Should You Declaw Your Cat?

03Not that many years ago, the decision about whether to have the family cat declawed focused more on the couch than the cat. These days, however, more veterinarians encourage cat owners to consider nonsurgical strategies to prevent flayed furniture and flesh.

Declawing a cat has become increasingly controversial, with some animal advocates decrying the practice as the cruel and unnecessary partial amputation of a cat’s toes. Meanwhile, vet organizations say declawing of feline forefeet should occur only after cat owners have tried scratching posts, nail trimming and other ways to manage a cat’s need to scratch.

There are some cat owners who are under the false assumption that declawing is just something you do, like you would get oil changed in your car. That is not the case. It is important to understand that declawing is a painful procedure involving surgical removal of all or part of the last toe bone, to which the claw is attached.

The surgery requires general anesthesia and pain medication during recuperation, which may take about two weeks. Problems, while rare, can include anesthetic complications, hemorrhage, infection, pain and side effects of pain medication.

Pet owners should know that surgery isn’t the only way to prevent scratching problems. They suggest the alternative of training a cat, especially when they are a young kitten, to use designated scratching pads and posts, and to trim claws every week or two. It can help to keep scratching pads and posts throughout the house and near furniture targets. You can bait them with catnip and reward appropriate scratching with treats and praise. There are even feeders that have a scratcher on it – you scratch on this and you get food!

There are three main methods that vets use to remove claws and many horror stories stem from what is considered the outmoded technique of using guillotine-style clippers. Twenty years ago, when vets used those trimmers, there was mutilation and infection, as well as claw regrowth. The blade scalpel and laser scalpel techniques are better methods to dissect out the bone instead of going through it. After the removal of the claw, the wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue and bandages the cat’s feet.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) believes education efforts help to reduce the demand for declawing. Many owners and veterinarians have the opinion that declawing is an inhumane mutilation that should be outlawed in most cases, as it already is in some countries. But it ultimately comes down to what the owner would prefer.

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