The Decision to Declaw

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Posted by Pets Best on 8/8/2007 in Scratching Post Articles

Currently there is an overwhelming amount of discussion over the hot issue of whether it is humane to have a feline declawed. There is a tremendous amount of information both positive and negative over this topic, yet the elective decision to have a feline friend declawed should be decided between the owner and the veterinarian. There are certainly health concerns and behavioral issues that should be taken into account before making a decision. However if having your feline friend surgically declawed creates a permanent home then it is probably in their best interest.

The surgical procedure of declawing a feline is called onychectomy, during this procedure the feline must be put under anesthetic while the claw and the end toe bone joint are amputated. Any surgically procedure creates an element of risk from anesthetic complications as well as post operative complications. The medical risks associated with declawing include infection, nail re-growth, hemorrhage, and death. Pain medication is a must with this surgery since it is believed to be significantly painful.

Getting the Cat Ready for Surgery
Generally a feline must be dropped off at the veterinary clinic in the morning hours with a surgery scheduled around lunch time. The cat will need to stay for a couple of nights; the number of nights is at your veterinarians’ discretion. Accompanying the surgical procedure is generally a few safety options that are recommended but not required. One of which is a pre anesthetic blood panel that can check the vital organs prior to surgery. It is a great idea to have this done before putting a cat under anesthetic, some cats can have a serious illness that they are very stoic about hiding and the illness may show up in the blood panel. If a feline has an abnormal blood panel result there is a good change for anesthetic reactions, surgical complications and death. Another option generally offered is the application of an intravenous catheter and administration of intravenous fluids. Again something highly recommended, pets under anesthetic typically have a drop in blood pressure and the use of fluids will aid in maintaining a normal blood pressure and maintain proper hydration, making your feline much happier when waking up. Also that catheter can be used to administer emergency medication if one does arise. If the feline does not have a catheter and there is a problem with the anesthetic a catheter will have to be placed which can take away precious minutes ultimately leading to loss of brain function and a high likelihood of death.

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Methods to Declaw Cats
One method that may be used to amputate the claw and lower toe digits is with the use of a sterile resco clipper. This method is commonly practiced since it is the fastest method. The claw and bone of the third toe digit are severed and either glue or sutures are used to close the wound. Bandages are necessary to help control bleeding, and pain is controlled with a strong pain killer such as a fentenayl patch. Special litter such as litter made from newspaper or shredded paper must be used for at least ten days since clay litter will clump inside the toe incision. Complications can arise and the most common seen are infection, pain as if the feline is walking on eggshells and re-growth of the third digit bone that leads to infection. If the bone does attempt to re-grow another surgery is required to remove more toe bone.

Disarticulation method is also commonly practiced, but is felt to be more difficult and takes longer which puts any pet at risk since they must be under anesthetic longer. This procedure is commonly done with a scalpel blade used to cut and remove the entire third toe digit. The pain factor is about the same as the resco method and the same complications can arise. Laser surgery is also available for this procedure and can have some benefits. Pain can be reduced, there is virtually no bleeding, and bandages are not needed, yet the cost can be a significant difference. Also, if a veterinarian is not experienced using the laser complications can arise such as tissue burns that can delay healing. Always discuss the method that will be used before submitting your feline to this procedure.

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Additional to the onychectomy or declaw procedure another option is available yet less prevalent, a tendonectomy can also be surgically preformed by severing the tendon attached to the toe, the claw remains intact. This procedure does appear to be less painful in the short term, the incisions are quite small, there is no blood loss, no glue or sutures, no bandages and no need for special litter. Yet the procedure has a different array of complications such as having to trim the claws, joint complications and arthritis.

Why do Pet Owners have their Cat Declawed?
The number one reason cat owners claim to have a feline declawed is due to the natural behavior of scratching and stretching that can be destructive to household items. Even once the claws are removed the behavior will still remain intact. It is always recommended to try to make every attempt to modify this behavior before resorting to surgery. By keeping the claws trimmed and providing appropriate materials for your cat to scratch one can significantly reduce the urge for your cat to scratch on household items. Professional animal trainers can also be hired to help with a problem cat and can offer lots of clever tips to train your cat not to scratch on household items. In addition to modifying behavior there are products on the market that can prevent your cat from being able to tear up items in the house that an owner may want to consider before deciding on surgery. One item is an acrylic nail cover with a blunt tip that only needs to be changed every few weeks. Any cat that has had a declaw or tendonectomy should remain indoors for the remainder of their life. Cats without claws have lost a major defense mechanism, are unable to hunt prey, climb trees or defend themselves against predators.

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Additionally there is concern over the behavior of declawed felines. Some people claim there is a higher risk of urine marking, and aggression but this has not yet been determined in any research studies. “Declawed cats showed more jumping on tables then intact cats and more house soiling then intact cats but latter the difference was not significant” The decision to declaw should be taken seriously due to the irreversible consequences to a feline, but if the procedure is a last resort and prevents relinquishment then it is in the felines best interest. According to one study there was a seventy percent increase in the cat relationship after the declaw procedure.


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