Declawing your cat

posted: by: HP Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Declawing is the common name for an elective surgical procedure termed onychectomy. The goal of this surgery is to prevent a cat from scratching which could lead to destruction of property or injury to pets or people. To accomplish this, the nail along with the last segment of the toe (called the distal phalange) is removed. This is typically performed on all of the front toes, though in some cases also includes the  back toes. The method of removal can be via a scalpel blade, sterilized nail trimmers, or a surgical laser.
Declawing has historically been a controversial issue. Opponents of declawing consider it unnecessary, excessively painful, and leaving the potential for long-term complications. Studies do support these feelings to some extent. In a 2017 study, it was found that 63% of declawed cats retained P3 fragments visible on x-ray (the portion of the toe that is supposed to be removed with the nail). These cats had significantly higher rates of back pain, inappropriate urination or defecation outside of the litter box, and aggression. It is thought this is due to chronic or "phantom" pain in these toes.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recently updated their position statement to "strongly oppose" declawing as an elective procedure, and feel it is an obligation for veterinarians to provide alternatives to this surgery. Legislation has been introduced in states such as New York to ban declawing and it has already been banned in numerous other countries. 

Due to the changing public opinion as well as our own ethical considerations, it is our hospital's policy not to perform declaws except when it is medically indicated.

Alternatives to Declawing:
* Regular Nail Trimming - Trimming your cat's nails can reduce the amount of damage done to the household. It is ideal to begin trimming your cat's nails as a kitten so they are trained to tolerate the procedure. This can be done at home or at the veterinary hospital.
*Scratching Posts - Scratching posts and furniture are the best way to allow your  cat to engage in normal scratching behavior. These come in a variety of sizes and textures, so it is best to experiment with different types to see what your cat prefers. The placement of the posts is also important. The best locations are near where they sleep, or close to the undesirable location where your cat is currently scratching.
*Temporary Nail Caps - These caps can be glued over your cat's nails to minimize damage to the home.They typically last 4-6 weeks, though duration can vary.
*Environmental Enrichment -  Excessive scratching can sometimes be an indicator that your cat's environmental needs aren't being met. Consider enrichment such as toys or vertical jumping surfaces. 
*Feline Pheromone Products - Products such as Feliway mimic the normal pheromones a cat will emit through interaction with their environment. Spraying Feliway on the furniture where undesirable scratching is occurring can reduce this behavior. There is also a related product called Feliscratch that should be applied to the desired scratching locations. A combination of both these products can be used to train your cat to scratch in the right places.

If you have any questions about declawing or have interest in any alternatives, please call 410-687-1111 to speak to one of our veterinarians.