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If your cat is endowed with razor-sharp claws or the animal usually engages in compulsive scratching, you may have considered declawing him at some point. After all, declawing is a benign procedure that feels a lot like trimming your own nails, right? Wrong.
Contrary to popular perception, declawing a cat (medically known as onychectomy) is a painful process that should be considered as the very last resort. The procedure is a far cry from the human version of nail trimming as it involves removing the entire bones at the tip of your kitty’s toes.
Whether you’ve considered declawing your cat at some point or are simply wondering what the procedure entails, this article is for you. Read on as we uncover everything there is to know about feline onychectomy.
How Does Onychectomy Work?
Onychectomy entails the surgical removal of an animal’s claws. The procedure typically involves amputating part or the whole end bones, also known as the distal phalanges, of the animal’s toes.
There’s no standard procedure for onychectomy. Therefore, those who practice cat declawing do not consider fundamental aspects like the animal’s age, personality, or surgical techniques & tools to use. Besides, there are no standard guidelines on the administration of analgesics before and after treatments or the recommended follow-up care.
However, three surgical methods are typically used. They include scalpel blades, laser, and guillotine trimmers. Each technique usually culminates in closing the wound using stitches or surgical glue, before bandaging the feet. Note that none of these methods have proven effective at addressing the numerous complications associated with onychectomy in cats.
Why Would You Consider Declawing Your Cat?
The most common reason pet parents declaw their cats is to prevent unwanted scratching.
A cat’s claws can be quite sharp and a subtle scratch might cause serious damage to your otherwise fragile furniture and upholstery. It’s worse if the claws are directed at your tender skin.
People living with bleeding conditions or autoimmune disorders tend to be especially concerned about getting scratched. A tiny bruise on the skin can easily escalate into a severe medical problem. For such individuals, the options are usually limited to giving their cats up for adoption or subjecting the animals to onychectomy.
There’s also a category of pet parents who believe declawing their cats reduces aggression. The logic is that such felines can engage in conflicts with their furry housemates or neighbors without inflicting severe injuries.
What Are The Drawbacks To Declawing A Cat?
1. A Cat’s Claws Are His Primary Arsenal
Cats use their claws both for offense and defense. Therefore, onychectomy makes your feline housemate more susceptible to attack by other dominant pets around.
Cats also use their claws to capture prey and handle objects like food and toys. So, declawing makes the animal somewhat physically handicapped.
2. Cats Have a Natural Need for Scratching
Humans can live their entire lifetime with trimmed nails. However, we cannot say the same about our feline friends.
Scratching comes naturally to cats and your adorable kitty isn’t intentionally trying to harm you or destroy your precious furniture. Instead, he’s more likely trying to remove dead husks from his claws, stretch his muscles, relieve stress, or mark his territory.
3. The Fears of Getting Scratched Are Usually Unrealistic
We’ve already pointed out scratching as the primary reason pet parents consider declawing their cats. But as it turns out, the fears of getting scratched by your own cat are usually unfounded.
Most adult cats are intelligent enough to understand the implications of scratching their owners. The only exceptions are if the animal is understimulated or suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Besides, there’s a lot more to fear from your feline housemate than his claws. These include cat bites, parasites, and litter.
4. Declawing Might Increase the Risks of Biting
It’s intuitive to imagine that declawing a cat makes the animal less aggressive. But the reality might be a lot different.
Since declawing deprives a cat of one of his most reliable arsenal, the procedure consequently makes him more likely to bite. Remember that a cat’s bite is far more harmful than a scratch.
5. There Are Medical Complications to Beware Of
Feline onychectomy can feel excruciatingly painful. That’s especially if it doesn’t involve the administration of anesthetics before and after the procedure.
Onychectomy might also open your cat up for infections. Numerous studies have linked the procedure to chronic inflammatory conditions, including cancers. And since the skin at the end of the distal phalanges remains exposed after declawing, the procedure increases susceptibility to tissue necrosis.
There are also risks of excessive bleeding from onychectomy. Overbleeding is more common where the procedure is undertaken at home.
Last but not least, there have been reports of physical disability resulting from feline onychectomy.
6. There May Be Legal Implications
Declawing is illegal in many countries as it’s considered an act of animal cruelty. So, onychectomy may amount to an infringement of the law depending on your jurisdiction.
Even if your local laws are silent on declawing, the practice may still be deemed unethical by the animal groups your vet is affiliated with. For instance, the Humane Society of the United States discourages onychectomy except for medical reasons, such as the extraction of malignant tumors around the nail bed.
Alternatives to Declawing a Cat
Before you consider subjecting your cat to the horror of onychectomy, it would help to exhaust available options.
Fortunately, there are numerous interventions you can explore to address the problem of excessive scratching. These techniques are broadly classified into surgical and non-surgical.
• Offering stable scratching boards and posts to satisfy your cat’s natural need for scratching
• Providing adequate stimulation through regular exercise and interactive toys to prevent scratching induced by stress and boredom
• Trimming your cat’s nails to minimize damage
• Attaching deterrents like sticky tapes to commonly scratched surfaces
• Applying vinyl nail caps to a cat’s claws, which require periodic replacement
If none of the above interventions work despite your best efforts, then that’s your cue to whisk your cat to the nearest veterinary clinic. A raft of diagnostic procedures will uncover any underlying mental or psychological disorders causing excessive scratching, after which the vet will administer the right medication.
The most common surgical alternative to onychectomy is known as tendonectomy.
Tendonectomy basically entails making deep cuttings to the digital flexor of each claw, with effect that the cat loses control over his distal phalanges. Since the cat has no control over his distal phalanges, the animal cannot expose his claws to scratch.
However, it’s worth noting that tendonectomy isn’t a one-off procedure. Cats that undergo this treatment will still require frequent nail clippings to prevent their claws from growing into their paw pads. And although less painful than onychectomy, tendonectomy doesn’t present any significant differences in postoperative bleeding, infection, and disability.
Can Training Work?
It sure can. Just like potty-training a cat, it’s also possible to treat or redirect excessive scratching through training.
Note that most cats begin scratching when they’re eight weeks old. Therefore, early training is paramount.
The best time to start training a cat is as soon as the animal is weaned. That’s about four weeks for most breeds.
One way to achieve optimal benefits is to apply positive reinforcement. This technique involves rewarding a cat when he doesn’t scratch instead of reprimanding him if he does.
What If You Must Declaw?
As painful as feline onychectomy may be, certain factors could make this procedure the only effective remedy. For instance, a cat that engages in compulsive scratching despite medical treatments and behavioral training may eventually need to be declawed.
However, note that the decision to declaw isn’t up to you to make but your veterinarian officer. The actual process of declawing a cat must also be left to professional vets.
Remember that cats who have been declawed are highly vulnerable and defenseless. Such felines should remain indoors and only venture out of the house under their owner’s supervision.
A cat’s claws are the feline version of human cuticles. That fact alone makes declawing a terrible idea. Besides, there are several alternative strategies to feline onychectomy that you can explore before subjecting your adorable furball to this often-painful and risky procedure.
But if you must declaw your cat for one reason or another, be sure to engage the services of a licensed veterinarian. Never attempt to declaw a cat yourself as the procedure can be potentially dangerous for you and your feline friend.