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Onychectomy in Cats (Declawing)

Onychectomy is the medical term for declawing a cat. The surgery can be performed on all four paws, or, more commonly, only the front paws. This elective procedure is best performed on kittens 3-12 months old to avoid complications such as increased post operative pain, bleeding, and lameness.

Multiple techniques have been developed for successfully performing declaws in cats: Resco Guillotine Technique, dissection via scalpel blade, and dissection via laser. All three techniques accomplish the same goal, complete amputation of the last bone of the toe to prevent regrowth of the nail. At Bellwood Animal Hospital, the techniques of choice are the Resco Guillotine Technique and dissection via scalpel blade. Blind studies have been completed at veterinary hospitals comparing the traditional techniques like those used at Bellwood Animal Hospital to alternatives such as laser surgery. All cats were assessed for signs of discomfort and complications post operatively. While laser surgery can provide immediate hemostatis (meaning little to no bleeding during surgery), overall, cats undergoing laser surgery compared to traditional declawing techniques experienced no relevant differences in discomfort or in number of post-operative complications.

No matter the technique performed, your pet will undergo the same pre-operative procedure. Cats are pre-medicated, placed under general anesthesia, and a local ring block is administered around each paw. In combination with post-operative injections, this multimodal analgesia provides the most complete pain control possible for your pet.

Post-Surgical Considerations

Due to our pain control protocol, most cats are pain free and back to normal activity the day of surgery. Cats undergoing routine declaws are hospitalized for three days with strict cage rest to facilitate healing. Upon returning home, your pet should use newspaper or shredded paper litter products to prevent granules of kitty litter from entering the incisions. Most importantly, cats should be kept indoors indefinitely after the procedure. Removal of the claws greatly decreases a cat's ability to defend themselves against outdoor predators.

Alternatives to Declawing

In most cases, declawing a cat is considered an elective procedure. Other options exist for owners that are reluctant to perform surgery but have cats that scratch furniture or housemates. Behavior modification, such as training cats using scratching posts, can be successful, as are frequent nail trims. Additionally, products such as "Soft Paws" can be placed over a cat's claws once every 6-8 weeks.

Discussing all options with your veterinarian is the best way to ensure your pet receives the treatment best for their age and lifestyle.

References:
Fossum, Theresa, et al. Small Animal Surgery 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, 2007.
Use of Carbon Dioxide Laser for Onychectomy in Cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 221[5]:651-653.

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