The subject of declawing is a very heated one. Regardless of the personal
opinion or beliefs of advocates on both sides, the basic, technical knowledge of what is done anatomically
during the procedure does not change, and it is best to preface any information on the subject with an
explanation of what is done during an onychectomy or declawing surgery.
Onychectomy, or declawing, is a surgical procedure that requires general anesthetic. It is performed one of
three ways, with cutters, with scalpel, or with laser. The method is up to you and your Veterinarian. Declaws
range in price from $100-$450 dollars depending on method. Onychectomy, by clinical definition, involves either
the partial or total amputation of the terminal bone. An understanding of feline anatomy is necessary here; the
cats claw is not like the human finger nail. The last bone of the cats toe is called the distal phalanx. The
claw rises from the unguicular crest and unguicular process of the distal phalanx. The cells that cause the
regrowth of the claw, the germinal cells, are found in the dorsal aspect of the unguicular crest and so this
whole area must be removed or the claw will re-grow and abscess. The only way to prevent this is the full
removal of the entire distal phalanx at the joint. In simpler terms, to prevent later complications, the entire
last joint of the toe is removed. A graphic comparison is to hold up your hands and look at your fingers.
Imagine the last joint of your finger, the part your nail is attached to, being cut off. Declawing consists of
amputating, not just the claws, but the whole distal phalanx, including bones, ligaments and tendons. It is not
a simple surgery, but ten distinct amputations. Remember, while recovering from this amputation the cat must
still walk on their feet in order to get around.
It is worth noting that most countries in Europe actively discourage declawing and some even outright outlaw
the procedure as it is considered inhumane and unnecessary mutilation. Removing the claws alters the
conformation of the feet and can cause joint pain and muscle weakness. Cats are digitigrade, meaning they walk
on their toes. The altered gait caused by the lack of the first part of their toe can affect all the joints of
the leg. Many people will say that their cat still imitates the scratching behaviors. It is important to
understand that one of the things scratching does is stretches the muscles. Declawing causes the tendons in the
toes to contract and prevents the muscles from being stretched out again.
Declawing also removes your cats primary means of defense. It should never be done to cats that go outdoors.
Even if your cat is an indoor cat, owners should bear in mind that accidents happen and a cat that gets
outdoors and has no defense will not live long.
Protecting Your Furniture
There are three main reasons that cats will scratch: marking their territory, exercise,
and just plain pleasure. A cat will always make the effort to scratch, so it is important that
responsible pet owners take the time and make the effort to train their cat on what and where it is
appropriate to scratch. There are six simple alternatives to declawing that pet owners should give a
solid effort to trying before resorting to an irreversible and damaging procedure such as declawing or
giving up their animal.
The first is to provide the cat with multiple scratching posts and encourage the cat to use them. The primary
reason cats scratch is to mark their territory, so having a scratching post in a family area and one near their
bed are two great ideas. Make the scratching post appealing by rubbing catnip on it, setting food near it and
give your pet treats when they use it.
If you are in the market for new furniture, consider getting fabrics that are closely knit. Cats find this
difficult to pierce with their claws and scratching your sofa becomes more trouble than the scratching post.
When they try to scratch your furniture, employ strategy three. Shout, "NO!" and squirt the cat with a water
bottle or squirt gun. This should send them darting away. Then call them to the scratching post, praise them
when they come and give them a treat when they use it. This is training, you will need to do it faithfully over
and over until your cat learns.
While you are training your cat to use the scratching post, cover the corners, tops and sides... Whatever your
cat's favorite scratching area is, with a combination of aluminum foil, double sided tape, loosely knit fabric
like burlap, or blown up balloons. All of these will discourage your cat from scratching when you aren't
And lastly, to prevent your cat from scratching people, never play with your hands and arms. If your cat
scratches you, shout OUCH!, and leave the room. There is no worse punishment for a cat than being ignored.
You should also be sure to regularly trim your cats nails. And if your cat continues to scratch, consider
investing in acrylic nail caps. Most veterinarian offices will sell these and apply them for you.
Making the Decision
If all else fails and you are torn between declawing your cat or giving them up, the
lesser of two evils is always declawing. But it is not a decision that should be made lightly and without
putting full effort into diversionary tactics.
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