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Attitudes towards medical care change with the information, research, and opinions of the times. Twenty years ago, everyone declawed their indoor cats, and many of us probably thought very little of it. In recent years, however, popular opinion has shone a light on the pain, recovery, and psychological effects that declawing may have on cats. Chances are, if you’ve brought home a new kitten recently, you’ve been met with this surprisingly heart-wrenching decision: to declaw or not to declaw.
At the forefront of this debate is a simple question: is it humane? It is an elective procedure that does result in pain and recovery time for the cat, and benefits only the cat’s owner human. Traditional methods require a 1-2 night overnight stay in the animal hospital and recovery time can last between 1-3 weeks, depending on the weight and activity level of the cat. During this time, pain medication should be available to help ease the soreness in the cat’s paws, and traditional litter should be replaced with Yesterday’s News litter or shredded newspaper. However, after the recovery period, the cat should experience no pain once the incisions have healed, and will continue to enjoy a high quality of life for the remainder of its years. Many experts assert that the pain experienced after a declawing operation is comparable to that experienced after a spay/neuter operation.
New laser technology has reduced the amount of pain, bleeding, and recovery necessary for declawing operations. Laser declaw operations use a laser rather than a scalpel to disarticulate the third toe bone. There is virtually no bleeding during surgery as the laser cauterizes the wound immediately. This also reduces swelling, and greatly reduces – though does not entirelyeliminate – the pain associated with declawing. However, laser declawing can be considerably more expensive, and as it is easier to perform than a traditional clipper declaw, there is a perception that veterinarian or technicians with less experience can perform these surgeries with ease. If you choose a laser declaw method, please consult your doctor and understand who will be performing the operation – and don’t be shy about requesting the most experienced member on staff to complete your cat’s declaw. As with traditional methods, you should prepare to administer pain control medication to your cat, and swap out his litter for shredded newspaper or Yesterday’s News, but recovery time should only last about a week in the case of laser declaw.
There are many myths surrounding behavioral changes brought about by declawing operations. Many believe that cats will become more fearful or aggressive, are more likely to bite or will never use a litter box or climb, jump, or play again. While declawed cats must learn again how to climb and jump onto furniture or their favorite soft surfaces, they will adapt quickly and enjoy the same quality of life they enjoyed prior to the operation. Declawed cats can still catch mice or chase toys, and will use a litter box provided you replace their traditional litter with a soft alternative during their recovery time.
Another belief is that cats that have been declawed cannot defend themselves and should not be allowed outdoors where they can potentially be attacked by predators. This remains true. General consensus among veterinary care professionals is that declawed cats should remain indoors to be pampered and spoiled for the remainder of their days.
There are several alternatives to declawing that you may consider before making the decision. Soft Paws are plastic caps that can be applied to your cat’s claws to prevent scratching and destruction of your furniture, while still allowing the cat to indulge in the behavior, which provides a pleasant psychological release for the animal (you’ll find many declawed cats that still go through the motions of scratching the furniture due to this phenomenon). Additionally, simple training can be effective in diverting your cat’s scratching behavior from undesirable surfaces, such as your sofa or leg, to established “allowable” scratching posts or pads. Consider using catnip or treats to attract your cat to these surfaces when you see scratching behavior occurring. For some cats, simply keeping their nails clipped short is sufficient to deter scratching behavior.
Whether or not to declaw your cat is a decision you should make between yourself, your family, and your veterinarian based on a thorough examination and assessment of your cat. This can be a stressful decision, and you may wonder if your cat will feel differently toward you if you have him declawed. Rest assured, your cat will still expect his Fancy Feast at noon and his chin scratch at 5:00, a clean litter box and fresh water every day for the rest of his life, claws or no claws.