Many veterinarians always counsel the client in alternatives to declaw surgery, while others refuse to declaw cats except in cases of medical necessity. Still others have no ethical considerations and routinely perform declaw surgery.
Declawing (onychectomy) involves the surgical removal of the claw, including the germinal (epithelium) cells responsible for its growth, and part or all of the third phalanx (terminal bone) of the toe. Amputation of the third phalanx of the cat's toe is similar to the amputation of the end of our own fingers at the last knuckle, leaving a stump.
The cat's claw extended and amputated:
|The nerves, ligaments and tendons are cut, and part or all of the entire third phalanx (terminal bone) of the toe is amputated.|
In traditional declaw surgery the vet extends the toe and cuts the nerves, ligaments and tendons, using a guillotine-type nail trimmer (or a scalpel), severing part or all of the third phalanx or terminal toe bone. An improper incision or cut may cause claw regrowth and/or cause damage to the pad which may result in lameness. Additional surgery may be necessary to correct the mistakes of the original surgery and to relieve symptoms. General post-operative complications of declaw surgery also include, but are not limited to, pain, hemorrhage, swelling, and/or infection.
Improperly done, declaw surgery can cause damage to the radial nerve, lameness, paralysis, and bone chips which retard healing and cause recurrent infections. Amputation of a leg as a result of infection or complications can also occur. Declawed cats can also suffer chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken following the loss of part of the toes. Anesthetics administered for surgery present their own risks, and are a very important factor when unnecessary surgeries are considered.
With traditional declaw methods, there is an unavoidable amount of tearing, crushing, and bruising that leads to postoperative pain and swelling . Traditional declaw surgery requires suturing and tight bandaging to prevent hemorrhaging after the procedure. In many veterinary hospitals and clinics, strong opiates are administered for pain post-operatively. Many veterinarians feel that cats do not suffer pain and do not routinely administer pain medications for surgeries including declaw surgery, unless the client requests pain medications for these procedures. Often there is an extra charge for pain medications administered post-surgically, whether routinely administered by the veterinarian or administered at the clients request.
Because declaw surgery causes significant pain and involves many risks the decision to declaw should never be made for owner convenience. The loss of part of the cat's toes and his claws can be physically traumatic and psychologically demoralizing for your cherished family pet. Declawing a cat for owner convenience is never ethically justifiable.
Please remember that removing the claws by any means will deprive your cat of many anatomically necessary uses and behaviours for his claws, and perhaps even more importantly, he will forever lose his first line of defense! A declawed cat must forever be an indoor cat.
Remember: Knowledge is power. Understanding the situation is half the battle. Below are some valuable lessons.
Lesson 1: Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats.
This isn't exactly a revelation, since you probably have the evidence everywhere, in the tattered corners of your sofa, the shredded drapes, your frayed nerves. Though Kitty's natural propensity for scratching my not be big news, it is a fact that you'll need to take into account if you're to make any headway in winning the battle to keep her from scratching in places you consider undesirable.
Lesson 2: You can't keep your cat from scratching.
What you can do is stop her from scratching those items you value and want to keep in their relatively pristine state. Bear in mind Mark Twain's advice, which applies universally: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it frustrates you and annoys the pig. Translate this bit of wisdom to your dealings with cats and you'll avoid a good deal of futility and frustration.
You can't make a cat do anything she doesn't want to do. Get clear on that. And getting her to stop something she enjoys is just about as difficult. Therefore you have to think smart and re-channel her desires.
A word about punishment: Don't do it!
Cats don't understand physical punishment. In addition to it being wrong to hit your cat, punishment simply doesn't work and is likely to make your situation worse. Clever though Kitty is about many things, she won't understand that you're punishing her for scratching the couch. She will only compute that sometimes when you catch her she is treated badly. This may make her insecure and stimulate her to scratch more or develop other undesirable behaviour problems.
Eventually you will break the trust and security that is the basis for your cat's relationship with you, and you will find it very difficult to catch her for any reason at all.
Cats have excellent memories and hold serious grudges.
Fortunately, there is a simple alternative available for you and your cat. It consists of a good, sturdy scratching post covered with strong material and lined with catnip. You can make one yourself or it can be purchased. With close attention and a lot of encouragement, your cat can be perfectly happy scratching on his own furniture rather than yours.
The following is a list of countries in which declawing cats is either illegal or considered extremely inhumane.
Please e-mail me at Padraig if you can add to this list.