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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Declaw Or Not?

The question of whether or not to declaw a cat is filled with debate and controversy. I talk to clients about this a lot, including a couple of times today. Here's what I talk about with them, and hopefully it will give you some insight if you have to make such a decision with your own pets.

Many people oppose declawing because of the pain and type of surgery. Those are some admittedly good points. Regardless of the method used to declaw, it is a painful procedure. We usually have to remove the last bone in the toe in order to remove the claw, which is a form of amputation. Even if proper pain control is used, the procedure produces more long-term pain than a spay or a neuter. It also has a higher risk of complication and infection because the patient is walking on the surgery sites. Recovery isn't as quick and simple as with most surgeries, even with all proper precautions. Because of these concerns, I don't think declawing should be a routine, standard, and expected procedure in cats.

Scratching and clawing is normal behavior in cats. It helps them remove the old nail sheath and is involved in scent marking. Even declawed cats will sometimes scratch at surfaces because of this natural instinct. This behavior can be directed in an appropriate direction by use of scratching posts and pads. Some cats will prefer one surface over another, so you may have to try several different ones. Trimming the nails every month can also reduce the need to claw, and will reduce any damage when the do.

However, sometimes there is a time and place for declawing surgery. If you have tried all other options and your cat is still being destructive, then consider it. In my opinion, declawing should be a last option, not a first one. However, it can come down to a decision between having the surgery done and giving the cat up for adoption. In cases like that I think it's a clear decision to have the declaw performed.

This isn't an easy decision for many people and shouldn't be done lightly. However, there are good reasons for doing it. Talk to your vet about the pros and cons before making the decision.