Q: Is it cruel to declaw a cat?
A: Declawing cats has a long and controversial history. In some countries, this procedure has even been outlawed. For years at our practice, declawing was not highly thought of. In fact, it was a cruel and bloody mess – it actually amounts to amputation of the last bone of each toe, from which the claws grow. So it’s not like having your fingernails clipped; it’s the equivalent of cutting off a finger at the last knuckle. And the recovery period could be long and painful for the cats.
Then, about a dozen years ago, we added laser surgery to our practice. Laser surgery causes less trauma at incision sites, which means much less bleeding – and less pain following surgery (since the laser seals the nerve endings). As it turned out, the first laser procedure we performed happened to be a declaw. We were truly amazed at the positive results: no pain, no bleeding, and an alert and relatively happy patient. This sold us on the benefits of laser surgery. A laser is an expensive piece of equipment and requires additional skills to use properly. But it’s all worth it.
It’s important to remember that declawed cats should never be allowed to roam outdoors because they can no longer defend themselves properly. Kittens can usually be taught to use scratching posts, which pre-empts the destructive scratching that leads frustrated owners to even consider declawing. Some cat owners resort to small vinyl nail covers called Soft Paws, which are glued over a cat’s claws. While these work, they only last about a month and often fall off.
We still don’t encourage declawing – but if it’s warranted, we will only perform this surgery using the laser.