Declawing Our Feline Friends

Declawing cats has been around for many years. This has routinely been a procedure performed on kittens to prevent unwanted scratching to both people and household property. It is a surgical procedure that has been taught to veterinary students for many years with the assumption that we would likely be performing countless of these surgeries during our career. The practice of declawing cats has recently become a hot topic in veterinary medicine both here in the United States as well as worldwide.  It has come under fire as not being a humane procedure to our feline friends and many people are lobbying to have this surgical procedure banned. This blog will highlight what is entailed in this surgical procedure, tips that can be done at home to stop destructive habits, the pros and cons to declawing pets, and what the status is on this procedure in various states and countries worldwide.

Onychectomy Procedure

The medical terminology for declawing is called onychectomy. “Onych-“  meaning fingernail or toenail,  “-ectomy” meaning surgical removal of.  Therefore the literal meaning of onychectomy is surgical removal of the toenails. This may sound painful enough as is, but in the case of performing an onychectomy on cats, it is actually surgical amputation of all of a cat’s third phalanges (toe bones) with the attached claws. If this procedure was performed on a person, it would essentially be the equivalent of cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. 

 

Tips to Prevent Destructive Habits at Home

There are certain things that can be done at home by the owner to prevent unwanted scratches to furniture or themselves. The first is having a good scratching post or two around the house. A good scratching post needs to be tall enough for your cat to stretch and extend for a full satisfying stretch. A good scratching post also needs to be stable and not wobble or topple when your cat uses it, as well as the material used in construction of the post. Sisal fabric is much better for cats to use rather than rope-like scratching posts. The fabric gives good texture for the cats to scratch and shred rather than an interrupted, bumpy scratch that they get with a rope based scratching post. Place the scratching posts in a prominent area of the house that your cat likes to be in, as well as near specific furniture that your cat may be inappropriately scratching. Using natural cat pheromones such as Feliway or sprinkling Catnip on or around the scratching post can help attract your cat to scratch there.

The use of double sided tape, such as StickyPaws, can be helpful to deter your cat from scratching furniture or curtains. This will hopefully be dissatisfying for your cat to scratch and lead them somewhere else to scratch, but make sure appropriate scratching posts are available or else another piece of furniture would fall victim to scratching.

The use of gel nail caps, such as Soft Paws or Soft Claws, placed over the nails can be used to blunt the nails and prevent scratching.  The nails must first be trimmed to allow proper placement of the gel nail caps. Once the nails have been trimmed, the nail caps need to be filled with the supplied nail glue. Then the gel nail cap is placed over the nail and is secured by the glue present. Commercially available gel nail caps for cats typically last about 1 month after application.

Pros & Cons of Declawing

There are definitely pros and cons to weigh in on before deciding on whether or not to have your cat declawed:

Pros:

  • Reduced trauma to the owners – in immunocompromised individuals or those on blood thinners, declawing can dramatically reduce the chance of traumatic incidences to the owners.
  • Won’t scratch furniture – obviously if nails aren’t there, they can’t scratch anything. But if proper steps were taken when a cat was younger to train them not to scratch on furniture, but rather on scratching posts, this should not be much of a problem. Soft paws or other types of gel caps can be placed over your cat’s nails to prevent them from ruining furniture.
  • Medical reasons for the cat – understandably in situations where there is severe trauma to the toes (attack, frostbite, etc.) or in cases of tumor growth, declawing can solve the problem.

Cons:

  • It is extremely painful – certain drugs are given and prescribed to help with pain management during and immediately after the surgical procedure but ultimately your cat is still in some degree of pain.
  • Risk for surgical complications – as with any type of surgery there is a risk for surgical complications during and after surgery including excessive bleeding, infection, or regrowth of the nail. Yes, you read that correctly. If a portion of the bone is left behind, there is possibility of regrowth of the nail overtime. Certain surgical techniques are more prone to bone fragments being left behind.
  • Possibility of urinating outside the litterbox – This goes along with having bone fragments being left behind. A certain percentage of adult cats that urinate outside their litterbox could be due to having bone fragments left behind. The theory behind this is that having those fragments left behind are uncomfortable, especially when walking on the litter in the litter box, resulting in the cat peeing elsewhere in the house. Obviously not all adult cats who urinate outside the litterbox are doing so because of dewclaw fragments left behind.
  • Possible increased tendency to bite – some people have theorized that cats who are declawed are more likely to bite in situations where they feel threatened. The theory behind this is that instead of being able to swat/scratch away perceived threats, including owners, they will turn to biting. This typically leads to more severe wounds and pain inflicted on the person rather than being scratched.
  • Arthritis – By removing the last digit on the toes, this slightly alters the way the pet walks and over time leads to arthritis development. Arthritis is an uncomfortable disease that can be debilitating in some pets potentially leading to a shorter lifespan.
Worldwide Status of Declawing

Other countries stance on declawing cats varies than that in the United States.  The following countries have made it illegal to have your cat declawed except for medical need of the cat, not the human: Australia, Brazil, Finland, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Denmark, France, Israel, Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands.

At the time of writing this blog, New Jersey and New York are currently working on legislation to make it illegal in these states to get your cat declawed. There are currently eight cities in California that have banned the surgical procedure including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Burbank, and Santa Monica.

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