Cat Declaw Surgery

Declawing cats is a controversial topic and for good reason. There are many people who oppose the surgical procedure because it causes pain, suffering and according to some experts, it causes life long behavior problems. Cat owners who declawed their cats will say having indoor cats for 15-18 years see no problems with the surgery and that having the cats be less destructive leads to a more peaceful and longer coexistence. This surgery is banned in West Hollywood California and there are groups established to educate the public on how terrible the procedure is. There are veterinarians who refuse to perform this surgery and just as many who will provide the service. As a veterinarian and a pet owner, I am OK with declawing cats but only the front feet and I take extra precautions to ensure a successful outcome. Cats use their back feet for balance and jumping and scratching and removing all of the claws from the cat is, in my opinion, not advised and a bit cruel. I declaw most of my own cats but have also adopted older cats that I have not declawed because those cats had other health issues. I have had declawed cats live 18-21 years without issues related to the surgery. Other vets disagree with my practices and others declaw their own cats. As long as people own cats, this will be a topic of great discussion. What I have learned over the years is that there are good declaws and bad declaws.

Veterinarians are human and have strengths and weaknesses. Methods used to perform declaw surgery vary greatly and how the surgery is done makes a huge difference in the amount of pain and postoperative complications the cat will experience. If pain management is not adequate, the cat is very likely to have lingering pain for months after the surgery. If the foot pads are cut or the tourniquet is not placed properly on the leg (to control bleeding) there can be severe consequence. Other factors include the age and weight of the cat and how long the cat is kept to recuperate in a cage or confined area. Declawing is an amputation surgery and must be done with care. Kittens have less bleeding and the surgery tends not to be as “drastic” as it is for an adult full grown cat, but bandages must be placed carefully (without too much pressure) and the kittens should still be required “cage rest” for up to 48 hours. Older cats that are heavier and even over weight and accustomed to using their claws have developed muscle strength in those front feet and declawing these cats can cause significant postoperative bleeding and pain. When deciding if you want your cat declawed or not, it is best to consider the living environment. If your cat is going to wonder in and out of the house and spend time chasing lizards on the back patio and will have opportunity to sharpen claws and mark their territory in the back yard trees, this cat should not be declawed.

If your new kitten will only see the outdoors through a window and you have a taste for fine furnishings, then declawing is a reasonable option. One thing to remember is that cats scratch on vertical surfaces not only to sharpen their claws but to mark their territory with tiny scent glands in the feet. If you have a cat scratch on one edge of a chair or one corner of an ottoman, you could just give them the piece of furniture. Chances are, once they have found their “spot” for scratching, it is unlikely to change. With kittens, it is best to start young with offering scratching posts and perches or even logs of firewood brought in. If declawing is your decision for your cat or kitten, do some research and ask how the procedure is done and what kind of pain control and postoperative care is provided. Making an informed decision and having the surgery done correctly will help ensure your kitty will not have complications.

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