The number of pet owners opting to declaw their cats has declined over the past few years as pet owners and veterinarians learn more about the effects of the surgery. Get the facts straight about this controversial procedure.
Declawing, or onychectomy, is not just the removal of the claws, but amputation of the last bone in each of the ten front toes. The series of amputations can sometimes sever tendons, nerves and muscles. Among the many organizations that have formal statements opposing declawing of cats: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Humane Society of the United States and The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights.
"Feline declaws have one of the highest rates of owner complaint and complications," said Dr. Michele Gaspar, DVM, a board-certified feline specialist who does not perform declawing. "Infections and nail re-growth can occur. Some cats appear to suffer from phantom pain post surgery."
If you choose to declaw your cat, vets recommend using a soft litter that will not infect the surgical site or re-open a healing wound. Litters such as Feline Pine Scoop, that are all-natural and especially soft, are ideal. More information is available at www.healthylitter.org. If you plan on introducing a new litter post-surgery, familiarize your cat with the new litter before the procedure to avoid litter box aversion.
Softer, all-natural litters are also suggested for cats suffering from long-term paw pain, as some declawed felines experience pain long after surgery, which may lead to litter box problems. In a much-discussed article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association published in 2001, Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD reviewed a study that showed that among abandoned shelter cats, 52.4% of declawed cats were reported to exhibit litter box avoidance, compared to 29.1% of non-declawed cats. A cat whose paws hurt when scratching in a litter box may avoid the litter box altogether.
There are alternatives to declawing your cat. Ask your vet to teach you how to trim your cat's nails. When done properly, regular trimming poses little to no risk. Before domestication, cats used tree trunks to exercise, stretch and mark their territory. It is possible for cats to be trained to use a scratching post in order to fulfill their natural instinct to scratch. Another option becoming widely available is replaceable soft plastic caps that can be glued directly onto the nail.