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Declawing Cats

Although declawing cats is not as popular as it once was, I am asked on occasion if I do declaw surgery. I recently had one of my clients admitting her kitten for a declaw and she was treated to some verbal accusations by another client for doing so. “That’s so cruel”, “your cat will be defenseless” , how could you put them through so much pain?”. Were all questions thrown at her while she was admitting her kitten.

Whereas I could see where the questions were coming from, not once was the client asked why she had to do this. Although a wonderful kitten one of the sweetest I have ever met, she was a little Hellion at home and was very destructive already in her first 4 months with her owner. She was clawing the furniture and even employing all the methods for stopping scratching she had managed to destroy some very expensive furniture. The owner was left with few options, either declaw the kitten or find a new home. I think you can see why the owner did what she did.

I myself have 2 adult male cats who were both declawed when they were neutered. These cats go outdoors as I could not keep them in and they are voracious hunters and climb trees on a regular basis. One is the property protector and he rarely comes home beaten up. If you ever engage in play with your cat or watch when they are play fighting with one of their toys what do they do? Routinely they will hold their :”prey” with their front paws and use their back claws and their teeth to “destroy” it. The front claws are initial swipe instruments only. They rarely do major damage. I have more scars from cats’ back feet than from their front.

There are questions raised about use of the litter box and prolonged lameness post declaw. I have as yet in my one experience seen a cat stop using the litter box because they are declawed. When they are first released form the hospital their feet are tender. The procedure employed is to remove the claw at the level of the first joint. There is naturally some tenderness but pain medication is always sent home and usually within 7-10 days a young kitten will be tearing around like there was never anything done. We recommend a non fine granular litter for the first 7-10 days so there is less irritation to there feet. Shredded paper or “yesterdays news” or another such pelleted litter works really well.

To address the issue of pain, we employ many different methods of pain control when we declaw a kitten. We use a Fentanyl patch applied to the skin. This will deliver a narcotic and alleviate pain for 3-4 days. We institute a nerve block to the toes prior to surgery, place a local anesthetic in the surgical site before closing, and give injectable and oral pain medication post op and when the kittens go home. We have modified this in certain cases depending on the kitten as some get too high on the narcotics and cause more damage to their feet.

Finally we recommend if you are considering a declaw have it done at a young age. Adult cats experience an awful lot more pain with the procedure and often need a longer hospital stay and more pain medication. That being said , before I consider the surgery for an older cat, I very carefully assess the situation as to whether is is anything we can possibly do instead of surgery.

Cruelty? Well I guess some could see it as being so, however I think it is more cruel to have to euthanize or re-home a cat who is destructive than to do a declaw.