© 2009 by The Cat Clinic of Norman, P.C.

Our Position

The Cat Clinic of Norman advises against declawing, except as a procedure of last resort, as do the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Cat Fanciers’ Association.

The Surgery

During a declaw, or onychectomy, the veterinarian cuts through the last joint in each toe to amputate the distal phalanx (toe bone) and claw (which grows from the distal phalanx). The surgery is generally performed with a surgical blade, guillotine, or laser.


The Side Effects

As with any surgery, anesthetic complications leading to permanent disability or death may occur. The risk, although low, is real. Much more likely, however, is one or more of the following:

    hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding)

    acute pain during the recovery period (several days to weeks)

    chronic pain for the life of the cat--often not noticed by owners (or veterinarians) because cats are so good at hiding signs of pain

    post-surgical infection or abscess

    lameness

    balance problems

    nerve damage

    joint stiffness or arthritis

    muscle atrophy

    regrowth of bone or nail--requires additional surgery to correct

    litterbox problems--pain in the foot pad might be intensified by commonly used litter, causing the cat to stop using the litterbox

    change in personality--owners report cats who are less friendly, more withdrawn, more aggressive, more fearful when visiting the veterinarian,
        or moodier after declawing

The rate of short-term complications has been shown to be as high as 50 percent, and the long-term rate as high as 20 percent (”Feline Onychectomy at a Teaching Institution: A Retrospective Study of 163 Cases,” Veterinary Surgery, Vol. 23, no. 4 (July–August 1994): 274–280).

In addition to the complications that can result from declawing, ethical and humane considerations weigh against the procedure: The procedure is medically unnecessary and provides no health benefits to the cat; the end (owner convenience) doesn’t justify the means (disfiguring and causing pain to the cat); claws are a natural part of being a cat; less harmful (or nonharmful) alternatives exist; declawing is a permanent solution for what is often a temporary problem (kittens grow out of their most energetic scratching phase between 18 and 24 months).

Is declawing with a laser safer or more humane? Veterinarians and owners report that cats seem to recover faster from laser declaws. Because of the cauterizing action of the laser, blood loss is of less concern. However, a study published in 2002 found that complications and discomfort were clinically indistinguishable from those encountered with a scalpel declaw. (”Use of Carbon Dioxide Laser for Onychectomy in Cats,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 221, No. 5 (1 September 2002): 651-653). Some veterinarians and owners claim faster healing with laser declaws. This is suspect in our opinion. Burn wounds typically heal slower than cutting wounds, and we know of no physiological reason why the burn wounds from a laser declaw should be any different.

Is tenectomy safer or more humane? Tenectomy involves severing the tendons responsible for nail contraction. After the procedure, the cat’s nails will be immobilized but because they continue to grow they must be trimmed every four to six weeks. The procedure does seem to be less painful, however a 1998 study found that the rate of postsurgical complications was as high as with declaws (”Comparison of Effects of Elective Tenectomy or Onychectomy in Cats,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 213, No. 3 (1 August 1998): 370-373).

Isn’t declawing better than disposal? A look through the typical animal shelter will show many cats surrendered to animal shelters for behavioral problems are declawed. Declawing is not a guarantee that a cat will not be abandoned in the future.

The Alternatives

Trim your cat’s nails regularly. Here’s how. The AAFP also offers a nice roundup of info on claw trimming.

Get or make a scratching post. Directions for a simple post can be found here. If you’re ambitious, try making a cat tree. Scratching posts need to be a minimum of three feet high, have a broad, sturdy base to prevent tipping, and be covered in a substrate that your cat likes to scratch (carpet, sisal rope, cardboard). The more immobile you can make the scratching post, the more likely your cat will like it (immobility is why they like to scratch on couches and other large pieces of furniture). Be sure to praise your cat when he or she uses the scratching post!

Wait. Kittens tend to scratch a lot, but as they grow into adult cats they typically scratch much less. Because kittens are learning what behavior is appropriate, this is the best time to train them to scratch the scratching post rather than the furniture.

Try environmental conditioning. By making furniture unattractive for scratching, you can train your cat away to more desirable areas (such as a scratching post). You might try:

    double-sided tape (cat’s don’t like sticky things; available commercially as http://www.stickypaws.com)

    tin foil or plastic wrap (most cats find both surfaces unpleasant and inconducive to scratching)

    mats that give off mild static shocks (available commercially, also useful for training cats to stay off inappropriate furniture, counters, etc.)

    citrus sprays (available commercially, might not work with all cats)

    slip covers can be both an attractive decorating option and protective of the furniture beneath

Try a pheromone spray. Feliway is widely available. It does not work with all cats, but when effective is extremely effective. Feliway is available as an plug-in diffuser or as spray that can be applied to problem scratching areas. 

Train your cat. No, seriously! Most cats can be trained to scratch only in appropriate locations. Training is easier if started when cats are young, and patience is required we are talking about cats, after all! Not all methods work with all cats, so experiment and, if needed, consult with a veterinarian who has expertise in feline behavior. To get started, try verbal No’s or Bad Kitty’s, squirt guns, hand clapping, or another method of helping the cat associate scratching with a negative experience. The excellent “Why Cats Need Claws” article offers another idea: “fill an empty soda can with pennies, tape the lid shut, and place the can precariously on the edge of the couch; when kitty jumps on the couch, the soda can falls off, making a loud crash.”

Get your cat some fake fingernails. Actually, they’re nail caps, but whatever you call them, your cat will feel oh so stylish. SoftPaws are vinyl nail caps that are glued onto a cat’s nails. The blunt ends of the caps prevent the cat from damaging furniture or human when scratching. They need to be replaced periodically as the cat’s claws grow out. The Cat Clinic carries SoftPaws take-home kits, or we can put them on your cat for you.



Resources

Position statements

    1. American Association of Feline Practitioners: http://www.aafponline.org/resources/statements/declawing.htm

    2. American Veterinary Medical Association: http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/apr03/030415c.asp

    3. Cat Fanciers’ Association: http://www.cfainc.org/health/declawing.html

  1. General information

    1. “Why Cats Need Claws”: http://www.wholecatjournal.com/articles/claws.htm

    2. “The Facts about Declawing”: http://maxshouse.com/facts_about_declawing.htm

  2. Nail trimming how-to: http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/cliented/cat_nails.asp

Scratching post how-to

    1. http://my.execpc.com/~happyend/Making%20a%20post.htm

    2. http://www.amby.com/cat_site/declaw.html#build-it (many design ideas, from simple to complex)

  1. SoftPaws: http://www.softpaws.com

Sticky Paws: http://www.stickypaws.com

Note

Some information on this page was adapted from “The Facts about Declawing,” ©Max’s House®/S.T.A.R.T. II® http://maxshouse.com.