The Truth About Declaw
Did you know that many countries, 28 to be exact, have banned declawing cats? In the United States several cities have banned it too with more cities trying to pass legislation to ban it. And in those areas where it hasn't been banned there are several veterinarians who will not do the surgery (some will only perform the surgery once all other options have been exhausted.
So Whats The Big Deal?
First lets start with a little anatomy of your cats paw. Within each paw there are 27 bones and each digit (toe) there are 3 bones commonly known as P1, P2 and P3. P3 is the tip of the toe, so on your finger it is the top of your finger to the first joint. Why is this important? Well P3 is where your cats claws come from. In order for your cat to be declawed the veterinarian must remove ALL of P3 (more on this later). Since one must remove P3 to remove the claw from here on out I won't be referring to the procedure as a declaw. Lets call it what it truly is an AMPUTATION. Can you imagine walking with feet that had the tips of all your toes amputated? Sounds painful right?
(This image is an actual radiograph of Emma's front paws)
How Is The Amputation Done?
There are a few methods. A very common method (and cheaper for the veterinarian) is using dog nail trimmers (sounds barbaric right?). Unfortunately this method isn't the easiest on the cat because there are several cases of the surgeon actually cutting through the bone. OUCH! The next method is with a scalpel blade. In this method the vet is surgically removing P3 (hopefully all of it). And the last method is with a laser, or radiowave, instrument. Don't be fooled by those who say this method is better and easier. Its just a different instrument that also burns the tissue as it cuts through it. The procedure is just as painful.
P3 Whats The Big Deal?
P3, the bone that is ampuated, has a funny little hook on it and it can be a pain for the vet to get out (especially if amputating with nail trimmers). So what you say? Well first off if not fully removed the vet is cutting through the bone and leaving a piece of bone that your kitty must now walk on. More importantly if P3 isn't completely removed the claw can start growing again. Since the toes were surgically closed that nail now grows inside your cats paw. This is very painful and MUST be surgically corrected. How often does this happen? I can't give you exact numbers but it does happen. I have had the misfortune of assisting on the surgery to finish amputating toes. Its gross and very painful for the cat!!
Does This Amputation Really Cause Behavior Problems?
In many cats yes. How would your behavior change if you had to walk around on/jumping on amputated toes? Some cats the behavior changes are very noticable-biting (remember this is now the only defense your cat now has) and litter box issues (I'm sure digging isn't pleasant) are the most common. Some cats take their frustrations out on other pets. And some retreat withing themselves and just don't do much of anything. Several people have said to me they have or had declawed cats and they didn't have any behavior changes and my response is always the same "how do you know you didn't let them grow up enough to see their normal behavior". Removing their toes they must walk differently to compensate and that too can cause issues down the road.
You Have Nice Things And Don't Want Them Torn Up? How Do You Prevent Torn Furniture Without Amputating?
Its actually very simple to have nice things even with a cat with claws. First get used to trimming your cats nails, even if you are just taking the tips off this will help. Work with your cat so they accept nail trims. Give your cat plenty of things they can scratch. Scratching posts with sisel rope are a favorite as are card board scratchers (these are usually inexpensive and last a long time). Have some horizontal and some vertical to allow your cat to stretch out. Even with plenty of scratching items they still find the material of furniture to be a wonderful feel so just use some double sided sticky tape (available at all pet stores). Encourage them when they are scratching appropriate items with verbal cues, treats and catnip. (Emmers kittens start learning about nail trims at 6 weeks of age and they just sit on my lap some will need another person to hold them).
So PLEASE work with your cat and don't amputate their toes. Just because it was common practice in the past doesn't mean it needs to continue. It is a barbaric procedure! Most vets won't let you watch the procedure to check out the videos at www.pawproject.org to see how it is done.
(perfect little pink "beans" on an Applejack paw)