DECLAW (ONYCHECTOMY)

The procedure for declawing a cat is called onychectomy and is an amputation of the last phalange of each digit on the paws. Surgical declawing of cats is not considered to be a medically necessary procedure and should only be selected after other attempts have been made to stop destructive behaviors or if the health of the owners is a concern.

 

Why do cats scratch things?

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats that serves as a means for them to mark their territory. There are pheromones (chemicals that relay messages for other cats) produced near the footpads that are left on structures that cats scratch. Pheromones do not have a smell but serve as a marker that other cats can detect. In addition, scratching allows for healthy claw maintenance. The cat’s claws grow in different layers and will shed a “husk” every few weeks. Scratching allows for routine husk removal.

 

What can I do to train my cat to scratch appropriately?

Cats can be trained to scratch appropriate items just as dogs are trained to be housebroken. Make sure to provide your cat with a suitable scratching item such as scratching posts, cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric remnants fixed to a stationary object. Cats can have preferences for what they like to scratch. Some cats prefer vertical surfaces while others prefer horizontal surfaces. In addition, some cats may like to scratch carpet while others prefer leather, rope, cloth, cardboard, or wood. If your cat is scratching an inappropriate object in your home, try to replicate the surface and material when selecting a scratching post or other appropriate scratching surface. You should make sure that the scratching surface is firmly anchored and long or tall enough to allow full stretching for your cat. Be sure to positively reinforce your cat’s use of appropriate scratching implements. The earlier you start to train your cat to scratch appropriately, the easier it will be.

 

What if my cat has already learned inappropriate scratching behavior?

Attempt to remove the enjoyment of scratching inappropriate surfaces. For example, you can temporarily place clear plastic tape or aluminum foil over couches, chairs, or other surfaces to deter scratching. Temporarily remove drapes, blankets, or rugs while training your cat to scratch appropriately. Be sure to select a scratching item that best replicates what your cat is scratching inappropriately. Place it in a room or location where your cat enjoys spending time or is already scratching inappropriately. You can rub catnip or use catnip sprays on the item you want your cat to scratch to attract them. Reward your cat after scratching with treats or praise.

 

Is there any other care my cat’s claws need?

Your cat’s nails should be trimmed every 2-3 weeks. This can be done at home with fingernail clippers or by your veterinarian. It is easiest to start trimming your cat’s nails when they are young so that they can become accustomed to it. If your cat is older, start with trimming the nails on one paw, or even one nail per day. Be sure to reward your cat after trimming the nails to positively reinforce good behavior. Routine trimming of the nails will limit destructive behavior while training your cat to scratch appropriately.

 

What does declawing a cat entail?

The surgery for declawing a cat involves the amputation of the last phalange of the toe on each paw to be declawed. This is similar to the last knuckle, which contains the fingernail, on a person. Any cat that is declawed should be a strictly indoor only cat. In almost all situations, it is recommended that only the front paws be declawed, and only after other attempts have been made to train your cat to scratch appropriately. Typically, cats do not scratch furniture and other household items with the back paws. Leaving the back paws clawed allows your cat a way to protect itself if they were to get outside on accident. We recommend performing a declaw before one year of age. Older cats are more likely to develop complications after the surgery.

 

Is the laser surgery machine recommended for a declaw?

Yes, we strongly recommend the use of the laser surgery for any declaw. The laser cauterizes blood vessels and nerves instantly, resulting in less swelling, bleeding, and pain associated with the surgery. Cats that are declawed with the laser are much less likely to suffer negative side effects of the declaw surgery, such as postoperative bleeding, infection, and tenderness or chronic pain of the feet.

 

What should I expect on the day of my cat’s surgery?

On the day of surgery, we ask that you bring your cat to the clinic between 8-8:30AM. We do allow check-in the night before surgery if this is more feasible for your schedule. Please let us know at the time you schedule your cat’s surgery if you would like to drop your cat off the night before. Your cat should be fasted for at least 8 hours and no water after midnight the night before surgery. You should bring any medications that your cat is taking so that the medications can be continued while at the clinic. If your cat is on a prescription diet, please bring enough food for two meals. When you bring your cat for surgery, the office staff or a technician will have you sign an admissions form and provide a contact phone number for the day. It is very important that you be accessible via this phone number in case the veterinarian needs to contact you in regards to your cat.

Your cat will have a quick exam to check their vital signs when they arrive for surgery. Surgeries are typically performed in the late morning and early afternoon. Each cat has a customized anesthetic protocol designed for their specific breed and health condition. After your cat’s surgery is complete, a veterinarian or technician will call to let you know how the surgery went. All cats undergoing a declaw are hospitalized overnight after the surgery so that they can be monitored for postoperative bleeding or other complications following surgery.

 

How is my cat monitored during surgery?

The heart rate, respiratory rate, and SpO2 (or blood oxygenation level) is monitored during surgery. In addition, a veterinary technician and veterinarian are present at all times while your cat is anesthetized.

 

Is my cat given pain medication?

Yes, your cat will receive an injection of pain medication during their declaw surgery which will last for 24 hours. In addition, a local anesthetic is used to block the nerve sensation to the paws being declawed. This block lasts about 4-6 hours after the surgery. Your cat will also be sent home with an oral pain medication for you to give for several days after the surgery.

 

What special care does my cat need after surgery?

After your cat is declawed, you should monitor the paws for any swelling, discharge, or discoloration. You should keep your cat confined in a room or area where they cannot jump or climb on objects. Your cat will assume its claws are present and may injure itself attempting to jump or climb. In addition, the pressure on the paws from jumping or climbing can open the incisions and lead to bleeding.  If you notice any abnormal changes to the paws, please contact our clinic right away.

 

You should make sure that your cat does not lick at their paws for 7 days. If your cat does lick at their paws, please contact the clinic so that we can supply you with an e-collar to prevent licking. If we notice that your cat is licking at their paws while they are hospitalized, we may send home an e-collar. E-collars should be left on at all times.

 

Your cat will need to have special litter for 7 days following the surgery. You can use shredded paper or you can purchase Yesterday’s News from the store. Do not use sand or a clumping litter because the small particles are abrasive to the paws and can open the declaw incisions. This may lead to infection and bleeding.

 

What complications can occur after a declaw?

 

There are always risks associated with a surgery. We attempt to minimize these risks by using appropriate anesthetic protocols, monitoring during surgery, administering pain medications, and providing appropriate antibiotics postoperatively. There is risk for bleeding and infection following a declaw surgery especially if your cat is allowed to climb or jump. Postoperative pain in the declawed feet can occur especially if a laser is not used for the surgery. Postoperative pain can lead to litter box aversion and house-soiling, decreased appetite, irritability, and hiding. If you notice any of these signs in your cat after a declaw surgery, please contact us for follow-up.

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