The Facts About Declawing Cats
Feline Amputation - "Onychectomy"
What You Really Need To Know
The cat is born with claws as a means of defense. Large cats as well as small cats use their claws to hunt with, to burrow with, and to fight with. Taking a cat's claws away from them will lead to death if the animal is left outside. If you are thinking about having your cat de-clawed, think of this first: How would you survive correctly if you had no fingers?
Unlike most mammals who walk on the soles of the paws or feet, cats are digitigrade, which means they walk on their toes. Their back, shoulder, paw and leg joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves are naturally designed to support and distribute the cat's weight across its toes as it walks, runs and climbs. A cat's claws are used for balance, for exercising, and for stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders, and paws. They stretch these muscles by digging their claws into a surface and pulling back against their own clawhold - similar to isometric exercising for humans. This is the only way a cat can exercise, stretch and tone the muscles of its back and shoulders. The toes help the foot meet the ground at a precise angle to keep the leg, shoulder and back muscles and joints in proper alignment. Removal of the last digits of the toes drastically alters the conformation of their feet and causes the feet to meet the ground at an unnatural angle that can cause back pain similar to that in humans caused by wearing improper shoes.
The anatomy of the feline claw must be understood before one can appreciate the severity of declawing. The cat's claw is not a nail as is a human fingernail, it is part of the last bone (distal phalanx) in the cat's toe. The cats claw arises from the unguicular crest and unguicular process in the distal phalanx of the paw (see above diagram). Most of the germinal cells that produce the claw are situated in the dorsal aspect of the ungual crest. This region must be removed completely, or regrowth of a vestigial claw and abcessation results. The only way to be sure all of the germinal cells are removed is to amputate the entire distal phalanx at the joint. Contrary to most people's understanding, declawing consists of amputating not just the claws, but the whole phalanx (up to the joint), including bones, ligaments, and tendons! To remove the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. Thus declawing is not a simple, single surgery but 10 separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe. A graphic comparison in human terms would be the cutting off of a person's finger at the last joint of each finger.
Declawing is not without complication. The rate of complication is relatively high compared with other so-called routine procedures. Complications of this amputation can be excruciating pain, damage to the radial nerve, hemorrhage, bone chips that prevent healing, painful regrowth of deformed claw inside of the paw which is not visible to the eye, and chronic back and joint pain as shoulder, leg and back muscles weaken. Other complications include postoperative hemorrhage, either immediate or following bandage removal is a fairly frequent occurrence, paw ischemia, lameness due to wound infection or footpad laceration, exposure necrosis of the second phalanx, and abscess associated with retention of portions of the third phalanx. Abscess due to regrowth must be treated by surgical removal of the remnant of the third phalanx and wound debridement. During amputation of the distal phalanx, the bone may shatter and cause what is called a sequestrum, which serves as a focus for infection, causing continuous drainage from the toe. This necessitates a second anesthesia and surgery. Abnormal growth of severed nerve ends can also occur, causing long-term, painful sensations in the toes. Infection will occasionally occur when all precautions have been taken.
Just like a scalpel, the laser is used to amputate the last bone of each of the cats's toes. Laser surgery has its own risks. This cat's tissue was overheated by the laser, resulting in exposed bone and necrotic tissue. The cat needed four additional surgeries before the wounds healed.
This poor cat suffered for months with horrible infections and osteomyelitis. The second vet had to remove dead soft tissue and bone, including an entire toe from the paw on the right. The cat survived, but was permanently lame.
X-ray showing displaced bone fragments/
This is a x-ray image of a typical declawed domestic cat paw. The retained fragment of the toe bone in a relatively normal anatomic position is indicated by arrow "A". "B" shows the fragment has been pulled under the paw by the tendon that is still attached. In this position, the fragment is situated between the remaining second toe bone and the pad, where it acts like a painful pebble-in-the-shoe.
There is a simple alternative available for you and your cat. Introduce a scratching post. You can make one yourself or it can be purchased. Your cat's scratching post should be tall enough so your cat can stretch completely when scratching, and stable enough so it won't wobble when being used. It should be covered with a strong, heavy, rough fiber like the back side of carpeting and lined with catnip.
Make the post a fun place to be by placing toys on or around it, or by rubbing it with catnip, and put it in an accessible area. If you're trying to discourage your cat from scratching a particular piece of furniture, try placing the post in front of it, gradually moving the post aside as your cat begins to use it regularly.
A quick squirt from a water bottle will let your cat know when it has made a wrong choice between your furniture and the scratching post. Training your cat to use its post helps increase the bond between the cat and owner by increasing communication.
Clipping the nails every week or two keeps nails short and less able to do damage. With the owner's patience and training, most cats will allow nail trimming.
If possible, get your kitten used to having its feet handled and nails clipped while young. Let your veterinarian show you how to trim your cat's nails. The only equipment necessary is a good pair of nail clippers. Don't forget to praise your cat while you clip the nails, and reward him with a treat.
France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Brazil, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and recently Los Angles.
Have you seen this website dedicated to a cat who lost both back feet to a botched declaw? Check out http://www.stellahasnofeet.com
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