Are You Ready to Declaw Your Cat?

Here's some information to help you decide if this procedure is right for your cat.

Managing a cat which uses its claws to cause damage can be a difficult decision to make. If you are considering declawing your cat, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible about the procedure beforehand, in order to make an informed decision and one that will be the most beneficial for your cat.

Unlike most mammals that walk on the soles of the paws or feet, cats are digitigrades, which means they walk on their toes. Their back, shoulder, paw and leg joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves are naturally designed to support and distribute the cat's weight across its toes as it walks, runs and climbs. A cat's claws are used for balance, for exercising, and for stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders, and paws. They stretch these muscles by digging their claws into a surface and pulling back against their own claw hold - similar to isometric exercising for humans. This is the only way a cat can exercise, stretch and tone the muscles of its back and shoulders. The toes help the foot meet the ground at a precise angle to keep the leg, shoulder and back muscles and joints in proper alignment. Removal of the last digits of the toes drastically alters the conformation of their feet and causes the feet to meet the ground at an unnatural angle that can cause back pain similar to that in humans caused by wearing improper shoes.

Cat lovers realize their feline friend’s senses are much keener, suffering pain just like we do; however, they may hide it much better. Not only are cats proud, they instinctively know that they are at risk when in a weakened position, so by nature will attempt to hide it. But make no mistake, this is not a surgery to be taken lightly and can cause your cat great discomfort.

Your cat's body is perfectly designed to give it grace, agility and beauty that is unique to felines. Its claws are an important part of this design. Amputating the important part of their anatomy that contains the claws drastically alters the conformation of their feet. The cat is also deprived of its primary means of defense, leaving it prey to predators if it should ever escape to the outdoors.

Before you make the decision to declaw your cat, there are some important facts you should know:

  • Declawing is not like a manicure. It is serious surgery.
  • Your cat's claw is not a toenail, but is actually closely adhered to the bone; so closely that to remove the claw; the last bone of your cat's claw has to be removed.
  • Declawing is actually an amputation of the last joint of your cat's "toes". When you envision that, it becomes clear why declawing is considered by some to be “inhumane”.
  • It is a painful surgery, with a painful recovery period. It’s important to remember that during the recuperation period following surgery, your cat will still have to use its feet to walk, jump, and scratch in its litter box regardless of the pain it is experiencing.
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Declawing is not without complication. The rate of complication is relatively high compared with other so-called routine procedures. Complications of this amputation can be any of the following:

  • Excruciating pain
  • Damage to the radial nerve
  • Post-operative hemorrhage
  • Bone chips that prevent complete or proper healing
  • Painful re-growth of a deformed claw inside of the paw which is not visible to the eye
  • Chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken
  • Paw ischemia
  • Lameness due to wound infection or footpad laceration
  • Abnormal growth of severed nerve ends can also occur, causing long-term, painful sensations in the toes
  • Infection – even when all precautions have been taken

Another thing to remember when considering getting your cat declawed is that it is not uncommon for your cat’s personality to change after this procedure. The medical community does not officially recognize this as a “potential side effect”; however, it may be a good idea to ask your veterinarian to provide some further incite about this.

If you feel that declawing is too drastic a solution, for keeping your household furnishings intact, you may be wondering if there are any other less invasive, more acceptable and safe alternatives. Yes! Fortunately, there are other options available, which are more “humane”.

  • You can teach your cat to use a scratching post (sisal posts are by far the best). You can find an endless variety, in all shapes and sizes at your local pet center.
  • You can trim the front claws or have your veterinarian keep them trimmed
  • You can use an aversion method such as Soft Paws®, which is a soft, non-toxic, adhesive nail cap developed by a veterinarian. Most cats don’t even know they are wearing them. Please note that caps and nail trimming should only be used on cats that will not be vulnerable to the dangers of the outdoors.

Preferably done on young cats less than 6 months of age, cats of any age can be declawed.  Recovery is typically longer in older cats.  Infection and re-growth of the claw are the most common complications of the procedure.  Cats with rear claws left intact can still climb trees. Declawed cats however, should be kept strictly indoors for their own safety.

Another option available for cats is another surgical procedure, in which the claw is spared, but the tendon which causes it to come out of its sheath, is severed.  Thus the claw can no longer function by extending outside of the sheath.  The downside to this procedure is that the nails still require clipping, for as they grow, they extend outside of the sheath, and therefore can still do damage by scratching.

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