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The pet information channelThe Truth About DeclawingThe pet information channel

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There seems to be an alarming trend to have cats declawed...whether it's due to personal convenience, apartment house rules and regulations, or simple lack of knowledge on the part of responsible pet owners.

There are many fine vets out there that actively discourage declawing, but there are also many who perform this surgery on a regular basis while never completely informing the pet owner what this really entails nor explaining the possible dangers of the procedure. If people were more informed, perhaps this trend would reverse itself.

Declawing a cat is a major surgical procedure, performed under general anesthesia. It is actually amputation of the last joint on each toe, not a simple removal of the claw itself as many are led to believe. The following article explains the procedure of declawing.

Cats walk on their toes, unlike most mammals who walk on the soles of their feet. Their musculature, joints, tendons and ligaments are all designed to distribute their body weight to their toes.

The claw is not a nail like human fingernails or toenails. It is actually a part of the last bone in a cat's toe. If you were to "declaw" a human in the same way a cat is declawed, you would be amputating all 10 fingers at the last joint!

I found this description of the surgery in a veterinary textbook: "The claw is extended by pushing up under the footpad or by grasping it with Allis tissue forceps. A scalpel blade is used to sharply dissect between the second and third phalanx over the top of the ungual crest . The distal interphalangeal joint is disarticulated (disjointed), and the deep digital flexor tendon is incised (severed). The digital footpad is not incised." This clinical explanation sounds horrific, doesn't it?

There is a real possibility of complications after any major surgery, and declawing is no exception. There is the possibility of hemorrhage, infection, extreme pain, bone chips, possible regrowth of deformed claw, back, muscle and joint problems, damage to nerves, abscess and possible lameness. If the claw does regrow, it is often deformed and yet another surgery must be performed to correct this problem.

In addition to the possible physical complications, often there are behavioral problems following this surgery. The cat can become withdrawn, distant, fearful and/or aggressive, and often start biting, as this is the only means of defense left to them. Occasionally the cat will stop using the litterbox, because immediately after surgery it was painful to scratch in the litter box, and now they associate that pain with the litter box. Because of the amount of stress the animal experiences after this procedure, they may become more prone to other diseases, as stress tends to compromise the immune system.

The animal is in extreme pain following the surgery, and rarely do veterinarians offer any sort of pain medication for the cat.

There are alternatives to having your cat declawed...such as claw covers, scratching posts, regular trimming of the claws and behavior modification.

Many countries have banned declawing as an abusive practice which causes unnecessary pain and trauma to the animal. A veterinary textbook by Turner and Bateson on the biology of cat behavior concludes a short section on scratching behavior with the following statement: "The operative removal of the claws, as is sometimes practiced to protect furniture and curtains, is an act of abuse and should be forbidden by law in all, not just a few countries."

Unfortunately, declawing is not banned in the United States at this time. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says it is their policy to "recommend considering such surgery only if concerted behavior modification efforts have failed and euthanasia is pending."

Declawing a cat is an abusive practice. Being informed of a procedure and possible complications should be the goal of every responsible pet owner.

Cait Isaacs


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