Declawing :: Important Considerations
 

When considering whether or not to have your kitty declawed, please make every effort to speak to your vet about the risks, costs, and postoperative care involved. Most declawing operations are performed safely and usually there are no complications, but as with any surgery, declawing has its risks, and complications can sometimes develop. It is up to you to make informed decisions regarding this procedure and whether or not you feel it is completely necessary. There are numerous alternatives to declawing, which are discussed below, and CatHelp-Online urges you to explore those options fully before making a decision to have your kitty declawed. Your vet can answer your questions and concerns and will be happy to do so. If you choose an alternative as described below, please also inform yourself of the risks and benefits of those as well. Ideally, it would be wonderful if declawing was never necessary, but we understand that that in some cases some behaviors cannot be successfully modified, or that there are sometimes other considerations involved, so we therefore accept the reality that some cat owners will make the decision to have their pet declawed. We ask that you be fully informed about your choices, and we therefore strongly suggest that you speak to your vet in detail about all of the options available before making a final decision.

Contrary to some opinions, declawing is not likely to drastically change your kitty's behavior or personality, nor does it necessarily predispose her to future behavioral problems. However it can be a painful ordeal for your kitty and we suggest that declawing only be considered as a very last resort after being fully apprised of all of the other options available. It is up to you to incorporate behavioral training if necessary and to provide your kitty with a comfortable environment for her health and well-being. That commitment to her health, happiness, well-being, and safety should be the foundation for making these choices.

We also strongly suggest that you give full consideration to one other important factor, that being, whether or not your kitty will ever be allowed outdoors. CatHelp-Online agrees with those experts that believe that a kitty that has been declawed should always be kept indoors. Although cats are not totally defenseless without their claws, they are arguably at a disadvantage without that main form of self-defense in any situation where she must defend herself. See also, keeping your kitty Indoors Only.
 
 
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NON-SURGICAL ALTERNATIVES TO DECLAWING

SOFT PAWS

Soft Paws are plastic nail caps that are applied to your kitty's claws to prevent her from causing destruction. These nail caps are available in several sizes and colors to fit your kitty's needs. Your veterinarian or a trained and experienced groomer can safely apply these nail caps for you, or they can show you how to apply them at home. Although they can be an effective method for deterring destruction, they must be changed frequently, and your kitty's claws must be observed frequently for signs of glue residue or infection from the glue. Please ask your vet or groomer for more information on Soft Paws.

Remember, your kitty's claws continue to grow normally during the use of nail caps, so it's important that you check her claws regularly (usually, every 3 weeks) and have her nails clipped and the nail caps re-applied as necessary. Remember also that it is very important to check for excessive glue residue or buildup, which can cause nail growth problems and infection. If your kitty experiences these problems, it is best to cease the use of the nail caps in order to give her claws a chance to grow and the nail bed a chance to heal properly. When used in combination with behavioral training, Soft Paws can be a good method to deter destruction, but should not be used permanently. Please ask your vet for the proper intervals and about the care necessary for using Soft Paws and other nail caps properly.

Soft Paws

NAIL TRIMMING

Trimming your kitty's claws is not a difficult procedure, and by keeping the claws trimmed regularly they will always be dull and will therefore be much less destructive. Your vet will be happy to show you how to do this, or you can find a cat care book at your book store or library that will explain how to safely trim kitty's claws. Or follow the links below for more information. These links will take you to websites that have instructions, including pictures and diagrams, on how to properly trim your kitty's claws:

Clipping a Cat's Toenails

Train and Trim

BEHAVIORAL MODIFICATION

Most kitties can be trained to use a scratching post or other cat-only furniture. Providing your kitty with one or more scratching posts placed around her environment can deter your kitty from scratching furniture and curtains. Placing catnip on or around the posts can help in training your kitty to use her scratching posts. Keeping her occupied with interactive toys and quality playtime can also deter her from scratching your furniture. Other methods of behavior training include the use of deterrents such as water spray bottles, "scat mats", scent products applied on areas for deterrent, and one on one behavior training. When training your kitty, remember to be patient, kind, and forgiving. Please keep in mind that it is a natural tendency for kitties to desire to scratch objects, she is sharpening and exercising her claws, releasing energy, and depositing her scent. If you are having trouble with behavioral training, please seek advice from your vet or a pet behaviorist, they can offer you additional tips and possibly save your furniture AND your kitty's claws.

Please, never hit, slap, or otherwise physically reprimand your kitty for destructive behavior, this will only confuse her and possibly make her aggressive. Reward her good behaviors with love and attention and maybe one of her favorite treats, and be patient with her in the training stages. She will adapt nicely when you take a positive approach to behavior training. If considering "scat mats", please remember that these products are often not very effective, in that the slight electrical charge they produce may possibly scare your kitty unreasonably or even make her aggressive. Please read all of the manufacturer's directions before using these products. Never use furniture deterrents that are intended for canine use, the ingredients can be harmful to kitties. When you are using specific products for chewing and biting behavior, never use tobasco sauce, canine products, or other products that you unsure of whether or not they may harm her. (Imagine what these can do to YOU, would you risk these on your kitty? Please remember your kitty's mouth, gums, and tongue are extremely sensitive). For additional tips and information on available products, please seek advice from your vet.

Here are links to some very informative web sites. The primary focus of these web sites is on behavioral training. Please visit these sites - if you can apply what you learn you may very well find that declawing will be an option that won't be necessary for your kitty!

Stop Your Cat From Scratching Your Furniture Without Declawing

Scratching Furniture

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SURGICAL DECLAWING

ONYCHECTOMY

This operation is done under general anesthesia and involves the removal of the claw, along with the nail matrix and all or part of the last bone of the toe. This is commonly accomplished with a special cutting tool or a scalpal. With typical Onychectomy, pressure bandages are applied for at least 24 hours to stop bleeding; sutures or special glue may be used, but the incision sites must be monitored for signs of swelling or infection.

LASER SURGERY

Laser surgery is similar to Onychectomy but uses a laser beam to seal off sensitive nerve endings, thereby allowing for a faster recovery. Laser surgery does not require pressure bandages, but kitty must be monitored for bleeding nonetheless. Laser surgery is more expensive than a standard Onychectomy, but is fast becoming a new method of declawing because of it's safety, faster healing, and decreased postoperative discomfort. If you feel that you must opt for declawing, please ask your vet for further information, he can discuss these procedures with you so that you have a better understanding of exactly how these procedure are performed, as well as the cost and what to expect.

TENDONECTOMY

A Tendonectomy is the surgical removal of part of the the flexor tendons. The claws are left in place, but with the flexor tendon severed the kitty cannot extend the claws and so therefore cannot cause any damage by scratching. Since the claws are not removed they will continue to grow. Without being able to scratch in a normal fashion to keep the claws naturally shortened, it is VERY important that you clip your kitty's claws on a regular basis after this surgery is performed. The Tendonectomy is generally thought to be much easier and less painful to the kitty. Tendonectomy requires bandages after surgery, but healing is much faster than experienced after a typical Onychectomy (declawing).

POSTOPERATIVE CARE

Whichever surgical method you choose, remember that postoperative care is paramount to kitty's safety, recovery, and comfort. When kitty is released from the hospital, you are responsible for special care in the following two weeks or so after surgery. Keeping her activity level decreased in the first week will allow her paws to heal faster. Using newspaper in her litterbox greatly reduces the chance of infection and allows for more comfort as normal kitty litter can become trapped in her nail beds and between her toes and cause extreme pain and discomfort, and can induce serious infection. Using paper litter can greatly reduce her discomfort and this should be used for at least one week after surgery. It is not necessary to shred the paper, just folding a newspaper in half in her litterbox will be sufficient and will add to her comfort and safety. Most veterinarians also carry processed newspaper litter, such as "Yesterday's News" that is inexpensive and convenient to use. Examine her paws and nail beds daily for bleeding, oozing of pus, or swelling and notify your vet immediately if you notice any of these signs. If kitty develops infection, it will be necessary to have your vet re-evaluate her and to possibly require daily soaks, antibiotics, or other methods of care. Never overlook the possibility of serious infection, your kitty could lose her paw or limb if an infection is overlooked and not properly treated. If your vet used sutures, you are responsible for monitoring her paws and making sure she does not lick or chew at the sutures, which can cause bleeding, swelling, and infection. Elizabethan collars are available to deter her from chewing at her sutures and should be applied when necessary. Follow up with your vet and make sure you know when the sutures need to be removed. If your vet used surgical glue instead of sutures, make sure that kitty does not chew at or pull at the glue or the tufts of fur between her toes. Use an E-collar if necessary. Again, should you notice any signs of bleeding or infection, contact your vet immediately.

FIRST AID TIPS

If your kitty develops any signs of extreme discomfort or infection, please contact your vet immediately. The following is advised only in instances when you cannot contact your vet and should not be applied for long term use without the advice of a veterinarian.

  • Betadine (available at your local pharmacy) can be used as an antiseptic soak to help cleanse and soothe swollen paw pads. Dilute the Betadine with luke warm water to make a weak tea-colored solution and use a large plastic or Rubbermaid dishpan to to soak your kitty's pads. Soak her pads for 10-15 minutes up to three times daily. Pat her paws dry, never rub them.

  • In case of bleeding, pressure bandages can be applied, but on a temporary basis only. Gently wrap the paw pads using a first aid telfa or gauze pad, apply a gauze wrap, and then secure with first aid tape. Apply gentle pressure with the wrap, making sure that it is not too tight, as edema can set in and cause serious discomfort.

  • In the case of serious infection or bleeding, do not use Neosporin or Polysporin or other topical applications without the specific advice of your vet and never use human topical applications. Your vet can prescribe for you an antibacterial or an antibiotic ointment if he deems it necessary. It is best to use Betadine to cleanse only, and nothing further unless your vet has directed you to do otherwise.

  • In the case of serious infection or bleeding, restrict your kitty's activity until you can have her examined by your vet. Excessive running, jumping, etc. can further complicate the problem and cause extreme pain and discomfort.

  • Use an E-collar when necessary to prevent your kitty from chewing or licking at her paws. Your vet's office can supply you with this item, and some vets will refund the price when you return it in good condition.

  • Do not allow your kitty outdoors at any time during postoperative care or in the case of an infection. Make sure her environment is kept clean and sanitary and make sure that her paw pads are kept as clean and free of dirt and debris as possible.

  • If you cannot adequately determine the extent of infection or bleeding, call your vet immediately. Never let bleeding or infection go untreated, no matter how minimal it may seem to you. Kitty is depending on you to monitor her on a daily basis. If any problems do develop, she will heal much faster and will be subject to less discomfort if you observe any complications promptly and follow up with your vet immediately.


 
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