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To Declaw Or Not To Declaw?

Kathryn C. Linden DVM

Declawing is done by amputating the last bone of the toes of the front feet. The incisions are closed with a surgical adhesive and a light pressure wrap is placed overnight. The cat is kept confined overnight to minimize movement while still groggy from the anesthetic. The bandages are removed and the toes checked for bleeding before being discharged from the clinic. Pain medication is given before the procedure which lasts for several hours afterward and is repeated as needed. Pain medication can be sent home on request.

Because of the nature of this procedure (i.e. an amputation on a weight bearing surface), complications, though still infrequent, are more common than with the other routine procedures we perform (spays and neuters). They include pain, bleeding, infection and nerve damage from the tourniquets used to control bleeding during the procedure. Nearly all cats will favor the front feet for a few days post op but a few will limp for longer: weeks, months or rarely, for life.

Older cats and heavy cats have a much higher incidence of complications and for this reason I will not declaw cats over 2 years in age and/or over 10 pounds in weight. I also only declaw front feet.

Alternatives to declawing are:

Keeping nails trimmed and providing a variety of scratching materials for cat to use. Scratching posts and pads come in different materials such as cardboard, rope and carpet as well as different orientations (vertical vs. horizontal). This will minimize the damage done by most cats enough that declawing is not necessary.

Soft Paws. These are plastic nail caps that are glued over the cat’s nails. They have to be replaced as the nails grow out. They are a good alternative when a cat just needs to be temporarily “declawed” (new baby in the house, staying in someone else’s house etc).

Tendonectomy. This is a procedure where a piece of the tendon which allows the cat to retract its claws is removed. Recovery time is much quicker and less painful. The biggest drawback to this procedure is that the cat’s nails must be trimmed regularly or will overgrow into the pads creating a very painful condition. Some owners have also felt that the cat can still do some damage since the claws remain. Finally, since the dead layers aren’t removed with normal scratching the claws have a flaky appearance which some owners find objectionable.

- Kathryn C. Linden DVM
Sun Lakes Animal Clinic
June 1,2004

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
- Anatole France, 1921 Nobel Prize Speech -

Titlebar Image: The Gentle Doctor, 1937-38 by Christian Peterson (U84.179) - Iowa State University