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Declawing large cats is a cruel practice with shocking impacts

Declawing domestic cats to stop them from scratching people and furniture is a controversial practice, and is even banned in some countries and regions in the United States. However, according to a team of researchers led by North Carolina State University, this practice is not limited to house cats and can be particularly cruel to large cats. 

In a recent study published in the journal Animals, the experts investigated the effects of declawing on large cat species. The researchers discovered that this practice impacts the muscular capabilities of large cats to a much greater degree than their smaller domestic relatives.

Focus of the study

Although it is illegal in the US to surgically modify exotic animals, declawing is still done on large cats such as tigers or lions, most often in order to allow cubs to be handled more safely in photo opportunities or for entertainment purposes. 

“What people might not realize is that declawing a cat is not like trimming our fingernails; rather, it is removing part or all of the last bone of each digit,” said senior author Adam Hartstone-Rose, a professor of Biological Sciences at NC State. “Like us, each cat finger has three bones, and declawing is literally cutting that third bone off at the joint.”

To determine the effects of declawing on forelimb musculature, the scientists examined the muscular anatomy of more than a dozen exotic cats, ranging from smaller species such as bobcats, servals, and ocelots to larger ones like tigers and lions. 

What the researchers learned 

By measuring muscle density and mass, as well as muscle fibers in both clawed and declawed exotic cats, they found that for the larger species declawing resulted in 73 percent lighter musculature in the forearm’s digital flexors (the muscles involved in unsheathing the claws). 

Depending on the size of the animal, forelimb strength decreased by 46 to 66 percent, and no other muscles in the forelimb compensated for these reductions.

Implications of the study 

“When you think about what declawing does functionally to a housecat, you hear about changes in scratching, walking, or using the litter box. But with big cats, there’s more force being put through the paws. So if you alter them, it is likely that the effects will be more extreme,” explained study lead author Lara Martens, an undergraduate student at NC State. 

This phenomenon is caused by the fact that paw size and body mass do not scale up at a 1:1 ration. Instead, since paw area increases at a slower rate than body mass, larger cats have smaller feet relative to their body size, and their paws must withstand more pressure.

“Additionally, big cats are more reliant on their forelimbs – they bear most of the weight, and these bigger cats use their forelimbs to grapple because they hunt much larger prey,” Martens said. “So biomechanically speaking, declawing has a more anatomically devastating effect in larger species.”

“As scientists, it is our job to objectively document the effects of this surgery on the animals, but it is hard to ignore the cruelty of this practice. These are amazing animals, and we should not be allowed to cripple them, or any animals, in this way,” Hartstone-Rose concluded.

More about declawing large cats

Declawing is a highly controversial practice and is often considered inhumane for both domestic and large cats. This is because it involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe, which is equivalent to removing a human finger at the last joint. Declawing can cause serious physical, behavioral, and emotional problems for the animal.

For large cats such as lions, tigers, and leopards, the procedure would be even more problematic. Not only would the surgery itself be dangerous due to the size and power of the animal, but declawing could also severely impact the cat’s ability to hunt, climb, and defend itself.

Furthermore, it’s important to remember that large cats are not pets. They are wild animals, and as such, they should be respected and protected in their natural environments rather than subjected to unnecessary and harmful procedures

More about large cats

Large cats, also known as big cats, typically refer to any of the five members of the genus Panthera: the lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard, and snow leopard. They’re called big cats because they are able to roar, thanks to a ligament in their voice box.

However, sometimes the term “big cat” can also include other large felines, such as cougars (also known as mountain lions or pumas), cheetahs, and leopards.

These animals are known for their strength and agility. They’re carnivorous, and many are apex predators in their respective ecosystems, playing an important role in controlling the population of other animals. Big cats are found in a variety of habitats around the world, from the savannas of Africa to the rainforests of South America and the snowy mountains of Asia.

Sadly, many big cat species are endangered or threatened due to habitat loss, poaching, and climate change. Conservation efforts are crucial to their survival.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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