Here’s feedback from 4 veterinarians about the information in our story.
“I think it will hit home with many veterinarians. “
“This article sheds new light on the how the moral stress of declawing can negatively affect a veterinarian’s mental health. It is certainly possible that declawing is a contributing factor in the rise of suicides in the veterinary profession. “
“You present good evidence.”
“True and strong.”
“Moral distress is real, and its importance around feline toe amputation is important.”
Story published on May 21, 2021
How can we improve mental well-being in the veterinary profession, especially related to moral distress and ethical trauma?
Ban and end declawing.
As you will see below, declawing causes moral distress and negatively affects the mental health and well-being of many veterinary professionals.
Many declawing vets, when asked why they are performing declaw procedures, respond by bringing up the suicide rate in the veterinary profession.
Why do declawing vets always bring up suicide? Are the two horrible issues related?
We know declawing negatively affects the mental health and well-being of many veterinary professionals.
April 2021. We reached out to David J Bartram, a leading expert on veterinary suicide issues and asked if he thinks that declawing could be contributing to harming the mental health and well-being of declawing veterinarians and their staff. Here’s his reply.
“There is a concept in human psychology referred to as moral stress (stress which occurs when a professional is prevented from doing what they believe is right or most beneficial for the patient) which can potentially lead to mental health problems. It is possible that some veterinarians in US might experience moral stress if they felt obliged to declaw cats. In my view, declawing is abhorrent.” — David J Bartram.
Here’s a 2020 story in DVM360 from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association’s veterinarians about declawing and how it can contribute to moral stress in veterinarians. Humane Society veterinary leadership story Page 14, last paragraph on the first page.
“We no longer need to feel conflicted or embarrassed by rejecting a practice that a majority of our international veterinary peers already eschew on the grounds that it causes dysfunction, deformity, and long-term pain, and is simply inhumane.”
“Cats do not benefit from onychectomy. Given that there are noninvasive alternatives, such as redirection of scratching behavior, environmental enrichment, and nail trimming or capping, it is difficult to support declawing on ethical or animal welfare grounds. Indeed, veterinarians who declaw cats may experience moral stress because they may feel they are acting against their values. This stress may contribute to psychological morbidity and even mortality among veterinarians. Study 8, 9.”
“Veterinarians can employ their considerable expertise by spending time with owners discussing the true downsides of declawing, dispelling hearsay, and providing viable alternatives for modifying cats’ scratching behavior.“
Survey 8- Ethical dilemmas encountered by small animal veterinarians: “Most respondents (52 per cent) reported that ethical dilemmas are the leading cause, or are one of many equal causes, of work-related stress.”
Survey 9- Ethical conflict and moral distress in veterinary practice: “Veterinarians report widespread ethical conflict and moral distress across many practice types and demographics. Most veterinarians have little to no training on how to decrease the impact of these problems. Ethical conflict and resulting moral distress may be an important source of stress and poor well-being that is not widely recognized or well defined. “
Excerpt from a 2020 JAVMA story about the AVMA’s revised declawing position, “Dr. Stiles said the CVMA policy has helped advance regulations and end the procedure, which is now allowed in only three of Canada’s 10 provinces. She said members are happy with the change. There’s no competition with their neighbor declawing,” she said. “They don’t need to worry about that anymore. They can just do what they’ve been told to do, which is provide excellent medical care for their patients and not worry about medically unnecessary procedures.”
“Dr. Stiles said in an interview outside the meeting she has heard that, across Canada, fewer people ask for declawing, and she believes the same is true in the U.S. She also thinks the procedure can contribute to compassion fatigue and burnout among veterinarians who are uncomfortable with declawing but work at clinics where they need to perform it.”
Dr Enid Stiles is the 2021 President of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
Excerpt from a 2020 JAVMA story about the AVMA’s revised declawing position, “Dr. Steele, who was in the same reference committee meeting, said afterward that veterinarians, especially newer associates, are struggling with having to perform onychectomies.
Results of an AAFP survey of 1,200 feline practitioners indicated 51% do not declaw cats and slightly more support legislative bans on the procedure, she said. “What that tells us is they’re ethically opposed to declawing and they’re having to do it anyway,”
Excerpt from a 2020 JAVMA story about the AVMA’s revised declawing position, “Dr. Neil Moss, delegate for Utah, said he thinks most veterinarians would be relieved if declawing were banned.”
Link to this 2020 JAVMA story about declawing. JAVMA declawing policy story
Here’s an ethnographic 2005 US study that found veterinarians use organizational support for moral distancing, including rationalization or redirecting blame to enable them to continue to define themselves as working for the best interests of feline health while supporting a practice of declawing cats, which they acknowledged to be morally “ambiguous or painful.
This study is even referenced in the AVMA’s official declawing position statement under the “Cat Benefits” section. AVMA’s Declawing Position
Here’s a March 2022 interview by Dr Andy Roark with Dr Indu Mani about moral stress in the veterinary profession. Here’s the YouTube interview. Moral stress interview
Comment from Dr Indu Mani at the 39 minute mark. “If somebody came over and said I want you to declaw my cat, she’s not scratching anything but I want you to declaw her. We can talk about what that elicits in the veterinarian. Try to explain to the client why that ilicits moral stress in the veterinarian to be forced to do something like that.” Dr Indu Mani in a March 2022 interview with Dr Andy Roark.
Comment from Dr Indu Mani at the 12.10 minute mark. She defines moral distress. “When you perform an action which is the opposite of what you feel is right or what you feel is morally correct.”
“When I think about moral distress. Yes. When you said moral injury, the things that come to my mind, I know veterinarians who were forced to do procedures they didn’t want to do, and to me that that feels like that next level like that moral injury. These people carry scars years later. And they go, I did not want to do this and I was forced to do it or the implication was that I would lose my job. “ Comment by Dr Andy Roark during an interview with Dr Indu Mani at the 18 minute mark in the video.
Here is Dr Indu Mani’s opinion piece in the NY Daily News about moral stress in the veterinary profession. NY Daily News Moral Stress Story
“There are so many causes I believe in passionately. One of them happens to be protecting members of a profession with one of the world’s highest suicide rates from emotional abuse.” — Dr Andy Roark, 2015 comment about veterinary suicide.
“Zetwo also said banning the practice would take pressure off veterinarians who are opposed to the practice but have clients who insist upon having their cats declawed. I’ve definitely had owners threaten to turn their cat outside, euthanize their cat, give it away, and they turn it right back on me, ‘Are you really going to be responsible for that?'” Excerpt from the Observer-Reporter newspaper in PA on April 28, 2022. Comment is by Dr. Amanda Zetwo, the medical director of Animal Friends. PA Newspaper Story
“We are the profession who suffers the highest rate of suicide. We make painful, emotional decisions every day.” — 2018 note from a declawing veterinarian.
“Dr. Neil Moss, delegate for Utah, said he thinks most veterinarians would be relieved if declawing were banned. He said that since a series of laws banned cosmetic tail docking of dogs throughout the United Kingdom, those limits have become noncontroversial.” Excerpt from this AVMA story about the AVMA House of Delegates’ January 2020 meeting in Chicago. AVMA story
Comment from Dr Sarah Boston in a 2015 story. ”I feel depressed just thinking about the way those cats looked at me. I have never been able to shake the feeling that this procedure is just wrong. I decided early on that when I became a veterinarian, I would not do declaws.” Dr Sarah Boston story about declawing
Dr Boston also went on to say this. “I think as a profession, we need to reconsider this procedure and have the conversation. It’s time. When a surgical procedure permanently alters an animal in an effort to protect a couch, I think it is time for some group reflection. What if we all say no to doing this procedure as a profession? What if we were to mobilize and make the procedure illegal in North America too? What would happen?”
Here’s a small sample of some of the notes we recently received from veterinarians and comments from veterinarians on social media about declawing.
Some of these veterinarians are in very high positions in the veterinary profession including on their state veterinary executive boards.
“I think killing myself might be the only way to stop the pain I feel about declawing cats.”
“I’ve probably done hundreds of these surgeries in my career. I didn’t like doing one of them. And I always tell the owners that.” Aug. 16, 2021 testimony from Dr Peter Pelissier, owner of AAHA Accredited Animal Hospital, Mountain View Veterinary Hospital in Sheridan, WY, during a hearing for the declawing ban amendment to the animal cruelty ordinance. (The declawing amendment was stopped.)
“Ending declawing would most certainly remove a high degree of moral injury from vulnerable veterinarians, decreasing the likelihood of suicidal thoughts. The high rate of veterinary suicide can result from constant moral distress. Being forced to perform a surgery known to cause harm, purely for human convenience, is devastating.” Janet Gordan Palm, DVM.
“I truly believe that every one of my team members has less work stress since we stopped declawing several years ago. We feel like we are truly advocating for our patients.”
“I stopped declawing 7 years ago and will never again. And I feel a shame and guilt from my declawing past that I get to carry with me forever. Its painful for me to talk about…not as painful as say, having my fingers amputated, but you know kinda painful for me.”
“For the first 6 years of my veterinary career I declawed cats. I tried to educate against it but ultimately I would do it if that is what my clients wanted, because I thought it meant keeping that cat in a home. I stopped declawing 7 years ago and will never again. And I feel a shame and guilt from my declawing past that I get to carry with me forever. Its painful for me to talk about…not as painful as say, having my fingers amputated, but you know kinda painful for me.”
“We never did many but it was a huge relief to everyone when we made the commitment to completely stop. I sometimes see patients that are having post-declaw issues after having the surgery at another hospital. It makes me worry about cats that I declawed in the past and I hope that they are doing okay.”
“I know I couldn’t sleep at night and when I spent 30+ minutes going over alternatives, applied soft paws, discussed the cruel reality of amputation …only for the owner to still chose this.”
“I used to declaw using laser and an aggressive post pain control. That was my self justification: if I don’t do it, someone will do a bad job and the cat will suffer. Another argument I used was that of course is best to give up the claws than the home. It took well intended cat lovers to point out the actual research showing long term deleterious effects and pain, and the actual shelter experiences trying to rehome these declawed cats with their behavioral issues. I can only say the last 6 years of not declawing cats have been very rewarding and in line with my oath to do no harm. I do regret ever declawing. Nowadays, my staff and myself feel like true cat advocates.”
“I still dreaded doing [declaws]! I began educating clients about the procedure and alternatives. I tried to educate the other doctors in the practice to raise their level of pain management for these kitties. Eventually, I only had a couple clients a month that requested declaw procedures and I elected to stop performing them. I have not declawed a cat since 2010 and regret sincerely ever having done this brutal procedure.”
“... [N]o longer became a good enough reason for me to declaw, and when I said no more, I let out a deep breath I didn’t even realize I’d been holding for many years.”
“As far as stopping performing declaws – I was absolutely relieved to have AAFP ask us to stop. I have hated declawing cats my whole career, but have always maintained that we do it with the most pain management possible.” (The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) banned declawing in all their Cat Friendly Practices on July 1, 2021.)
“Veterinarians for the most part would rather harm ourselves than harm a pet, and unfortunately many vets do. Suicide is several times more common in the veterinary profession than in the general population.”
Veterinarians went to school to help animals. They are often introverted and not accustomed to seeking help. They are trained to find their own solutions to problems and they do have easy access to drugs that are designed to end a life. Are we as a society forcing them to take their own lives by forcing them to contribute to animal suffering?
Would declaw bans (and stopping other veterinary –sanctioned animal cruelty) save veterinarians?
The evidence we gathered says yes.
Declaw bans save cats lives and veterinary lives!
2022 comment from a vet tech in West Michigan, “I would say that having to assist in declaws by monitoring the cat’s vitals has definitely stuck with me and left a bad taste in my mouth so to say. It breaks my heart every time I think about it or see a declawed cat and know it was only for cosmetic reasons.
I would say that it has negatively affected my mental health just knowing the consequences of declawing and knowing that it’s a permanent, irreversible procedure.
I had other coworkers say the same thing about declawing: that it’s detrimental to their health and well-being, as well as questioning why we still declaw.
I even had the discussion with some of the doctors who said they wished they wouldn’t have to declaw anymore, which raised the question in my head of why they still do it when they’re the owners of the clinic. “
“I had recurring nightmares about the traumatic way declaw patients would emerge from anesthesia, screaming and thrashing and ripping their bandages off. These nightmares grew worse the more certain I became that we were doing nothing beneficial for these patients but were in fact torturing them for no good reason. It made everything else we did at work to help animals feel like a lie- like the most cynical kind of hypocrisy. I began to lose faith in the profession as a whole- and by extension, humanity in general, since I’d always felt that veterinarians did the most noble work one could do and now I saw that this was a lie. I dreaded going to work every day; dreaded even getting out of bed in the morning. I felt that collecting my paycheck amounted to accepting blood money. I couldn’t even tell our clients the reasons I wouldn’t recommend declawing when I was asked point blank about it, for fear of losing the job I desperately needed and used to love. I had to bite my tongue and say nothing. I could no longer respect the veterinarians I worked with, since they blithely endorsed and rationalized all this needless suffering. I became very bitter and depressed and knew that something had to give. Rather than harm myself, I chose to defy my employer and sacrifice my job in order to try to help get the truth about declawing out from behind closed doors. But not everyone can bring themselves to do the same, and no one should be forced to choose between their own mental and emotional survival and their livelihood, as I was forced to do.” Lorelei Hickman, Former Veterinary Technician.
Story about a vet tech who had to assist with declaws. Quote from this veterinary professional. “During the 20+ years I worked as a vet tech in local small animal hospitals, I reluctantly assisted in hundreds of declaws. As much as I hated the procedure, it was part of my job description to assist surgeries, and I never did find a way to get out of it. Most were front-paw declaws, but many involved declawing all four paws. The worst were the four-paw declaws paired with a spay, all done during the same surgery.”
“Too many times we would return to the hospital the following morning to find a freshly declawed kitten had gotten one or more of the tightly-bound bandages off those feet and had bled out all over the inside of the cold metal cage, only to have the attending veterinarian wrestle the painful kitten to a table to re-bandage those raw, open toes. Most did not sedate the kittens for re-bandages. I’ll never forget the plaintive cries.”
The vet declawed a cat on all four paws and he stopped using the litter box. The owner brought the cat in to have him euthanized and the vet never told the owner that the issue was because of his declaw.
Quote from the vet tech about this cat. “I cried for that kitten for weeks afterwards. I felt the pain, fear, and suffering every kitten and cat endured because of those declaw surgeries for the whole of my career.”
Here’s the link to this story.
We ask, why are the veterinary medical associations and the AVMA fighting to keep declawing legal when they know it harms the mental health and well-being of many of their member veterinarians and veterinary professionals? Why wouldn’t they be doing everything they can to protect them from the moral distress and harm that declawing causes and fight to end declawing?
Same for companies like AAHA.org, VetCor, American Veterinary Group, Thrive Pet HealthCare, PetVet Care, Rarebreed Veterinary Partners, NAVE Veterinary Group, etc, who allow declawing in their animal hospitals despite knowing that it is not only hurting and harming cats, but also their own veterinary professionals?
VCA, Banfield, Mission Veterinary Partners, Fear Free Pets, and the American Assoc. of Feline Practitioners banned it and not only are they protecting the welfare of cats, they are protecting the welfare of their veterinarians and vet professionals.
(National Veterinary Associates (NVA) told us they will be ending declawing in their clinics in a few months)
Here’s our story about how declawing is also bad for cat owners. Declawing is bad for cats, vets, cat owners, and vet professionals
Here’s our story with the study that showed that declawing causes cats to be chronically stressed. Declawing causes chronic stress in cats
Here’s the American Association of Feline Practitioner’s Claw Friendly Toolkit to help veterinary professionals stop declawing. AAFP’s Claw Friendly Toolkit