’t. We can also show you how to keep your cat’s nails trimmed and provide you with more ideas if this becomes a problem in the future ... "


Client says: “The kitten is scratching my toddler and I am afraid she’ll get hurt.”

You say: "The safety of your child and everyone in your family is very important. Kittens use all of their claws and their teeth to play and defend themselves—not just the front claws—so here are some ways to train your kitten to be gentle, as well as things to teach your daughter, in order to keep your daughter from getting hurt ... "


Client says: “My elderly mom lives with us and is on blood thinners so we can’t risk her getting scratched.”  

You say: "Even a cat that’s declawed could pose a risk to your mom as it will still have its back claws. We would love to teach you how to train your kitten to be gentle and to use a scratching post and give you more tips on how to keep your mom safe ... "


Client says: “My husband is immunosuppressed so we can’t risk him getting a disease from a cat scratch.”

You say: "Cats can transmit a disease called cat scratch disease, which can be serious—especially for an immunosuppressed individual. But this disease is fairly rare and some other more common diseases can be transmitted to you and your family members by your cat. We should go over these, as well as discuss ways to discourage your kitten from scratching, in order to make sure we do everything we can to prevent the kitten from being able to make you or your husband ill ... "



Jennifer Maniscola is the practice manager at Indian Veterinary Center in Newtown, Pennsylvania. She likes to spend time at home with her husband, two kids, three birds, two cats and one dog.

Re: Declawing Cats

With all this discussion about traditional declaws and alternatives, WHY have tendonectomies not been mentioned?? It's an easy, painless or nearly painless procedure (depending on pain control and post-op care), and takes care of the scratching concern. One of my classmates performed it on her own older cats, and she said they recovered without even blinking. The only downside is that the nails need to still be cut. The cats can no longer extend their claws, thus the concern about scratching Grandma on blood-thinners or an immuosuppressed housemate is not an issue.
I also find it hypocritical that "no declaw" practices refer owners who want declaws to other practices that perform them. It's like calling yourself a "no kill" shelter, but turning away pets that eventually end up in a kill shelter. Makes you feel better, but the deed it still done, just by someone else.
Instead of telling clients just to cut their cats' nails and provide appropriate scratching surfaces (which are good suggestions, but may not address the ultimate problem), let's offer them a real solution
(tendonectomy) that has little or no downtime after the procedure, and addresses the real reason why owners may abandon their cats.

de-clawing cats

Something I have always wondered, why the vets that are against de-clawing from paws of cats have no problem with castration. As much as they insist it does not change the personality of the animal or say that the change is for the "good", it does change them. Ask any man to get a castration instead of a vasectomy and see what they say. I seriously doubt any male vet would trade his "boys" to prove me wrong.

Castrating any mammal has the same impact on the brain doesn't it? If you are going to justify castration because the changes are good, so are the changes from declawing. You don't want your dog chasing after bitches in heat, I don't want the cat climbing the drapes. What's the difference? Anytime you alter the hormones, you alter the behaviour, pretty sure any married man will agree with me on that.

Something that was pointed out in a previous comment was that it takes time to train a cat, time that people just won't take. Having had cats for my entire (so far) adult life (over 40 years), I can say with certainty that cats are not as easily trained as dogs. Some cats are pretty predictable, so you can sort of train yourself to make them do things, but by far, most are not. Add to that, a lot of people will get a cat for a pet simply because they like the idea of a pet, but do not like the work. Cats are easy, dogs are hard. Simple test, you live in an apartment building, second floor, its -40 degrees outside, your pet needs to go to the bathroom, do you want a cat or a dog? In real life it is as simple as that.

In the 80s I had a water bed. I also had two cats. If one of their toys happened to end up on the bed, next to the side rail, the cats would rake their claws around the toy trying to get it out. More times than not, the toy would be wet by the time they got it out. If I wanted a pet that would not be allowed complete access to the house I would get a fish. None of my cats have had any of the side effects that are commonly given as reasons to not declaw, none have bled, none have stopped using the litter box, none had any issues with jumping, they all still used their tips of their paws as fingers, two of them used to pull the grilles off my livingroom tower speakers while sharpening their toes. Doubt they would do that if they were in the condition most anti-declawers say they will be in.

It should be noted that none of the cats I have had as pets were ever allowed outside. I think a pet is like a 2 year old kid(provided the kid is house broken), how many of those do you see roaming the streets alone?
How many vets are willing to perform vasectomies on pets?

A no declaw practice

Certainly any practice that chooses not to perform declaws has every right just as any practice that chooses not to perform any other procedure or service.

However to demonize declaws and attack veterinary practices that still provide this service is very wrong and does not help our profession.

As far as the excuses for not performing declaws such as bleeding and other post op complications. If we held all of our other surgical procedures to the same standard we would not be dong any surgery.

The idea that people can teach cats not to scratch on certain items and not others is probably true if one has enough time to commit to such a task. The simple fact is however pet owning families have so much on their plate that to think they can dedicate the amount of time and effort such training would take is naive. For those folks that would reply if they don't have the time to train they should not have a cat I only ask how many dogs do you see in your practice that have even the most minimal level of obedience training?

Declaws have a purpose and place and if done correctly, in spite of what you may read almost exclusively by folks who are against declaws and have never done any or many, have very few problems as do most of the surgical procedures we perform in practice.

Veterinarians and veterinary practices should be allowed to have the freedom to practice in a manner that provides the services their clients desire provided it is within the law and done in a professional and humane manner (i.e. sterile, analgesics, post op care, etc.). This witch hunt against declaws in which government has gotten involved to outlaw such procedures will only spread to other procedures as the anthropomorphic hysteria among some in our profession grows.

No declaw practice

Just a quick point of clarification - Let Dr. A know that no where in the AVMA Veterinary Oath does it say "do no harm". That is the Hippocratic oath. As far as the practice of declawing, that is a loaded subject. Those that are for it, doing it properly, are ridiculed by those against it, citeng all kinds of rare side effects as common place. Not exactly a unbiased forum!

Good catch! We’ve adjusted

Good catch! We’ve adjusted the wording to better fit the AVMA Veterinary Oath. Thanks!