Information about declawing your cat

At the New England Animal Medical Center (NEAMC) we believe that clients should be well informed about the risks involved with any medical or surgical procedure. If you are considering declawing your cat please read this information before making your decision. You should also know that declawing is a controversial procedure. There are some veterinarians who feel strongly that no cat should be declawed, and there are others who feel that it is a safe and effective procedure. Ultimately, the decision as a cat owner is up to you. As with any surgical procedure one should always consider the risks involved, the expected benefits, and alternative methods if any are available.

Most cat owners want their cat declawed because their cat is using its claws inappropriately such as ruining furniture or wallpaper. We suggest that behavior modification at an early age (scratching posts and nail trims for example) will usually eliminate the need for a surgery. Please ask your NEAMC veterinarian about how to avoid declawing your cat.

What about the cat that insists on destroying the new sofa in spite of attempts to modify the scratching behavior? Some cat owners are faced with the decision to either euthanize their cat or have the cat declawed. At this hospital we perform the surgery using a CO2 laser instead of a scalpel. Pre-operative pain medications are given prior to the induction of general anesthesia. In addition a “ring block” of local anesthesia is administered which blocks pain during surgery. Pain medications are also administered following the surgery.

The actual surgery involves amputation of the small bone at the end of the toe and the nail itself. Only the front feet are declawed and the nail will never grow back. Because the laser cauterizes small blood vessels there is usually very little bleeding therefore no bandages are necessary. The small incision is sutured with a material that will dissolve in 2-3 weeks. Most cats are able to walk soon after surgery. Cats are usually discharged the day after surgery.

Possible complications

  1. Pain. As with any surgery, there will be some post-operative discomfort. In the majority of cats the post-operative pain medications utilized minimize any discomfort. A few cats may show signs of discomfort that can last as long as 2-3 weeks. This is particularly true of cats who are older, overweight, or who jump down from furniture onto a hard surface and land on their front paws.
  2. Bleeding. Since the introduction of laser surgery to declaw cats it is unusual to have a cat bleed after discharge from the hospital. If bleeding does occur it is usually related to jumping down onto a hard surface.
  3. Behavior changes. There are reports in the literature of cats having personality changes after being declawed. This has not been our experience with laser declaw surgery.
  4. Infection. As with any surgery there is always the chance of a post-operative infection, however, we have not found this to be a common complication.
  5. Anesthetic complications. Any time a general anesthetic is utilized there is always a chance of an adverse effect including unexplained death. We suggest pre-operative blood testing to discover hidden problems such as liver or kidney disease. While blood tests may not reveal every hidden defect they do provide a good screening. We always closely monitor all surgical patients with state of the art equipment to maintain as high a level of safety as possible. Although we have not experienced an anesthetic death during the declaw procedure, that is not a guarantee that it could not happen. We usually remind clients that they are at much greater risk of danger driving home than their cat will experience under anesthesia!

Please call us at (508)584-1600 to answer any of your questions and to schedule an appointment.