All members of the feline family except cheetahs have retractable claws. When a cat is walking around, the claws are retracted and don't catch on anything. This is also partly why cats can be so stealthy.
The claws grow somewhat like human fingernails, but also will shed the outer sheath periodically, leaving a sharper claw beneath.
To aid in removing the sheaths, cats scratch, often by stretching up and pulling downward. This action also helps to stretch out the spine and leaves a scent mark.
Scratching is a natural and necessary behavior for cats.
You cannot teach them never to scratch. However, you can provide an adequate scratching surface and then teach them to scratch only on that surface.
It is very important to provide appropriate scratching opportunities for cats right from kittenhood, so they learn where and where not to scratch.
Supported reasons for declawing your cat:
- Medically, it can be necessary to remove a claw if the claw is damaged beyond repair, causing great discomfort to the cat.
- If a cat's nails cause trauma to the owner. There are people whose immune systems are suppressed or people on blood thinners who can't be exposed to the bacteria on a cat's claws.
- The majority of declawings are due to social issues and when all behavior modification tools have been exhausted — where cats are being destructive, tearing up furniture, causing injury to owners and family members.
Declawing surgery, despite its name, is not simply the removal of the cat's claws. It is the removal of the last bone in each toe of the foot. This is generally done just on the front feet. The removal of this joint is necessary to remove the entire claw and prevent any regrowth.
The surgery, performed under general anesthesia, involves the removal of the claw to include the nail matrix and all of the last bone of the toe. It is akin to removing the last joint on each human finger.
Laser surgery is sometimes used in place of a scalpel. In most cases, only the front claws are removed; the back claws are not used to scratch furniture, and they do help the cat run, leap, and balance. At Wintergreen Animal Hospital, we only perform laser declaws.
Complications associated with declawing a cat include:
- Pain or discomfort
- Anesthetic risk
Post-op care often includes:
- Elizabethan collar to prevent the cat from licking
- Special litter or shredded paper to help prevent infection
- Daily medication for pain management
- Restriction of activity
Declawing your cat is not the only option to prevent scratching. We recommend trimming nails as frequently as necessary, training cats to use horizontal scratch pads or sturdy scratching posts (you must let them choose which they like better) and if desired, Soft Paws nail cap application.
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