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Declawing cats far worse than a manicure

Published: 
Saturday, September 27, 2014

In the last article we discovered the reasons why cats scratch furniture and other items in our homes. Briefly, these include: scratching is a natural instinct that helps keep the cat healthy through stretching and exercise, it sharpens and maintains their claws, it is an important form of communication with other cats, and it is enjoyable. It was stressed that “declawing your cat for this behaviour is a cruel mutilation,” so in this article we will explain this statement. Many cat owners are incorrectly advised by veterinarians, cat breeders, neighbours, friends, the pet shop workers, the Internet, that the only way to stop a cat from shredding your favourite couch is to remove the claws. 

They fail to mention that declawing is illegal and considered extremely inhumane in many countries including Australia, Brazil, Israel, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Declawing is not a simple surgery that removes a cat’s nails. Removing a cat’s claws would be comparable to removing your own fingernails, along with the bones to which they are attached. Declawing, or onchyectomy, is the amputation of the last digital bone, including the nail bed and claw, on each front toe. The cat’s claw is not a nail as is a human fingernail, it is part of the last bone (distal phalanx) in the cat’s toe and this region must be removed completely, or regrowth of a vestigial claw and abscess-formation result. If the surgery is performed correctly and the entire nail bed is removed, the claw cannot regrow. 

To remove the claw: the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. Thus declawing is not a simple single surgery but ten separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe. The standard method of declawing is amputating with a scalpel or guillotine clipper. The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue, and the feet are bandaged. Another method is laser surgery, in which a small, intense beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporising it. A third procedure is the tendonectomy, in which the tendon that controls the claw in each toe is severed so the cat cannot control or extend the claws. This procedure is associated with a high incidence of abnormally thick claw growth causing the cat's claws to snag on surfaces and to grow into its paw pads. Because of complications, a cat who has been given a tendonectomy may require declawing later.

Medical complications to declawing include excruciating pain in the paw; bone chips or spurs that prevent healing; painful re-growth of deformed claw inside of the paw if not properly removed; infection; tissue necrosis (tissue death); nerve damage; chronic back and joint pain; and lameness as these muscles weaken. Removing claws also changes the way a cat's foot meets the ground and can cause long-term pain similar to wearing an uncomfortable pair of shoes. Behavioural complications include personality changes and breakdown in litter-training. Cats that are traumatised by declawing may become withdrawn and introverted. Others become nervous, fearful and/or aggressive because they no longer have their claws which are the primary means of defense. The constant state of stress can lead to other disorders including suppression of the immune system, cystitis and irritable bowel syndrome. 

In many cases, when declawed cats use the litter-box after surgery, their feet are so tender and the litter irritating that they associate the pain with the box resulting in an aversion to using the litter-box. Declawed cats that can no longer mark with their claws may choose to mark with urine instead, resulting in inappropriate elimination problems. A variety of humane methods exist to manage the problem of destructive scratching and these should be employed instead of maiming and mutilating your cat. Declawing and tendonectomies should be reserved only for those rare cases in which a cat has a medical problem that would warrant such surgery, such as the need to remove cancerous nail bed tumours.

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