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Declawing a Cat
A cat’s claw is a specialized toenail with an assortment of functions, including feeding, grooming and territorial marking. The claw grows slightly in length but grows primarily in layers, like the layers of an onion. As older layers are shed, underlying sharper ones are revealed.
When a cat scratches a surface, it does not sharpen its nails; rather, it removes the outer worn layers. Periodic trimming of the sharp tips prevents serious injury to others or damage to property. Ask your veterinarian to show you how you can do this at home, or periodically take your cat to your veterinarian’s office for nail trimming.
After the nails are trimmed, it takes only several weeks for the sharp tips to grow back. As long as your cat does not scratch inappropriate surfaces, such as furniture, nail trimming should be sufficient to prevent excessive damage.
A cat that has become destructive with its claws should be encouraged to use a scratch post. If it has already selected an inappropriate location to scratch, place a scratch post directly in front of or over this location. You may need to try several different types of scratching posts or boards to determine your cat’s preference. It may also be helpful to place the board vertically, at a slight incline, or horizontally on the floor.
To encourage your cat to scratch, dangle a small toy from the top so your cat must stretch its front legs along the post’s surface to reach the toy. If your cat enjoys catnip, encourage your cat to scratch against the post by lightly sprinkling catnip on its surface. A cat’s normal response to catnip, which includes pawing at the source of the herb, can be transferred to use of a scratch post.
A cat’s claws are essential for its own defense and for more aggressive types of aggression, such as predatory aggression and territorial aggression. When aggression is easily provoked in a cat, the type of aggression must be diagnosed and the circumstances that cause the aggressive response must be identified.
Declawing cannot be considered a treatment for any type of aggression because it does not eliminate the underlying problem. Scratching by an aggressive cat is a sign of underlying emotional problems. Owners may be so distressed by the injury or damage caused by their cat’s scratching that they become disinterested in retraining or treating the cat’s underlying problem.
Your decision on whether to declaw a destructive cat should be based on your own needs and long-term welfare of your cat. Whatever approach you choose, the kindest one is the option that allows you and your pet to enjoy each other for many years to come.
Surgical Removal of Claws
The surgery known as declawing involves removal of the last joint of each toe, along with the claw. It may be performed on the front paws only, but occasionally is performed on all four feet. This surgery is performed while the animal is completely anesthetized. An injection of morphine and a local injection of lidocaine is administered so that no pain is felt during the procedure. Each tiny incision is allowed to heal naturally (surgeon’s choice). The paws are bandaged and these bandages are usually removed the day after surgery. Most cats are sent home 1-2 days after the surgery with oral pain control. Cats are in some discomfort during the immediate postoperative period, but most are comfortable by the time they are released from the veterinarian’s care. For the first week or so, a newly declawed cat may step gingerly. However, most cats will recover rapidly and usually without complication. The younger a cat is, the faster the recovery. Young cats often show no discomfort within days after the procedure.
- Declawing is only recommended for cats that are completely indoors.
- Declawing does not make a cat defenseless. The primary fighting tools of the cat are the back feet—not the front feet!
- Declawed cats are still able to climb trees to escape from possible dangers.
- Best age for declawing is 3-5 months of age, but may be performed at any age.
- Surgical neutering of male cats can be performed at the same time, provided the cat is at least 6 months of age or weighs at least 5 pounds.
- Surgery is performed under general anesthesia and usually requires hospitalization for 2 nights.
- There are no sutures. You do not need to return for suture removal.
- We recommend using shredded newspaper or Yesterdays News Litter (a special type of litter made out of newspaper) in the litter box for 7 days after surgery (instead of cat litter) to prevent contamination of the surgical sites. However, sometimes cats will stop using the litter box, so regular litter can be used.
- Although the feet are sometimes tender at first, most cats can walk normally within a week after surgery. The younger the cat, the quicker the recovery.
Notify the clinic if any of the following occur:
- The feet appear swollen or bleed frequently.
- There is any reluctance to walk after 5 days.
- There is any change in the general health of the cat.
- Jumping and exercising should be discouraged for 3 weeks after surgery.
Not all cats will need to be declawed. It is our belief that if your cat is being destructive or causing physical damage to family members with its claws; then that pet is much better off having this surgery and staying indoors with a loving family than staying outside and being continually exposed to physical danger.