Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cat Declawing: Vet Tech Perspective

Declawing a cat is a controversial topic. While I understand that, at times, it is what keeps a cat out of the shelter when a pet parent feels that the cat is destroying furniture, it is rare that I find a pet parent who is aware of what the procedure actually is. While I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty, an educated decision is important.

The term "declawing" seems innocent enough. You just clip the claws all of the way back to the quick. Right? A little pain killer, and poof! Problem solved. While the claw is indeed removed, so is the bone to the first joint, the adjoining ligaments, the nerve endings, and the cells that provide for regrowth.

In most of the procedures I have regrettably assisted with or observed in my time as a vet tech, the procedure has changed little with the exception of the type of pain medication used. After the pet is anesthetized, the technician prepares the bandages and a tourniquet. The tourniquet is tightened and secured near the top of the leg nearest the body. A antiseptic of some type is used to clean the area but rarely is the hair shaved. The veterinarian extends the nail and first bone of the toe by pressing down on the paw. A guillotine clipper is used to clip off as much as possible including the joint, if the animal is young enough. (The younger, the softer the tissue). Once this is removed, a surgical blade removes the rest. The foot is tightly bandaged and will remain so overnight. Special cat litter must be used for one to two weeks thereafter.  If done improperly, the nail can grow back. This is repeated on every toe on every foot or just the front two as requested by the pet parent.

Years ago, when I first started in veterinary medicine, pain meds were given in the form of an injection usually as the pet was waking up. Watching those cats wake up was heart wrenching. While nerve blocks, improved pain protocols and even a new laser procedure have improved things, it is still removal of a toe.

Its important to know that while we walk on our feet, and dogs walk on their pads, cats walk on their toes. The implications are evident.

Each time I saw it, I was reminded of the torture techniques used by the mob in movies in which they cut off a finger or toe until you give them the information. The guillotine clippers made it even more dramatic.

I am a firm believer that declawing should never be a usual procedure and included in kitten packages. It should be considered an exception rather than a rule. Too often, veterinarians do not educate pet parents on the possible behavioral side effects, that as technicians we are acutely aware of. We know, that as that pet grows, instead of relying on his/her natural defense to smack with a front foot, he/she will resort to the only thing left...biting. We will often hear that Boots now has a bad attitude problem and will not use the litterbox. Keep in mind that by giving a cat two weeks worth of horrible pain upon trying to cover up after using the litterbox, you have in essence, used a very effective behavioral technique to avoid the litterbox.

While these things do not happen to every cat and some will recover and be loving cats, not all will. I think its important to ask yourself, "What is more important, my cat or the furniture?". If your answer is the furniture, then maybe having a cat or dog is not your best bet.

Suppose the cat is declawed and these symptoms, such as litterbox avoidance or biting become too much for you to handle? What is your plan? Put the cat outside without any defenses? Please consider these things before you make a decision about declawing.

If it bothered you to read this, then maybe that's your answer. 

1 comment:

  1. We hd a cat that was a little scratch happy, but we couldn't stand the thought of declawing him, so we went the "Soft Paws" route for while, nd brought him in every couple of months to have little plastic sheaths put on his claws. We didn't have to keep it up forever - when scratching the corner of the sofa didn't give him the result he expected, he eventually abandoned the behavior! the little fellow lived another seven years without shredding another sofa. We've had other cats since then, and discovered that making sure they get plenty of attention, and scratching toys of their own helps a lot! To their credit, our vets have not been advocates of declawing, but even they never discussed the potential behavioral issues that can result from the procedure. Thanks for the great information!