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The Myths, Controversies, and Methods of a Cat Declaw

cat declaw

Recently, our resident pet trainer Suzy, wrote about Ways to Prevent Your Cat from Scratching Your Furniture.

At the end of that post, we discussed why declawing your cat is not the solution.

I promised that I would elaborate further on what an actual cat declaw includes in order to provide pet parents who are considering declaw, with more information. The Humane Society of the United States takes a strong stance against declawing, and reports that many countries have banned cat declaws, not only because it can be a painful and unnecessary surgery, but because a declaw can cause long term physical problems for your cat.

Hopefully the following surgery details, dispelled myths, and controversies, will detour any pet parents who are considering a declaw without exploring other alternatives.

Photo Courtesy of Catster.com

Photo Courtesy of Catster.com

Myths

Myth #1: A cat declaw is just like a nail trim.

This is very untrue. The methods of cat declaw include removing the third digit of the toe where the nail growth is attached to the bone. This is the equivalent of cutting off the tip of your finger at the knuckle.

Myth #2: There are no long term effects associated with declaw.

Unfortunately, once a cat recovers from their declaw surgery, the way their foot meets the ground actually changes. This could lead to lameness or back pain in the long term (Humane Society).

Myth #3: Cats who have been declawed can defend themselves outdoors just as well as cats who have claws.

All sources agreed that this was untrue. Declawed cats have lost a crucial part of their defense system and keeping them indoors is the best way to protect them.

Controversies

In addition to the dispelling of several myths, I found a few contradicting articles from credible sources regarding different declaw controversies.

Controversy #1: Cats who are declawed have a tendency to bite more because they don’t have claws for defense.

Several veterinary sources sited studies stating that declawed cats don’t seem to realize they are declawed, and therefore continue to play and defend as if they have claws. Alternatively, many other sources stated that the declaw changes their behavior, and they will bite more post-op.

Controversy #2: The post-operative period does not involve as much pain as some say, and many cats recover very quickly.

Although there were several sources that agreed with this statement. The American Veterinary Medical Association conducted a study concluding that 37.4% of cats who were declawed experienced pain for up to 42 days post surgery.  An additional, 26% of cats experienced lameness for up to 54 days post surgery. The study also pointed out that determining a cat’s level of pain post-op is very difficult due to their stoic nature.

In regards to the controversies, I would like to hear your experience. Perhaps you know someone who had their cat declawed, or you are a veterinary technician who has experienced this surgery. Please share in the comments below.

Declaw Methods

There are multiple methods associated with a cat declaw surgery.

According to VeterinaryPartner.com, the most common methods used are the Resco Clipper method, and the Disarticulation method.

The Resco Clipper method is where a sterile nail clipper is used to cut through the third digit of the toe. This removes the part of the bone where the nail grows. To give you some perspective, this is like having the tip of your finger surgically cut off. Although the cat will be under anesthesia, the amount of pain and soreness will be severe.

Photo courtesy of www.peta.org

Photo courtesy of www.peta.org

The Disarticulation Method involves the disconnection of all the ligaments holding the third bone in place, until he entire third bone is removed.

Here is what can be expected post-op according to Veterinary Partner:

1) Your cat will remain in the hospital for two nights. This is true in my experience. Cats who have had their claws removed are disoriented from the anesthesia and the bandages, so they remain at the hospital. Initially, their bandages remain on their feet after surgery, but they are typically kept at the hospital an additional day after their bandages have been removed.

2) There may be some blood spotting from the feet within the first few days.

3) Your cat cannot use litter until their feet have healed. Litter can get into the incisions and cause infection. The alternative is to use shredded paper. The incisions are usually closed with stitches or surgical glue, but either method can leave your cat susceptible to infection from cat litter.

4) Pain control will be very important. Because the tip of the finger is being removed, this is considered orthopedic surgery, therefore a transdermal fentanyl patch is recommended for pain control. The fentanyl patch allows a little pain control to pass through the skin (transdermal) over time.

5) If not enough of the bone is removed with the Resco Clipper method, the claw can regrow.

Veterinary Partner also mentions a new controversial method of declaw call The Laser Declaw. The laser declaw uses a laser rather than a blade to remove the third toe. Using a laser prevents bleeding, and in many cases leads to less post-op pain.

Please keep in mind that more often than not, a cat declaw is unnecessary. Pet parents should be aware of the full implications of a cat declaw, as well as the long term effects.