Declawing Cats

 

Cats have a number of very powerful biological urges

Scratching is one of them.  They scratch to sharpen their claws, and to mark their territory.  It is a powerful urge with many social implications for cats.  Cats are, shall we say, more emotionally complex than dogs.  Click here to go to The Indoor Cat Initiative, a website that discusses in detail the many needs of cats.

There is some controversy both domestically and world-wide about whether it is ethically and morally right to declaw cats.  In many European countries, for instance, declawing is either not done or outright illegal. 

In America, most (but not all) veterinarians agree that when done properly, declawing can be a benefit to both the cat and the people involved.  Without a doubt is is a painful procedure, and absolutely must be done in conjunction with excellent pain control.

 

Declawing involves the surgical removal of the claws

Generally, we remove all ten of the claws on the front paws.  There are several surgical techniques in use.  At Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic, we use a technique that involves surgically amputating the claws with a CO2 laser. 

The laser is widely accepted by most veterinarians as the best way to perform this procedure.  There are practitioners out there who are able to do the procedure well without the laser, but I personally feel that laser declaws are dramatically less painful than the older methods.

 

Declawing is widely accepted to be a very painful procedure

That means that pain management is vital.  At Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic, we use a balanced, multi-modal, pre-emptive pain management system. 

Balanced means that we use low doses of several different medications in order to minimize side-effects and to increase efficacy. 

Multi-modal means that we use several different methods of providing pain control.  The different modes of pain control act synergistically to provide more complete pain control than any one or two modes could provide. 

Pre-emptive means the pain medication is given before the painful stimulus.  Pre-emptive pain management techniques were pioneered in human hospitals, and have been adapted for use in animals by progressive veterinary clinics. When pain medications are given this way, the pain response is greatly dampened.   Click here to go to an in-depth review of pain management.

 

Declawing has a number of potential complications

 

The first is persistent pain. Rarely, some individuals will experience pain long after the post-op pain should have resolved.  Occasionally, the pain will persist for life. 

We suspect that the cats feel phantom pain in their amputation sites, just as some human amputees feel phantom pain for years in limbs that are no longer there.

We routinely use a medication called gabapentin for all our declaws, which helps reduce the chances of this happening.

The second complication is that very rarely, some cats will not be able to stand normally on their paws.  The tendon structure never heals normally, leading to an abnormal posture.

Finally, infection is possible because the cats walk around on the surgical sites post-op.

 

Young kittens do the best and have the fewest complications

Cats of up to 1 year of age typically do quite well.  Older cats are much more likely to have complications, including excessive pain, infection, and long-term pain. 

The older they are, the more likely they are to have problems.  It is vastly different declawing a 5-year-old cat than a 6-month-old kitten.  It would take some extremely extenuating circumstances to convince me to declaw a ten-year-old cat.

 

Non-Surgical Options

It is often best to try and resolve claw issues non-surgically

If the main reason you want to declaw your cat is to protect the furniture, it may be worthwhile to investigate some other options.  However, if you have delicate skin, diabetes, are on blood thinners, have other bleeding issues, or compromised immune system, declawing may be a very good idea and you may not want to spend a lot of time risking injury while trying non-surgical options.

Even if Shredder the Cat is making it his life's work to systematically destroy the sofa, it may be possible to find an acceptable scratching alternative.  I refer you to a website called  The Indoor Cat Initiative for more information.  There is also a glue-on nail cap product called Soft Paws that is an alternative to declawing cats.  Click on the link to go to their home page.

 

Our standard protocol goes like this:

We feel that it is very important to do all that we can to make your cat's experience as pain-free as possible.  We use a balanced, multi-modal, pre-emptive pain management protocol.  Balanced means that we use low doses of several different medications in order to minimize side-effects and to increase efficacy, and multi-modal means that we use several different kinds of medications that act in different ways to attack pain from different directions.

  • Step 1:  The cats receive a pre-anesthetic injection of buprenorphine, an excellent long-acting pain drug for cats, combined with nalbuphine, a short-acting injectable pain medication.  Depending on the cat's temperament and mood, sedatives may be added as well to control anxiety pre-op and to provide additional pain relief.  This type of opioid medication is mode 1, and it is given in a pre-emptive fashion.
  • Step 2:  Anesthesia is induced with injectable IV drugs, and then the cat is placed on inhalation anesthetic.  The injectable drugs are chosen to take advantage of their inherent pain control properties.  This is mode 2, and it is also done pre-emptively.  The cat's blood pressure, oxygen saturation, and expired CO2  are monitored.
  • Step 3:  Nerve blocks are done with local anesthetic.  This is mode 3, and it is also done pre-emptively.
  • Step 4:  The surgery is done with a CO2  laser.  This instrument seals nerves and blood vessels to reduce bleeding and pain.   This is mode 4.
  • Step 5:  After recovery, buprenorphine pain medication is given orally, and continued for the next five or six days.  To this we add gabapentin, another pain medication that works by a different mechanism and which is particularly effective on nerve and phantom pain, which is mode 5.  A medication  called Onsior, a coxib-class non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, is also used post-op as mode 6.

 

The cost to declaw your cat may vary with each cat

This depends on their individual needs.  We will discuss these needs during the pre-surgical exam.  In general, the costs for young, healthy patients are as follows, current January of 2018:

  • Declaw the two front feet - $229.89
  • Declaw the two front feet and neuter at the same time - $269.84
  • Declaw the two front feet and spay at the same time - $312.76

Older cats may need more pain meds, sutures, or longer hospitalization, which will affect the cost.  We will discuss that at the pre-surgical exam.  You will also need to purchase a bag of Yesterday's News, a paper-based litter for use during recovery.

 

We may occasionally decline to declaw a particular cat

We try very hard to be sensitive to things like owner's medical needs, emotional needs, etc, but sometimes the risks just aren't worth the potential benefits.  It's nothing personal, and there will be no charges for exams or consultations.  We won't think you are a horrible person, either!