Feb 05 2015

Declawing cats

Declawing cats! Is it necessary? inhumane? painful?

Dr. Bob Mason

Veterinarians in Kokomo, Indiana and all over are asked regularly to remove the claws from cats to prevent them from destroying furniture and other possessions, and sometimes for the protection of the owner.  For many years we as a profession and cat owners have taken this procedure for granted with out much thought or consideration for the cat.  Pet owners are interested because cats can be very destructive with their claws and some individuals may have health issues that could make a scratch from a cat a serious issue.  The American Veterinary Medical Association recently produced a very nice brochure explaining their position and suggestions to help make the decision.  The American Association of Feline Practitioners also has a position statement and suggestions to help cat owners.

Scratching is a biologically normal behavior of cats that is used not just for sharpening the claws, but is also an important territorial marking behavior.  They can't help their inclination to do this so they should certainly never be punished!

It is important to understand that declawing in many cases is an unnecessary procedure and there are many methods and devices pet owners can use to prevent a cat from destroying furniture or other possessions.  Trimming the nails of a cat is not particularly difficult, and by providing appropriate scratching materials in the right areas of the cats home can also help direct this normal behavior away from furniture and drapery.

Common questions asked of us every day are:

Do I need to declaw my cat?  No, there is no particular benefit to the cat other than maybe getting to keep it's happy home without fear of being punished.

What are good reasons for declawing cats?  Some otherwise very good cats can be very destructive in the home.  If this is causing family discourse and the only other option is getting rid of the cat, declawing may be justified.   If there is a family member that has immune disorders or fragile skin that could get injured or very ill due to the risk of injury then declawing is a good alternative to help the kitty keep it's home and for the individual to be able to keep and enjoy their beloved pet.

I heard this is a very painful procedure, is that true?  Veterinarians have many tools today to reduce or eliminate pain caused by all surgical procedures.  Unfortunately not all veterinarians are as progressive in this area as others.  At the Cat Clinic of Kokomo, and Jefferson Road Animal Hospital we use what is refered to as "multi-modal pain management".  This means we prevent pain by using a combination of drugs and local anesthetic blocks before the procedure then give medications that last for a couple days after the procedure along with oral pain medicine to go home.  For this reason we strongly suggest you not price shop this procedure because in most cases the difference in price is related to how aggressive the doctors are at preventing pain during and after the procedure.

Will cats have long term behavioral problems because of the loss of it's claws?  You will find many statements in popular literature and on the internet inferring this but this is categorically not true.  There is no evidence that cats experience any long term behavioral effects from this procedure.  Declawed cats still practice the behavior and can still scent mark like normal.

Should all of the claws be removed?  No.  We strongly discourage removing the hind claws.  Cats generally do not do any damage with their hind claws and by leaving them they at least have some defense if they are accidentally allowed to go outside.  The only time we agree to removing the hind claws is if we have a pet owner that has health problems and the cat is causing skin injuries just by sitting on their owners laps, or by jumping off.  This can be a problems for elderly cat owners as well as diabetics or those with immune deficiencies.

Can my cat go outside if I have it declawed?  Absolutely not.  Once this decision is made you are committed to having an indoor cat for the rest of it's life.  A declawed at is at a serious disadvantage in defending itself or escaping up a tree if challenged by a dog.  This is one reason we only do the front claws.

At what age should I have my cat declawed?  This is one of the most difficult questions to answer and a very good reason for people getting a new kitten to seriously evaluate their circumstances.  While it is generally recommended that we council people to wait to make the decision to give the cat a chance and see if it will be a problem, the procedure is best done in young kittens.   As cats age and become larger there is more weight on the feet which could cause more discomfort immediately after the procedure.  Kittens having the procedure at 10 -12 weeks have almost no difficulty and frequently go home as if nothing has happened.  Adult cats may require a few more days of pain management due to the effect of weight on the surgery.  Most problems are in obese cats and in most cases we will refuse to do these until the cat has been successfully reduced to a healthy weight.

Is LASER surgery a better method and does it cause less pain?  Laser surgical units are very expensive devices that use very precise beams of light to cut the tissues instead of a scalpel.  There is no evidence that this is better or less painful.  Either way you are cutting through tissues.  We use a similar device called "radio surgery" that uses radio waves instead of light.  This gives us better control and less bleeding.  None the less pain control is accomplished by using a proven combination of medications and local anesthesia.  As a rule the only thing laser does is nearly double the price of the process.

The bottom line is that no one should take this procedure for granted or have it performed "just because".  The staff at the Cat Clinic of Kokomo are more than happy to help you with this decision and to give you information and alternatives that may make the procedure unnecessary.  We can even teach you the best way to trim your cats nails.  If the decision is made to proceed we make sure it is performed with the utmost care and state-of-the-art pain prevention.

Additional Resources:

https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/Declaw-or-Not.aspx (policy)

https://www.avma.org/PracticeManagement/ClientMaterials/Documents/Cat_Declawing_Flyer.pdf

http://www.catvets.com/guidelines/position-statements/declawing

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