Too often, people think that declawing is a simple surgery to remove a cat's nails—the equivalent of having your fingernails trimmed. This is far from the truth. Declawing is not like a manicure. It is serious surgery. The Family Pet will declaw only if there is a legitimate medical reason on the part of the owner or pet such as an immunocompromised owner.
Declawing is pretty much an American thing. It is either illegal or considered extremely inhumane and only performed under extreme circumstances in the following countries:
Your cat's claw is not a toenail. It is actually adhered to the bone. To remove the claw, the last bone of the cat's toe has to be removed.
Declawing is actually an amputation of the last joint of your cat's toe along with nerves, tendons, ligaments, and the joint capsule.. Thus declawing is not a simple, single surgery but 10 separate, painful amputations. If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. When you envision that, it becomes clear why declawing is not a humane act. It is a painful surgery, with a painful recovery period during which your cat still has to use its feet to walk, jump, and scratch in its litter box regardless of the pain it is experiencing.
This is not a surgery to be taken lightly. Amputating the important part of their anatomy that contains the claws drastically alters the conformation of their feet.
The Cat's Claws
Unlike most mammals that walk on the soles of the paws or feet, cats walk on their toes. Their back, shoulder, paw and leg joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves are naturally designed to support and distribute the cat's weight across its toes as it walks, runs and climbs. A cat's claws are used for balance, exercising, and stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders, and paws. They stretch these muscles by digging their claws into a surface and pulling back against their own clawhold - similar to isometric exercising for humans. This is the only way a cat can exercise, stretch and tone the muscles of its back and shoulders. The toes help the foot meet the ground at a precise angle to keep the leg, shoulder and back muscles and joints in proper alignment. Removal of the last digits of the toes causes the feet to meet the ground at an unnatural angle that can cause back pain similar to that in humans caused by wearing improper shoes.
The rate of complication is relatively high compared with other procedures. Complications can be excruciating pain, damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, painful regrowth of deformed claw inside the paw, and chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken. Abnormal growth of severed nerve ends can also occur, causing long-term, painful sensations in the toes. Infection will occasionally occur even when all precautions have been taken
Many cats are so shocked by declawing that their personalities change from being lively and friendly to becoming withdrawn an introverted. Many declawed cats become so traumatized that they end up spending their lives perched, out of reach of real and imaginary predators against which they no longer have any defense. Removing the claws makes a cat feel defenseless.
Declawing is considered one of the most painful, routinely-performed surgeries in all of veterinary medicine.
Declawing is so predictably painful that it is used in clinical trials by pharmaceutical companies to test new pain medications.
While the immediate post-surgical pain that the cats suffer is obviously severe, it is impossible to know how much chronic pain and suffering declawing causes. Since declawing is multiple amputations it is not unreasonable to believe that declawed cats experience phantom pain in one or more toes. Cats typically conceal pain or illness until it becomes unbearable. With chronic pain, it may be that they simply learn to live with it. It’s easy to interpret a cat curled up in a ball and sleeping as normal. In reality, lack of overt signs of pain does not mean they are pain-free.
In declawed cats, the tendons that control the toe joints retract after the surgery because they are no longer anchored to the bones, and over time these joints become essentially "frozen." The toes can no longer be extended, but remain fully contracted and become like hammer toes. Cats may continue to "scratch" after they are declawed; this is probably explained by the cat's desperate desire to stretch those stiff, contracted joints and is not evidence that the cat does not miss its claws.
Newly declawed cats shift their body weight backward onto the large central pad (the three-lobed pad on the palm) of the front feet and off the toes. This altered gait may persist over time, and can cause stress on the leg joints and spine leading to damage and arthritic changes in multiple joints.
Litter box problems
Many declawed cats stop using their litter boxes. When using a litterbox after surgery, their feet are so tender they associate their new pain with the box, resulting in a life-long aversion to using the litter box. Other declawed cats, unable to mark with their claws, mark with urine instead resulting in inappropriate elimination problems. It is not uncommon for declawed cat owners to trade scratched furniture for urine-soaked carpeting.
Some cats, deprived of their primary means of defense, become nervous, fearful, and/or aggressive, often resorting to their only remaining means of defense, their teeth.
"This vet DOES NOT declaw cats. Fantastic!!! Declawing is a cruel, painful, debilitating and inhumane practice. Get educated about this outdated practice at pawproject.org."~Stephen M.
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The Family Pet Veterinary Hospital and Affiliates are Members of:
American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners
Greater Seattle Business Association
American Mini Pig Association
Puget Sound Veterinary Medical Association
American Veterinary Medical Association
Washington State Veterinary Medical Association