Friday, March 23, 2012

Declaw, What You Need to Know Before You Declaw Your Cat

Wednesday is my other surgery day.

I freely admit that I not only enjoy surgery but I also love the challenge that it presents and the incredible sense of satisfaction that one feels when you remove a foreign body from an animal that would have died without your surgical intervention and skill. It is both rewarding, challenging, mysterious, and it often boils down to your fingers, your mind, and the ever elusive mystery of life. I have seen miracles happen in a minute and death surround and succumb in seconds.

I also admit to having my favorite surgeries, like exploratories (OH! how I love an abdominal exploratory), and I also have my least favorites, (for instance, those cumbersome and frustrating broken femurs).

But there is one surgery that I really don't care for, and have subsequently abandoned doing; declaws.

I don't do them anymore because when it comes right down to it I don't think it is an act of kindness or compassion. I also don't believe that it is in most cases a necessary procedure.

Scratching is a normal cat action done to help keep the nails sharp, (which you need in the wild), and help shed the old nail. It is the equivalent of us filing or clipping our nails. It is a needed grooming behavior. To punish a cat because of their natural scratching action seems cruel and unkind to me.

A de-claw can be a very painful and problematic procedure that is most commonly done for the owners convenience in an effort to alter a vital part of a cats anatomy for the sake of their furniture. I have also seen many a cat be cast outside because of a behavioral problem (usually because the cat is no peeing outside of the box), so the owner puts them outside and the cat is now defenseless because we have removed their primary defense. Sometimes the behavioral problem arises after we declaw because de-clawing can be a painful procedure, and some cats respond to pain by becoming fearful and aggressive.
And sometimes the declaw exacerbates a pre-existing behavioral problem, but instead only compounds or creates another problem. Like, now we have a more aggressive angry cat and we can't put them outside because they are declawed. A cat should never be declawed to alter a negative behavior. An angry, stressed cat that is now in pain, becomes an even angrier and more stressed-out cat. If your cat has a bad behavioral problem making them angrier and adding pain to the equation is often disastrous.

A few years ago I was outside gardening when I heard my dogs barking in an unfamiliar and aggressive tone. I immediately jumped up and ran over to where they appeared to have an animal cornered. They were antagonizing some creature in the bushes and I was concerned for everyone's safety. As I yelled a correction at them and demanded that they "back down!" I saw a small orange mass of fluff barely visible in the bushes. I thought at first that it must be a baby fox, (in which case i was livid if I was going to find it injured by my dogs), but instead it was a very small, frail, emaciated orange tabby cat. He was so withered that he couldn't even mount a response to my dogs harassment. I whispered a soft "hello kitty," and he returned my inquiry with a pitiful blink. As I reached into the bush and scooped him up he relaxed and surrendered to my hands. He came willingly and readily as if I was his last punishment or his final salvation.

Upon my initial examination he was gaunt and I felt sure dying. He could barely breathe through his severe upper respiratory infection and he had no mass as I carries him in my arms. After a full blood work, radiographs, and exam it became evident to me that he was merely starving to death because he was a declawed cat trying to live in the wild.

I wish I could say that I believed every new cat owner that comes in with their new kitten and a plan to spay/neuter and de-claw is going to follow through with their promise to us that this cat will be a forever indoor only cat. But I have over the years seen the following to often to be able to justify a painful life changing cosmetic procedure on a cat who is by design and necessity, a killing carnivore.




I have seen terrible infection as the result of a declaw. Puss filled paws that are excruciating to bear weight on so the cat must sit back on their pelvis to alleviate pain.





I have also seen a tourniquet (put on to reduce bleeding) cause permanent paralysis and loss of function to the foot.

A study was done a few years ago that showed that cats are still in pain and therefore not placing full weight on their feet 6 weeks after their de-claw surgery.


We are the only civilized country in the world that still declaws.

And I have seen many many cats come in that are declawed and full of ticks, or an owner tell me that they "just go out during the day."

A de-clawed cat is almost completely powerless to fight off a predator, or run away from one. The decision to de-claw your cat should not be made until your Veterinarian has explained the entire procedure, told you about the pain and behavioral risks, and you are sure that no matter what kind of problem your cat has in the future you will protect and house them because you have chosen to remove their primary defense and survival mechanism.


If you love your cat, and if you understand and respect their unique amazing anatomy than I just don't feel that declawing is fair.

OK, soapbox aside, I like everything else in life, I do have exceptions to my own rules. I have done one de-claw on a cat owned by an elderly woman who had a bleeding disorder. This woman was unable to pick up, hold, or pet her cat without starting to bleed and once the bleeding started she had a tough time stopping her bleeding. She would also bruise very easily after every scratch.  Her cat was a very young gentle cat, but like most cats she would cling onto the arms of who ever attempted to pick her up and this would trigger the whole bleeding dilemma again. She loved her cat but she was facing having to get rid of her if we didn't de-claw. Her family was so concerned that the next scratch might land her in the hospital, that they gave her an ultimatum, either declaw or re-home.

I don't think that most people understand what a declaw surgery entails. It is essentially the amputation of the last part of every finger. So if you look at your own hand a declaw would remove the part of your finger that your finger nail grows out of. We have made some great strides in how we perform this procedure. I would strongly encourage every person interested in this procedure to sit down with your veterinarian and go over the surgery. One of my associates at our practice performs this surgery. In an effort to provide the safest, painless (it is a very painful operation), we do the following for every declaw. I encourage you to ask your Veterinarian how they perform this procedure and ask them to list all of the precautions and procedures they employ for a declaw.



Skeletal cats paw.

An x-ray showing which bones (red highlighted) of the foot are amputated in a declaw.


The post-op pieces. Every Vet is taught to count them when you are done. (So we don't forget any).

First, general anesthesia is a must.

Second, we use a laser. I don't think that any other method is as fast, provides as minimal bleeding, and is the least painful way of removing the digit.

Third, we perform a nerve block on each foot.

Fourth, every cat receives a 3 day fentanyl patch for pain, and an opioid as needed.

Fifth, we only declaw young, (6 months old), thin cats. An older cat, and/or an overweight cat, will have a much more painful experience and be far more likely to have a negative post-op behavioral component.

Sixth, we keep these guys in the hospital for three days to monitor for pain and infection.

Lastly, we use sterile aseptic technique from start to finish.

Please ask your Vet every detail about your cats declaw.


This is what a healed declawed paw looks like.

This is one surgery that you should not "call around and price shop" for. I have known many veterinarians to simply cut the toe off with nail trimmers and I have seen terrible consequences from this. This is a surgery and not a nail trim.










This is a de-claw being done at Jarrettsville, my clinic. No bleeding, very good pain control and a sterile surgery.


Using a Reston cutter for a declaw. I much prefer the laser.


Lastly, I encourage every cat owner to practice trimming nails. It can be learned and easily done by everyone on just about every cat. It like everything else just takes patience and practice.

I will go into other options for declawing later. and I will show you how to safely and easily trim your cats nails.

I have had at least 20 cats in my life, and I promise you that no one loves their home or their furniture as much as I do. But I love my cats more, and I keep their nails trimmed and their scratching posts available in every room and at all times.

I know that there are MANY Vet's out there that think that de-clawing is a perfectly acceptable procedure. I respect their position and their experience BUT I do not think that the general public is adequately enlightened on what this procedure entails and what possible complications and post-op pain their cat may encounter. Please be an advocate for your pet. No one else will have their best interest in mind as much as you do.

My not-so-little-anymore Wren. Always giving a helping hand.
Update;
August 2013. I will no longer perform de-claws. I just do not believe that they are needed, and I cannot hurt my cats. I have to uphold to a higher standard of care and compassion. I would not cut off the ends of my child's fingers no matter what they broke, damaged, or gestured. So I cannot do the same to my four legged children.

January 2016. Jarrettsville Veterinary Center stops offering or performing declaw surgery.

Here is Jackson Galaxy's thoughts., The Paw Project. The host of My Cat From Hell, on Animal Planet.

If you have a pet question that you would like to ask me please go to Pawbly.com. Pawbly is free to use and open to all pet lovers. If you want to visit me at the clinic we are open 7 days a week. Also please follow us on Facebook, my YouTube channel ad on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

Related blogs;
The War Between The Veterinary Profession and The Animal Welfare Advocates. The Declaw debate.

5 comments:

  1. Hello, thank you so much for your detailed and wonderful post.

    I am writing to ask to reconsider declawing even in the case you described.

    As a child one thng I wanted was to learn to drive. But as an adult it was discovered that I had a rare birth defect. My vision would only get worse. I would never learn to drive.

    Yes the case you describe does sound exceptional. But in those cases it's even more important not to declaw. Just as my desire to do something as routine as drive can not be excepted from the fact that my doing so would put others in danger, her desire for her cat, can not trump it's right to a life free from torture or the horrors you describe for that poor orange stray. All of the risks of declaw remain the same for the cat and with a frail elderly owner the chances that a young cat might face rehoming or worse a life of starvation in the street still remain. What is more declawed cats are believed to be MORE likely to bite thus negating the reasons given for declawing and making the owner no more safe than she was before.

    Finally because of all the issues described in your article, shelters have no shortage of declawed cat. In short even in the case you describe I would ask you, as a person who through no fault of my own has lost many dreams and things I loved, that saying no in that case is still best for all parties. sometimes it's not fair, but if a person is at risk from scratches soft paws, adopting an already declawed cats or no cat are the best options all parties. Anyway that's my case.

    Best wishes and thank you for this post.

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  2. I totally respect your right to not declaw. It is your business and you can perform any procedures you like. But please consider you are doing so much more harm than good. First if you are a good vet, then you are forcing cats you propose to care about to be cared for by inferior doctors. Second your stance may catch on, which would be the worst possible scenario for cats as a whole. For every horror story about a cat that is declawed there are hundreds who live amazing healthy lives in loving homes. I have adopted and cared for and loved six cats in my adult life. All six have been declawed and if declawing had not been an option I would have adopted none of them. With small children in the house and guests and other pets, I could not have justified endangering the health of others. None of my cats have ever gotten out of the house and I think it cruel for anyone to have an outdoor cat, claws or no. The idea that I have abused my cats by declawing them is insulting. The alternative of being put down in a shelter vs living a long life in a caring safe household is what is on the line. I am not alone in only being willing to own declawed cats. That means if declawing is not available, fewer cats will be able to enjoy the love and care of a family that wants them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I totally respect your right to not declaw. It is your business and you can perform any procedures you like. But please consider you are doing so much more harm than good. First if you are a good vet, then you are forcing cats you propose to care about to be cared for by inferior doctors. Second your stance may catch on, which would be the worst possible scenario for cats as a whole. For every horror story about a cat that is declawed there are hundreds who live amazing healthy lives in loving homes. I have adopted and cared for and loved six cats in my adult life. All six have been declawed and if declawing had not been an option I would have adopted none of them. With small children in the house and guests and other pets, I could not have justified endangering the health of others. None of my cats have ever gotten out of the house and I think it cruel for anyone to have an outdoor cat, claws or no. The idea that I have abused my cats by declawing them is insulting. The alternative of being put down in a shelter vs living a long life in a caring safe household is what is on the line. I am not alone in only being willing to own declawed cats. That means if declawing is not available, fewer cats will be able to enjoy the love and care of a family that wants them.

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  4. In Europe people own cats AND have children and they don't end up injured by cats. Its just the way you educate the kids to interact with any animal, would it be a cat or another specie. Cats are not a danger to health to anyone just because they have claws!! Why don't you cut the fingers of your children when they break something, it's just the same thing. If you are not ready to accept a cat with all its body parts, and its natural needs, then don't adopt one!! No one forces you to. A cat is way happier chasing mice outside (what is his natural way of life). Seriously have you questionned yourself about whats the quality of life of the typical indoor cat weighing 20 lbs, with neuropathic pain from being declawed, with no intellectual stimulation whatsoever, not having to search for food and sleeping all day long? Yes you have abused your cats by declawing them and you should realise it. This surgery MUST be banned and I hope laws will come up soon. The problem of all these abandonned cats in shelters is because people buy them or adopt them without realising what having a cat is all about and not considering them as part of their family. What is that all about? Taking pieces off an animal for human convenience? Yes its cruelty... you dont think it is ? go cut a piece of your finger off and we'll rediscuss it.

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