Should I Declaw My Cat? A Veterinarian’s Advice

Jun 3, 2019 | Behavior, Cats

The question of whether to declaw a cat is one of the most controversial topics in veterinary medicine. The most common reason owners elect to declaw their cats is because they are destroying furniture and/or flooring. Some owners also choose to have their cat declawed if it is scratching members of the household, particularly children or older individuals who may have thin skin.

Consider Other Claw Management Options First

Before electing to have this procedure, I urge clients to exhaust all other options to prevent destructive or aggressive behavior.

Provide Scratching Alternatives

Cats should have multiple and varied surfaces to scratch. It is recommended that cats have both carpeted and cardboard scratching posts with horizontal and vertical surfaces. I also recommend keeping the pet’s nails trimmed short.

You Can Cover Your Cat’s Claws With Caps

Using a product called Soft Paws, which are plastic coverings that can be glued onto a cat’s nails to prevent them from causing damage when scratching, is another option to consider.

If all of these measures have been tried without success and the only alternative is giving up or euthanizing the cat, then declawing can be considered.

Young Cats Deal Best With Declawing

The best candidates for declaw surgery are young (6-12 months) cats. Younger animals tend to heal better and typically weigh less than older cats which means less stress will be put on the paws after surgery. A young cat can be declawed at the same time he/ she is neutered/ spayed, thus sparing the cat from going through a second anesthetic event.

The Consequences of Declawing

However, the drawback to declawing while it is young is that it might be unknown if a pet is going to be destructive or not as it grows up. So, it’s not fair to put a cat through surgery simply because it has claws and may or may not be destructive in the future.

Declawed Cats Can’t Defend Themselves. Once a cat is declawed, it should be kept strictly indoors since the pet will no longer be able to defend itself or climb to escape a potential predator.

Declawing Might Not Stop Harmful Behavior. If a cat is intentionally scratching people or other pets in the household, owners should be advised that this cat, if declawed, may start biting instead of scratching. In this case, where a cat is scratching people/pets as a form of aggression, a behaviorist should be consulted to attempt to manage this aggression instead of proceeding to surgery.

Deciding Whether to Declaw

Owners considering whether to declaw their cat should make an informed decision, and benefit from a basic understanding of what the procedure entails.

Only Healthy Cats Get Surgery. Before the surgery, your vet should perform an exam and blood work to be sure the pet does not have any concurrent conditions or obvious abnormalities that would increase the chance of complications under anesthesia or post op. If the pet appears healthy and the lab results are normal the pet will be placed under general anesthesia.

Declawing is The Same as Removing Your Cat’s Finger Bones. During a feline declaw typically only the front nails are removed. Each toe in the cat consists of 3 bones- P1, P2, and P3, which is very similar to the human finger. The P1 is the segment closest to the hand, and the P3 is the “finger” tip.

When a cat is declawed, it’s not just the nail that is taken, but a piece of bone (P3) must be surgically removed as well or the nail can grow back. This is equivalent to amputating the tip of a human finger at the knuckle.

Laser Surgery Reduces Declawing Complications, But the Procedure Still Hurts

When the surgical laser is used for this procedure, a skin incision is made around the base of the nail and then the ligaments attaching P3 to P2 are cut and the nail surgically removed along with P3. The advantage to using the laser is that as it cuts it also cauterizes nerves and blood vessels.

This reduces bleeding and inflammation and is believed to reduce pain as well. However, the laser in no way makes this a painless procedure, but does seem to help reduce the complication rate. Complications can include bleeding, infection, lameness, nerve damage, gangrene, extensive tissue damage, and death

Cats Need Special Care After Being Declawed

Cats undergoing declaw surgery are given medications for pain and inflammation before and after surgery. They stay one night in the hospital. For optimal recovery, it is recommended that cats be kept confined to a large crate or small part of the house for 14 days after surgery.

It is also best to use litter made of paper pellets (Such as Yesterday’s News) for 2 weeks after declawing, as it is softer on the cat’s paws. The pet is sent home with an elizabethan collar (affectionately known as the cone of shame) to wear so that they cannot lick their incisions.

Declawing is Always Risky

In general, a feline declaw has more potential for postoperative complications than other elective procedures. This is mostly due to the fact that the patient has 10 separate incisions that they are bearing weight on immediately after surgery.

However, use of the surgical laser and closely adhering to the above medication protocols and postoperative care instructions greatly reduces the chance for issues such as excessive pain/lameness and infection.

If you are thinking of declawing your cat, the professionals at Arnold Pet Station can help you navigate the decision. Contact us to set up a consultation.

– Dr. Lindsay Laird

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