|Purred: Fri Dec 12, '08 10:23am PST |
|The debate to declaw cats is an ongoing discussion even among veterinarians. Some veterinarians advocate declawing for two reasons. First, it may help a cat get adopted as it reduces the risk of damaging furniture. Second, it may prevent some cats from being humanely euthanized owing to furniture damage or scratching children in the house.
In general, I’m a fan of trying behavioral modification, training, and prevention instead of declawing. I personally don’t declaw. Sure, I’ve learned the procedure and have done it once or twice in veterinary school, but I’m no expert at it. That’s because I completed my internship at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital (associated with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), where the procedure wasn’t performed on ethical grounds.
If the tricks of the trade (like behavioral modification and training) don’t work and your cat is blowing you off, he or she may need to be declawed. First, know that there are many different options for declawing: onychectomy, laser therapy, tendonectomy, and the use of Soft Paws. Generally, when veterinarians declaw, they typically only do the front toenails, as these are the nails that rip up your sofa. While it’s less expensive to only declaw the forelimbs, please know that declawing the back leg nails is generally unnecessary and probably putting your cat through more pain than necessary. Keep in mind that if you have your cat’s front nails declawed, you still have to remember to trim those back leg nails every few months.
Onychectomy is removing the third digital phalanx with a scalpel or nail clipper. This removes the last part of your cat’s digit (i.e., the top third of your finger with the nail on it), and should prevent nails from ever growing back. This is the most common type of declawing available by your veterinarian and generally goes off without a hitch. Occasional complications from this method include pain, bleeding, pad damage, transient paw swelling, infection, or chronic lameness. Rarely, incomplete removal of the germinal cells during the procedure can cause the nail to grow back. Because this type of declawing is the most painful method, make sure your vet is treating your brave kitty with lots of pain medication both before and after surgery.
Laser therapy is another method of nonsurgical onychyectomy. Laser therapy is quick, causes minimal tissue injury, and results in rapid healing. However, not a lot of veterinarians have this expensive gadget, so there’s limited availability. Also, the use of laser therapy is dependent on the experience of the veterinarians so be sure to consult with your vet to see if this is an option.
Deep digital flexor tendonectomy is less invasive, as the actual nail is not removed. Rather, the tendon in the wrist is cut, making it impossible for your cat to protract his nails. In other words, he has his loaded gun but can’t whip it out. The claws remain retracted after these tendons are severed, which limits the ability to scratch, but the nails may become blunt and thick, and will still need to be trimmed regularly. With tendonectomy, rare complications can occur. For example, if your vet accidentally cuts the wrong tendon (the adjacent superficial digital flexor tendon), your cat may have a permanent, abnormal flat-footed stance. The good news is that he can’t be drafted.
In general, if you’re going to get your cat declawed, do it sooner rather than later (around three to six months of age). You want to do it before your cat learns to scratch furniture. More important, do it sooner because young cats recover and heal faster – they are back to playing and running within days. Despite the urban myth, declawing older cats doesn’t screw up their balance and agility, but their recovery can take a few weeks longer. Finally, find a veterinarian who uses pain medication after surgery. I always like to send cats home on an oral pain medication, Buprenex (a morphinelike drug), for several days after any kind of surgery.
For those of you who are scared or nervous about surgery, a nonsurgical option includes Soft Paws. These are vinyl caps that you glue to your cat’s front claws and are a noninvasive way of attempting to prevent your cat from damaging furniture. While it may not be comfortable (imagine typing with fake nails), cats seem to tolerate them reasonably well. The Soft Paws website also provides useful tips on how to cut your cat’s nails, how to fill the caps with adhesive, and how to adhere them to your cat quickly and safely (see Resources). Supposedly, Soft Paws stick on for four to six weeks (depending on your skill in gluing), but I’ve randomly found them throughout the house, in the litter box, and in Seamus’s poop (they’re pretty safe and are supposedly easy to pass, as Seamus proved) when I tried them. The good thing is that it lets you try on all the different colors and styles in the process. And no, you can’t drop your cat off at your manicurist to have this done, but you will become a pro at it after your first ten or twelve Soft Paws get stuck to your hair, your cat’s face, your fingertips, and your clothes.
Dr. Justine Lee
Material from "It's a Cat's World... You Just Live In It" Copyright Justine Lee Veterinary Consulting, LLC. 2008.
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