Cat Declawing

Choosing to have your cat declawed can be a difficult decision for owners to make. To help alleviate your concerns, the Interstate Animal Clinic has organized this information explaining the benefits, risks, and the actual surgical procedure. We understand that you are placing the safety and health of your pet in our hands. We accept this responsibility and want to provide the best care available for your pet.

Owners choose to declaw their cats for many reasons. Claw sharpening is normal behavior in cats, impossible to eliminate entirely and difficult to even successfully redirect to “permitted” objects. A cat’s potential for furniture destruction is high. Additionally, cats are playful, especially when young and their play often involve claws. Children in the family tend to be the ones most often pounced upon. They are also the age group that tends to be most often infected with cat scratch fever, a relatively rare, but painful disease. While declawing your cat does not completely eliminate the risk of the disease, it does help decrease the chance of its occurrence. Owners with fragile skin, such as senior citizens, or those with medical conditions that cause wounds to become more readily infected or to heal slowly – diabetes or immune system suppression are examples – should strongly consider having household cats declawed. For these owners, a four paw declaw may be best.

Other factors to consider when making the declaw decision include your ability to make a commitment to keeping this cat indoors for the rest of its life. Your cat will be very handicapped in his ability to fight or climb a tree to avoid a fight. He will be essentially defenseless outdoors and should not be allowed outside.

Additionally, you should consider other animals in your household. Cats use their claws in establishing their place in the social hierarchy of your home. If you have other cats in the home that still have their claws, this should be taken into consideration.

A declaw or onychectomy is the surgical removal of the 3rd phalanx of all of the digits. To help reduce post operative pain and complications, we only do the procedure using CO2 laser – the latest in cutting edge technology. It is performed usually only on their front paws. When your pet is checked into the clinic for surgery, the doctor first does a complete exam. The pet is then given a “pre-med” injection of sedatives and other medication to help relieve fear and stress, make recovery smoother, and reduce pain after the procedure. After the sedative has taken effect, the pet is placed under complete anesthesia using injectable drugs. One or both front legs may have hair clipped off to make IV injections or catheter placement less traumatic. A tube is placed in the airway to protect it and to administer gas anesthesia, exactly as is done in a human hospital. Monitoring devises are set up as well as thermal support equipment. Your pet is monitored during the procedure using an esophageal thermometer and ECG unit, a blood pressure monitor, a respiratory alarm, and a pulse oximeter and capnograph that measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood. The paws are sterilely prepped, and then the entire 3rd phalanx, including the nail and nail bed is surgically removed on all front digits. The incisions are closed, and your pet’s feet bandaged. Pain medications are administered. You will be called once your pet is in recovery and is awake enough to have his/her endotracheal tube removed. Your pet will recover in an ICU unit and be monitored closely.

We do require that all cats undergoing a declaw procedure spend the night at our clinic. This allows us to keep the pet’s feet bandaged overnight, to minimize any activity, and to monitor the pet for any post-operative bleeding. You will be able to pick up your pet the day after surgery, any time between noon and closing.

Although declaw surgeries are considered routine, any surgery and anesthetic episode has risk involved. At the Interstate Animal Clinic, we use the latest in drug protocols and anesthesia monitoring to minimize the risks. Additionally, we always use CO2 laser for declaw surgeries to minimize post operative pain. Risks associated with a declaw include:

  1. Anesthesia complications – Although most pets undergoing declaw surgery are relatively young, we still recommend pre-anesthetic blood work to identify any underlying medical condition that would increase the risk of anesthesia and surgery. We also recommend an IV catheter and fluids to provide us access to the bloodstream and maintain blood pressure should a problem occur.
  2. Infection – Any time a surgical incision is made on the body, there is a risk of infection. We only perform this surgery using strict sterile technique to reduce this risk. Antibiotics are sent home if needed at the discretion of the veterinarian.
  3. Bleeding –Bleeding can occur during and after the procedure for a number of reasons. We recommend, as part of the pre-anesthetic blood work, a test to help assess clotting ability. We monitor the pet closely during and immediately post-surgery for any bleeding. We apply tourniquets during surgery to minimize bleeding intra-operatively. We are now able to offer laser surgery. This option greatly decreases the amount of bleeding and pain post-operatively. We also apply pressure bandages post-operatively to minimize bleeding.
  4. Nerve dysfunction – This is very rare complication that can occur when tourniquets are applied to the limbs to minimize bleeding. The risk of this problem is eliminated by laser surgery. Very small kittens are at higher risk for this problem.

A successful surgery, with no complications, requires the cooperation of both the veterinary staff and the owner. The Interstate Animal Clinic strives to provide the best care available before, during, and after surgery for your pet. We need your help to provide this level of care. Instructions for your pet will include:

  1. Do not feed your cat after 9:00 pm the night before surgery. He/She can continue to have water throughout the night.
  2. Have your cat at our office no later than 8:30 am the morning of surgery. We do our surgeries early to allow us to monitor their recovery all day.
  3. Thoroughly consider these options –IV catheter, pre-anesthetic blood work, laser surgery, and fluids.
  4. Keep your cat warm and dry after surgery.
  5. Do not allow your cat to run, jump, or otherwise put stress on the incisions. He/She may need to be crated or confined to prevent this. Caution should be exercised for 1 week after surgery.
  6. Cats must not use regular litter for 1 week. You may use shredded newspaper, a commercial product of pelleted newspaper (Yesterday’s News), or dried peas in place of litter for 1 week. This is essential to minimize risk of infection.

The doctors and staff of the Interstate Animal Clinic have organized this letter to help answer any questions you may have concerning your pet’s surgery. However, if you have other questions, please call us. We have also included a handout on optional services provided by our hospital during surgery to maximize the care we provide. You will be asked to accept or decline these services upon arrival for surgery check-in.

Thank you for entrusting the doctors and staff of the Interstate Animal Clinic with the well-being of your pet.