How Are Cats Declawed?

Close-up of cat claws
Declawing cats involves amputating bones in a cat's feet.

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Declawing a cat used to be a very routine thing to do but as more and more people are educated on what this procedure actually entails and the potential damage it can cause to a cat, it has fallen out of favor among cat lovers and veterinary professionals. Knowing what a cat declaw procedure is and the negative effects it can have on a cat are important for all cat owners to understand.

What is a Cat Declaw?

A cat declaw, or onychectomy as it is technically known as, is a surgical procedure that removes the last bone in the feet of a cat. It is an amputation of these digits from your cat's feet and is not just removing the nail. In order to prevent a nail from regrowing, the entire nail bed needs to be removed and this is found in the third phalanx, or last digit, of your cat's toe. Once a cat is properly declawed, it will no longer have claws and will also be missing the last bone in each toe.

How is a Cat Declaw Performed?

There are several methods in which a cat declaw has been performed over the years. Guillotine nail clippers, scalpel blades, and CO2 lasers are the most common methods of declawing a cat and the method used may depend on the veterinarian's preference, training, and available equipment. Regardless of which method is used though, the last digit of the toes are surgically amputated to remove the entire nail bed of the claws while the cat is under anesthesia. This results in smaller feet and no claws. The surgical sites may or may not be closed with sutures or skin glue and the feet may or may not be wrapped in bandages prior to the cat waking up.

CO2 laser procedures typically result in less bleeding and pain when compared to the other methods of declawing a cat so it has become the preferred method among most veterinarians. This method requires the veterinarian to have a CO2 laser unit though, so there is an added expense to perform cat declaws with a laser.

Why are Declaws No Longer Recommended?

Cat declaws are illegal in some places like the United Kingdom, Australia, much of Canada, and even many countries in Europe. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and other organizations discourage the procedure but it is still legal in most places in the United States.

Declaws are no longer recommended for several reasons. To sum these reasons up, performing a surgery on a cat for reason that is not medically necessary is considered inhumane and declawing a cat can cause chronic pain and behavioral issues, not to mention potential surgical complications. Historically, cats are declawed to avoid damage to a cat owner's furniture and other things that it may scratch at. Scratching is a natural behavior of a cat and cats should not be punished for it by having toes amputated just like a dog should not have all its teeth extracted if it were to bite someone.

Behavioral issues, especially inappropriate urination, that can last the lifetime of a cat have been suspected to be caused by declaws and are the most common reasons for cats to be relinquished to shelters. Aggression, chronic pain, post-op complications, disfigurement of the feet, nerve damage, and other problems can also result from declaws and provide more reasons for why the procedure is no longer recommended.

Rare Cases When a Declaw May Be Necessary

In some cases, a veterinarian may still recommend a declaw be performed. Some proponents of declaws argue that immune-compromised individuals with cats should be protected from scratches and therefore have their cats declawed. Others argue that there are too many homeless cats so if someone wants to have a cat declawed and will give it a home it should be done, despite the chronic issues the controversial procedure may cause.

Of course if a declaw is medically necessary due to a tumor on the foot, an injury, or other problem, a declaw is warranted since it is for more than just stopping a cat from scratching at things.

Alternatives to Declawing Cats

A multitude of alternatives to declawing cats exist. Nail caps can be applied to the claws to prevent damage to furniture and other items, pheromones may help decrease the desire to scratch at inappropriate items, scratching posts and boards with catnip to attract a cat can help persuade a cat to scratch at those certain things, regular nail trimming can help decrease the damage claws cause to furniture, and double sided tape applied to items will discourage a cat to scratch at them.