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Cats have a number of very powerful biological urges.
Scratching is one of them. They scratch to sharpen
their claws, and to mark their territory. It is a
powerful urge with many social implications for cats.
Cats are, shall we say, more emotionally complex than
to go to
The Indoor Cat Initiative, a website that discusses
in detail the many needs of cats.
There is some controversy both domestically and
world-wide about whether it is ethically and morally
right to declaw cats. In many European countries,
for instance, declawing is either not done or outright
illegal. In America, most (but not all)
veterinarians agree that when done properly, declawing
can be a benefit to both the cat and the people
involved. Without a doubt is is a painful
and absolutely must be done in conjunction with
excellent pain control.
Declawing involves the surgical removal of the claws,
generally all ten of the claws on the front paws.
There are several surgical techniques in use. At
Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic, we use a technique that
involves surgically amputating the claws with a
laser. The laser is widely accepted by most
veterinarians as the best way to perform this procedure.
There are practitioners out there who are able to do the
procedure well without the laser, but I personally feel
that laser declaws are dramatically less painful than
the older methods.
It is widely accepted to be a very painful procedure no
matter how it is done. That means that pain
management is vital. At Sunnyside Veterinary
Clinic, we use a multi-modal, pre-emptive pain
management system. Multi-modal means that we use
several different methods of providing pain control.
The different modes of pain control act synergistically
to provide more complete pain control than any one or
two modes could provide. Pre-emptive means the
pain medication is given before the painful stimulus.
When pain medications are given this way, the pain
response is greatly dampened. Multi-modal, pre-emptive
pain management techniques were pioneered in human
hospitals, and have been adapted for use in animals by
progressive veterinary clinics. Click
here to go to an in-depth review of pain management.
Declawing has a number of potential complications.
The first is persistent pain. Rarely, some individuals
will experience pain long after the post-op pain should
have resolved. Occasionally, the pain will persist
for life. We suspect that the cats feel phantom
pain in their amputation sites, just as some human
amputees feel phantom pain for years in limbs that are
no longer there. We routinely use a medication called
gabapentin for all our declaws, which helps reduce the
chances of this happening. The second complication
is that very rarely, some cats will not be able to stand
normally on their paws. The tendon structure never
heals normally, leading to an abnormal posture.
Finally, infection is possible, though rare, even though
the cats walk around on the surgical sites post-op.
To give you an idea of the approximate frequency of
these complications, I can tell you that I have had one
maybe two cats over the years with phantom pain, none
with posture problems, and an infection maybe every
couple of years or so.
Young kittens do the best and have the fewest
complications. Cats of up to 1 year of age
typically do quite well. Older cats are much more
likely to have complications, including excessive pain,
infection, and long-term pain. The older they are,
the more likely they are to have problems. It is
vastly different declawing a 5-year-old cat than a
6-month-old kitten. It would take some extremely
extenuating circumstances to convince me to declaw a
While I am not opposed to declawing cats, I think it is
best to try and resolve the problems non-surgically if
possible. This is true of any medical condition:
If a viable non-surgical alternative exists, it should
be tried before surgery. If the main reason you
want to declaw your cat is to protect the furniture, it
may be worthwhile to investigate some other options.
However, if you have delicate skin, diabetes, are on
blood thinners, have other bleeding issues, or
immune system, declawing may be a very good idea and you
may not want to spend a lot of time risking injury while
trying non-surgical options.
If Shredder the Cat is making your green sofa look like
the image at the right, it may be possible to find an
acceptable scratching alternative. I refer you to
a website called
The Indoor Cat Initiative for more information.
Click on the box at the upper left called "What Indoor
Cats Need" and you will find a section on scratching.
There is also product called
Soft Paws that
is an alternative to declawing cats. Click on the
link to go to their home page.
Our standard protocol goes like this:
There is no doubt that declawing is a very painful
procedure. At Sunnyside Veterinary Clinic, we feel
that it is very important to do all that we can to make
your cat's experience as pain-free as possible. We
use a balanced, multi-modal, pre-emptive pain management
protocol. Balanced means that we use low doses of
several different medications in order to
minimize side-effects and to increase efficacy, and
multi-modal means that we use several different kinds of
medications that act in different ways to attack pain
from different directions.
Step 1: The cats receive a pre-anesthetic
injection of buprenorphine, an excellent long-acting
pain drug for cats, combined with nalbuphine, a
short-acting injectable pain medication. Depending
on the cat's temperament and mood, sedatives may be added
as well to control anxiety pre-op and to provide
additional pain relief. This type of opioid
medication is mode 1, and it is given in a pre-emptive
Step 2: Anesthesia is induced with injectable IV
drugs, and then the cat is placed on inhalation
anesthetic. The injectable drugs are chosen to
take advantage of their inherent pain control
properties. This is mode 2, and it is also done
pre-emptively. The cat's blood pressure, oxygen
saturation, and expired
CO2 are monitored.
Step 3: Nerve blocks are done with local
anesthetic. This is mode 3, and it is also done
Step 4: The surgery is done with a
This instrument seals nerves and blood vessels to reduce
bleeding and pain. The incisions are closed with
tissue glue. This is mode 4.
Step 5: After recovery, buprenorphine pain
medication is given orally, and continued for the next
five or six days. To this we add gabapentin,
another pain medication that works by a different
mechanism and which is particularly effective on nerve
and phantom pain. This is mode 5.
Step 6: Some cats need more pain medication than
what is listed above. For these cats, we use fentanyl patches. These patches let fentanyl, a
powerful pain medication, be absorbed across your cat's
skin. They last for three to four days. This
is mode 6.
The cost to declaw your cat will vary with each cat,
depending on their individual needs. We will
discuss these needs during the pre-surgical exam.
In general, the least expensive way to go costs about $178 and
the most expensive (in other words, the safest, most
comfortable way) costs about $262.