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The Truth About Declawing

There seems to be an alarming trend of declawing cats… whether it’s due to personal convenience, apartment rules and regulations, or just plain lack of knowledge on the part of responsible pet owners.

There are many good vets out there who actively discourage declawing, but there are also many who perform this surgery on a regular basis, never fully informing the pet owner of what it actually entails or explaining the potential risks of the procedure.

If people were more informed, perhaps this trend could be reversed.

Declawing a cat is a major surgical procedure, performed under general anesthesia. It is actually amputation of the last joint on each toe, not simply removing the nail itself as many believe. The following article explains the hole removal process.

Cats walk on their toes, unlike most mammals who walk on the soles of their feet. Their muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments are designed to distribute their body weight across their toes.

The fingernail is not a fingernail like human fingernails or toenails. It is actually a part of the last bone in a cat’s toe. If you skinned a human the same way you skin a cat, you would amputate all 10 fingers at the last joint!

I found this description of the surgery in a veterinary manual: “The claw is extended by pushing up under the foot or grasping it with Allis tissue forceps. A scalpel blade is used to sharply dissect between the second and third phalanges over the apex of The distal interphalangeal joint is disarticulated (disassembled) and the flexor ring deep tendon is incised (cut). The digital sole is not incised.” This clinical explanation sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

There is a real chance of complications after any major surgery, and nail removal is no exception. There is a possibility of bleeding, infection, extreme pain, bone chipping, possible regeneration of deformed nails, back, muscle and joint problems, nerve damage, abscess and possible lameness. If the nail does grow, it is often deformed and another surgery must be done to correct this problem.

In addition to the potential physical complications, there are often behavioral problems after this surgery. The cat may become withdrawn, aloof, fearful and/or aggressive and often begins to bite as this is the only means of defense it has left. Occasionally the cat stops using the litter box because immediately after the operation it was painful to scratch the litter box, and they now associate that pain with the litter box. Due to the amount of stress the animal experiences after this procedure, it can become more susceptible to other diseases, as stress tends to compromise the immune system.

The animal is in a lot of pain after the surgery and vets rarely offer any kind of pain medication for the cat.

There are alternatives to declawing your cat… such as nail covers, scratching posts, regular nail trimming and behavior modification.

Many countries have banned unlocking as an abusive practice that causes unnecessary pain and trauma to the animal. A veterinary textbook by Turner and Bateson on the biology of cat behavior concludes a short section on scratching behavior with the following statement: “The surgical removal of nails, as is sometimes done to protect furniture and draperies, it is an act of abuse and should be outlawed in all, not just a few countries.”

Unfortunately, declawing is not banned in the United States at this time. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says it is its policy to “recommend consideration of such surgery only if concerted efforts to modify behavior have failed and euthanasia is pending.”

Spaying a cat is an abusive practice. Being informed about a procedure and potential complications should be the goal of every responsible pet owner.

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