Elective declawing is a controversial procedure as it is for the benefit of the owner rather than the cat. The decision to have a cat declawed should be carefully considered in consultation with a veterinarian and only be performed after reasonable behavior modification attempts and alternatives have been exhausted. Declawed cats should not be allowed outdoors.
Alternatives to Declawing
Before you decide to declaw your feline friend, it is always advisable to think about why you are doing it and to try other alternatives to this elective orthopedic procedure if possible.
- Train your cat to use a scratching post: The type of post (height, texture), placement and attractiveness should all be considered. Scenting with catnip can help. Go to askdryin.com (search: cat scratching) for helpful hints on training your cat and enriching their environment to help deter destructive scratching.
- Clip your cat’s nails: Simply trimming the nails every 1-2 weeks prevents a lot of damage to furniture and screens. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do this.
- Pheromone sprays and/or plug ins: We recommend Feliway products.
- Apply Soft Claws: Soft Claws are soft, plastic coverings glued to the cat’s existing nails so they can’t cause damage or scratch skin. They must be reapplied as the natural claw is shed off periodically.
- Discouraging the behavior: Attach sticky tape or tinfoil to the inappropriate scratching surfaces. Punishment is not an effective deterrent.
- Indoor Pet Initiative: Head over to the Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s website at indoorpet.osu.edu for tips on enriching your companion’s life.
Make A Thoughtful Choice
Owners should think carefully about WHY they want to declaw their pet. Dr. Bonnie Beaver, Professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and nationally known animal behavior authority notes that declawing a cat has both positive and negative considerations. “In cases where the cat is destroying the inside of the home and retraining it to use a scratching post hasn’t worked, or when it lives with the elderly, a diabetic or severely immunocompromised person, the decision becomes one of either declawing the cat or having to relocate or euthanize it… The decision of whether to declaw should be made by a well-informed owner in consultation with a veterinarian.” Dr. Beaver says the negatives of declawing include the pain the animal endures after the procedure and it might affect the animal’s walking ability. Also, some cats might find it more painful to use the litter box and some cats are often defenseless in attacks by other animals. Dr. Beaver concludes, “owners should discuss (the pros and cons) with their veterinarian before coming to a decision.”
Feline Claw Anatomy
Unlike other mammals, cats walk on their toes, not on their feet or pads. The claws are used for balance, exercise, and for stretching. Scratching is a very important part of cat’s behavior. Scratching is a natural instinctive impulse that involves climbing, chasing, exercising, and marking their territory. A cat also relies on its claws as its primary means of defense against attacks. The cat’s claw is not a nail as is a human fingernail, it is a part of the last bone in the cat’s toe. The cells that produce the claw are produced in the last bone.
The Surgical Procedure
“Onychectomy” is defined as the partial or total amputation of the last bone of each toe. The type of instrument used to perform this procedure differs from doctor to doctor (guillotine, scalpel, or laser). Contrary to most people’s understanding, declawing consists of amputating not just the claw, but the entire last bone including the ligament, tendon, nerve, and joint capsule.
A lot of cats seem to do fine after the declaw procedure. However, other cats develop various changes in their demeanor and personalities. Some of the changes seen include withdrawal and isolation, increased nervousness and aggression, and some resort to using their teeth in situations where they need to defend themselves. Some cats will develop urinary problems due to pain associated with using their litter box. The incidence of these issues increases greatly if pain management before, during, and after surgery is not a priority.
Possible Short and Long-Term Complications
Short term complications may include post-op bleeding, pain, infections, opening of the incisions or abscesses due to a foreign body (primarily clay litter used too soon after surgery).
Long-term complications may include chronic pain from nerve damage, pain in back and shoulder joints due to change in mobility and regrowth of the claw due to incomplete removal of the last bone.