By Dr. Stephanie Janeczko, D.V.M., Medical Director for Animal Care & Control of New York City
Declawing has become one of the most controversial of all the elective surgical procedures commonly performed by veterinarians. Some veterinarians consider it to be a routine procedure while others refuse to declaw cats regardless of circumstance, with still other veterinarians taking a stance somewhere in the middle. It is true that scratching can weaken the bond between pet parent and cat. However, many other options are available to prevent scratching.
Cats’ claws grow from a portion of the bone known as the ungual crest. In order to prevent the claw from regrowing, the ungual crest must be removed — and to do so requires the removal of the last portion of bone from each toe. Looking at your hand, this is the equivalent of removing your fingertip at the first joint so that you no longer had fingernails. This may be accomplished in a number of different ways, usually involving a scalpel blade or laser, and the skin is then glued or stitched over the exposed joint.
Your cat will be sent home with instructions for post-op care and may have his feet bandaged depending on the exact procedure, your veterinarian, and your cat’s condition following surgery.
A declawed cat will certainly be sore following surgery and often is prescribed medication to alleviate the pain. Older cats and those who are overweight generally experience more discomfort and may be reluctant to bear weight or lame. The recovery period can vary substantially from cat to cat, but one to two weeks is not uncommon.
Occasionally, cats may develop chronic problems following declaw surgery. Sometimes an infection is present or a bit of surgical glue has not properly extruded and must be removed. If a portion of the bone remains, it can cause a very painful condition and recurrent infections and must be removed surgically. If the toes are not comfortable, the cat seems to be “walking on eggshells” after the recovery period should have been over, or the cat seems irritable about his feet, a checkup is warranted.
If you are certain that you want a declawed cat, you can adopt a cat who has already been declawed. You can even search Petfinder specifically for declawed cats. If you do adopt a declawed cat, remember that, while it’s safest for all cats to be kept indoors, it’s essential for declawed cats: Without his claws, a cat is less able to defend himself against dogs and other dangers, and has a harder time climbing to safety if attacked. (Learn more about declawing cats.)
Scratching is natural and satisfying for cats, and you it owe to your kitty to teach him to scratch in appropriate places. Your veterinarian can help you prevent or redirect scratching behaviors too.