My philosphy

My philosphy

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

About...declawing

My first post was going to be about FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) and my foster kitten Berkeley who might be positive for it. However, I am still researching the virus, diagnostics, treatment and she is under some pretty serious supportive care right now...I would just rather not discuss the subject!

So I decided to go with a more controversial topic...Declawing! I will not mention my stand on the subject, my opinion simply does not matter. When discussing declawing with a client, one should state the facts. The facts include BOTH sides of the story! The pro declawing, and against declawing. It is not our job to make this decision for the client, all we can do is explain the procedure, post care instructions and what they can expect. We cannot make them decide one way or the other

Declawing, or Oncyhetomy, is the surgical removal of the claw and distal phalanx. Pretty much, it is a disarticulation (not amputation) of the last digit.

Disarticulation: the separation of two bones at their joint, either naturally by way of injury or by a surgeon during amputation.
Amputation:  a surgical removal of all or part of a limb


The procedure can be done numerous ways. One of them is use of a surgical laser. The laser actually coagulates the blood as it incises through the vessels, therefore, no bleeding! It is thought that the laser has a similar effect on the nerves, and making it a less painful procedure. Another way is to use a specific blade, this blade is curved and allows the Veterinarian to physically dissect around the bone, slicing ligaments and tendons in the process. Both the blade and laser use the same surgical technique, dissecting around the bone. The third way uses a pair of guillotine nail trimmers and cuts the digit off in one swift motion. The problem with this method is that you cannot guarantee that the most distal portion of the digit is removed with the nail, this is where the germinal cells reside. If left behind, the nail and attempt to regrow and cause some painful complications down the road.

Regardless of the procedure used, a tourniquet is applied to restrict blood flow and the feet are cleaned prior to surgery. Afterward, pressure bandages will be applied to help keep the incisions from bleeding. Some Veterinarians will suture the incisions, others use skin glue. Either method will work well provided the cat does not lick/pull at the incision. The bandages stay on 24-48 hours. Due to the trama caused by the surgery (please note that I use the word "trama" because when you really think about it, any surgical procedure will cause trama to the tissues affected. I am not using the word to describe the procedure as a traumatic event) the cat should have good pain medications on board including anti-inflammatory drugs. Some Veterinarians will give a lower dose of these medications as far out as 3 weeks.

Post surgical care is the most important. Think about it, the cat is undergoing a disarticulation of 10 digits, 8 of which are weight bearing! The cat should be kept as calm and confined as possible, and special litter will need to be used during the healing process (7-10 days for the skin to heal) to prevent secondary infection. The incisions can run a risk of secondary infection, cats bury their feces after all!

Obviously the smaller the cat (ie: not overweight) the easier the procedure will be, and the younger the cat, the faster they will heal. There are however numerous alternatives to declawing. One alternative is a surgical procedure called a Tendonectomy, which involves severing the deep digital flexor tendon of each claw. The out come is the cat cannot extend the claw. The complication is the cat cannot cannot extend the claw, which makes grooming/wearing down the claw's a challenge. As an owner, you would have to cut the nails on a regular basis (seems easier to just do that anyways!)  Some other alternatives include, soft paws, nail trimming, and redirecting the behavior.

Soft paws: pretty much a nail cap that gets glued over each nail. This prevents the sharp claw from destroying anything. You still have to keep up with nail trims, and reapply every time a soft paw falls off. If the soft paw is glued on too well and does not fall off, the nail will keep growing and can curl around into the paw pad!

Nail trimming: it's as simple as trimming the sharp hook off the nail...not so simple is getting your cat to stay still!

Redirecting the behavior: Condition your cat to scratch appropriate objects...SCRATCHING POSTS :)
There are numerous types of scratching posts out there, find a texture(s) that your cat loves. There are sisal, cardboard, carpet (short or long) and different styles/shapes available. Some cats like them flat, some like vertical, there are even some angled! Also, spray/cover the post with catnip, or plug Feliway (a feline specific pheromone) into the area you want the cat to scratch. Make this a pleasant experience.


Declawing is a touchy subject. Many believe that it is a mutilation, and is unnecessary for the cat. The United States is really the only country that allows the procedure to be done beyond strictly medical reasons. It is illegal in almost every other country to declaw UNLESS there is a medical reason to remove the digit. California has several counties that have made declawing illegal, and Veterinarians found preforming the procedure in aforementioned counties can be fined a hefty sum of money. This however does not stop owners from traveling to the next county to have their cat declawed. Most Veterinarians do not condone the procedure, and will educated their clients about declaw alternatives. We try to keep declawing as the last resort, when the cat is THAT destructive, or the elderly immune-compromised owner cannot take another accidental scratch, or the landlord will not allow the un-declawed cat to reside there any longer, we prefer declawing OVER euthanasia. 

The best way to understand the whole picture is to remember that scratching is a natural response for a cat. They scratch to sharpen their claws (which do have several layers, like an onion, they have to "peel" off that top layer) or to mark territory with the scent glands in their feet. It also feels good for a cat to stretch out nice and long during the scratching motion. We invited cats to live inside with us, and to be part of our family. We should at least try to understand their behaviors and find a positive outlet for the unwanted ones. 

For the record, I have grown up around cats. There is not a time in my life where I did not have a feline friend. Out of all the cats I have ever lived with, only one was declawed. He was an older rescue cat who came to us that way. That said, just because it is not an option for me, doesn't mean it is not an option for everyone. If you are thinking about declawing your cat, please do a favor for felines everywhere...research! Read about feline behavior and try to exhaust every option before jumping into declawing. I have heard from many clients how they will NEVER declaw again because they did not know enough about the procedure beforehand. Education is key!

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