What to Know About Declawing Cats

Black cat showing claws on a blue couch.

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The issue of declawing is a hot topic among pet lovers and veterinary circles. It is also a surgery that is banned in some areas. Here's how to make an informed decision for your pet.

How Declawing Is Done

Declawing a cat is usually done in two ways: the excisional method or guillotine (clipper) method.

The excisional method removes all of the last bone (P3) of the toe. The claw extends from this bone, and it is analogous to the small bone that the human fingernail covers. This is most commonly done with a scalpel blade; some vets use a laser for this.

The guillotine method is done with a nail trimmer that severs the P3 bone in half, removing the claw and distal (end) part of this bone.

A third technique, called tenotomy, is not a declaw, but a surgical procedure where the tendons that operate the claw are cut, but the claw remains. Care must be taken after this procedure to keep the nails trimmed, so they do not grow into the pad or get snagged on rugs or furniture.

Right Age to Declaw

Young (four to eight months), non-overweight cats are better candidates for surgery when the decision to declaw has been made. They do experience pain but recover much quicker and with fewer complications than older and/or overweight cats. Many veterinarians do administer pain control medication postoperatively.

Possible Complications

Complications can include but are not limited to the following: excessive bleeding, nail bed infection, nail regrowth (with guillotine method), pad injury during surgery, pain, and limping. Some cats experience sensitivity and/or limping for weeks or months after the surgery with no apparent infection or nail regrowth. This is not normal post-declaw; your cat should be examined by your veterinarian. If you do elect to declaw your cat, the cat should be strictly indoor.

Alternatives to Declawing

There are many alternatives to declawing. Here are a few tips and ideas.

  • Nail Caps and Soft Paws: These are non-toxic, soft nail caps that are glued on to the existing trimmed nail.
  • Trimming: Trimming the claws regularly is an excellent way to reduce scratching damage and to work on training and distracting your cat to use designated scratching areas. Most owners do this at home. If you are unable to, your vet or groomer can perform this service or teach you how.
  • Diversions: Get a scratching post. There are many to choose from. You may need to "teach" your cat how much fun it can be. Catnip helps. A popular variation on the traditional scratching post is the cardboard model filled with catnip.
  • Mood therapy: A behavior modification option well worth a try is Feliway.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.