What to Know About Declawing Cats

Cat showing claws on furniture
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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 countries. Here's how to make an informed decision for your pet.

How Is Declawing 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 (the cat doesn't have control over the claw).

What's the Right Age to Declaw?

Young (4 months to 8 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 post operatively.

What Are the 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 a strictly indoor cat.

What Are the Alternatives to Declawing?

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

  • Nail Caps - 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 work on training and distracting your cat to use designated scratching areas. Here is a photo tutorial of tools needed and techniques for trimming your cat's nails. 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.

Veterinary Professionals:
Declawing.com: Very in-depth site on declawing, from veterinarian Christianne Schelling.

Additional Resources:
The Cats Guide, Franny Syufy, is proposing a "Disclose & Wait" program whereby veterinarians (and veterinary hospital staff) would be responsible for completely educating clients about the declaw procedure - so that no one mistakenly assumes it is "just a type of nail trim."