Cat declawing, or onychectomy, sparks many controversies and is often misunderstood by pet parents. The procedure is frequently discussed with a veterinarian upon the request of a frustrated cat parent tired of having their furniture scratched. But, declawing is not as innocuous as the term might imply.
Declawing is not just cutting the nails, it is the surgical cutting off of the bone that grows the nail from the first joint to the end of each toe. It’s the equivalent of cutting off the tip of a human finger at the first knuckle. “Surgical declawing is not a medically necessary procedure for the cat in most cases,” says the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Web site.
There are different techniques, such as the most common straight cutting through the joint with a sliding-blade instrument, cosmetic declawing that uses a curved blade to go in and remove the section of bone, and the recent development of laser onychectomy. The technique using the sliding-blade instrument also cuts through the cat’s pads on his or her feet, removing approximately half of the pad. Cosmetic declawing leaves the pads intact, but requires more time.
All of the procedures have the risks common to surgery and pain management is required during and after the surgery. For their own safety, cats that are declawed must be kept indoors for the rest of their lives.
Consider alternatives such as providing multiple stable scratching posts or other materials such as cardboard, lumber or logs, or carpeting affixed to a stable surface. Trimming the cat’s nails every one to two weeks is also helpful. Some cat parents have found success using feline nail caps that are glued on every four to six weeks.
Scratching is a normal and necessary behavior for cats as it provides stretching and keeps their claws sharp and healthy. Cat parents that are having difficulty with their feline’s scratching behavior should discuss behavior modification techniques with their veterinarian before considering declawing.