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Declawing by Frank Utchen, DVM
Front Legs

Question: Dr. Utchen do you think declawing a cat is cruel? 


Well, I think I speak for all veterinarians when I say I would love it if cats didn't become destructive with their claws, or if a living arrangement could always be worked out so a cat didn't have access to the furniture in the house, or if every cat with these tendencies would use a scratching post exclusively. I would certainly be glad to never do that particular surgery.

Our preference is always to try encouraging a cat to use a scratching post or other acceptable object, rather than performing surgery. However, given the fact that some cats can scratch and seriously injure some people (e.g., infants and toddlers) just by their normal play activities, or can destroy furniture throughout the house and thereby do thousands of dollars of damage, many veterinarians view this procedure as "the lesser of two evils" when the alternative may instead be forcing an indoor cat to live outdoors, or finding another home for their cat.

The traditional declaw procedure involves surgically removing (amputating) the last bone in each toe, of which the nail itself is a part. Another non-surgical option is using "Softpaws." These are hollow "false fingernails" that fit like a cup over the claw and are glued in place. They stay on the nail for about 6 weeks and fall off as the nail grows. Replacement for most cat owners is a simple procedure. We can glue on the first set of Softpaws while a cat owner watches and sees how to do it (not rocket science). After that we can continue to apply future sets of Softpaws, or you can purchase take-home kits (about half-price compared to having us glue the nails on) and do it yourself.

If, however, you decide on the traditional declaw surgery, you should know how seriously we take this procedure. Pain medications involving the use of a Fentanyl patch (similar to a nicotine patch, only it dispenses a morphine-like drug for several days), morphine-type injections, local nerve blocks, and non-cortisone anti-inflammatory painkillers are all used in order to make the recovery as comfortable as possible for a cat. At our practice we often perform the procedure with a radio-surgical unit that relies on high energy radio wave energy to perform the surgery, rather than a scalpel blade. This results in faster healing and less discomfort than traditional surgery. The decision to declaw a cat is a tough one, and although most veterinarians perform this procedure, we are also the first to admit that it's a last resort.

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