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What should you consider before having your cat declawed?

Why do owners have their cats declawed? It is normal for a cat to scratch, but owners may object if their pet is persistent in damaging furniture, or damages their owner’s skin during vigorous play. Humans that have weakened immune systems, such the very old, the very young, those who have cancer, HIV, have had their spleen removed, or have immune-mediated conditions are at increased risk for illness caused by organisms that can be transmitted by a cat scratch.

Are there alternatives? There are several alternatives including: trimming your cats nails, applying temporary nail caps to dull the nails, providing appropriate areas for your cat to scratch along with positive reinforcement, making preferred surfaces less attractive (ex. double sided sticky tape on the edges of your sofa), and using toys instead of your hands to play with your cat.

What does the procedure involve? It is a major surgery where the last digit of each of your cats toes is surgically removed at the joint. Pain medication and antibiotics are administered during the surgery. The skin edges are usually glued together, and support bandages are applied. The bandages are left on overnight, then removed the following morning. The patient is sent home with antibiotics for one week, pain medications for at least three days, as well as a special pelleted cat litter for one or more weeks use.

Are there complications? Although the majority of cats do well after surgery, there are a number of complications that can occur. Most problems are related to the cat being too active postoperatively, grooming excessively, not using the prescribed litter, or being large in size. Some cats may have bleeding from their toes after their bandage removal or once they have returned home. If that happens, the paws are rebandaged, and we may decide to keep our patient confined in the hospital for another day. Another possibility is that the cat may groom the surgical glue from its incisions. In that case, the paws are cleansed and glue is usually reapplied, and your pet will have to wear a plastic collar to keep it from reaching its toes until they are healed in 7 to 10 days. Some cats develop infection in an incision postoperatively. This happens more in cases where small grains of cat litter or soil have entered into a surgical site. In this case, the incision is cleansed, and additional antibiotics may be prescribed. Finally, some degree of postoperative discomfort is experienced by many cats in the first few days after surgery, which is why we send pain medication home. Most cats seem back to themselves within a week or two. However, the occasional cat may take as long as a month or two to appear pain-free. We have several types of pain medication available to provide relief for these pets while they take their time to heal. We may also x-ray their paws to look for any bony complications to the surgical procedure.

Thank you for taking the time to read this material, and please feel free to ask your veterinarian any additional questions you might have regarding this surgical procedure.

By: Michelle Ferrera, DVM