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Are there Alternatives to Declawing your Cat?

Some local veterinarians share their views about declawing cats.

Congratulations, you have just added a to your family. As a responsible pet owner, you have made an appointment with your veterinarian to have your pet spayed or neutered, and maybe you wondered if you should schedule Fluffy to be declawed at the same time?

To help explain the pros and cons of declawing, let's hear from veterinarians Dr. John Moffa of and Dr. Tara Klimovitiz of the Perry Hall Animal Hospital.

Moffa, who has been in practice for about 30 years, said the declawing procedure has changed dramatically, in terms of technique and pain management. He performs one to two surgeries per week.

"What used to be a pretty barbaric procedure is really less so now.  Techniques are better, causing less damage and with good post operative care, declawed cats can be kept pretty comfortable through their recovery,"  Moffa said.

Klimovitz, who does considerably fewer declaw procedures in her clinic, agrees that pain management is the key.

"I counsel pretty heavily about [declawing]. Sometimes, I feel it is the right thing to do and the client is making an informed decision, but often, with a little education, pet owners are willing and even happy to try alternatives.  Many come in thinking they have to do it, but are relieved to know they have options," Klimovitz said.  

Moffa and Klimovitz agree that the surgery is best performed on younger cats, as recovery tends to be easier. Both feel there are cases where the procedure is warranted in older cats, but neither recommends it unless no other reasonable alternative exists.

Alternatives include a wide variety of scratching posts, poles, cat climbing furniture and simple pieces of heavy card board or carpet. These items can be sprayed or sprinkled with cat nip to encourage their use.

Moffa and Klimovitz both recommend starting early and acclimating a kitten to weekly nail trimming. Soft Paws are another good alternative, but require a commitment to maintain them. These are vinyl sheaths put over the nail, essentially blunting them; they can offer an alternative to declawing when a cat is uninterested in scratching posts.      

"Many of the clients who request their kitten to be declawed are families seeking to prevent children from being scratched. In cases like this, I prefer to educate and offer alternatives. When it is a matter of a much loved pet whose owner is seriously ill, sometimes there is no good alternative. In cases like this, the procedure is not really elective, as a treating physician might order a patient to declaw or give up their cat,"  Klimovitz said.      

If you feel you must have a declawed cat, perhaps you could adopt an already declawed cat. Animal shelters are full of cats of every size, age and circumstance, including many that are already declawed.

Laura Shenk October 02, 2011 at 05:00 AM
Susan, this is actually the second article Tammy did about this, and she described the procedure in great detail last week. Thank you for the refresher, though, for people who missed it. I have to agree w/ you that it is a bad idea, unless it is the only way a cat can stay in it's home, and will end up at the pound, otherwise. People have to remember that a cats claws are it's main defense against predators. How can anyone really be sure the cat won't slip out the door one day, and need those claws to survive?
Tammy Zaluzney October 02, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Thanks for everyone's comments. As a former shelter director, I saw the heartbreak of animals who were treated as disposable. I saw almost 4000 cats come into our shelter each year. One thing that always really bothered me, was that some vets absolutely did see declawing as a nothing more than a revenue stream. In these clinics, and there were not many, a declaw was almost touted as necessary. We had people who actually thought they HAD to declaw their cats to have them as pets. Further it was common in these same clinics to declaw on all four feet. It is this lack of understanding that I hoped to address by putting the topic out there for discussion and asking two local vets who do not treat declawing as a mere revenue stream to weigh in. In both cases, these vets provide education and recommend alternatives. In researching this column, I found that AVMA and every other credible veterinary association made a point of saying that there was no evidence declawing changes behaviour in terms of biting or litter pan issues. In my experience that is far from the case, but my experience is just that, it is not a study. While fewer and fewer, people still want declawed cats, whether I like it or not. I also know that shelters are full of cats of every size, shape, colour, age, hair length, you name it. Many of them are declawed, so I advocate and encourage anyone wishing to add a cat to their family, please adopt one from your local shelter.
Lorelei Kathleen Hickman October 02, 2011 at 09:22 PM
As a former veterinary technician, I have had to assist with many declaw surgeries and with the patient aftercare. I have witnessed the "new techniques" that are supposed to make declawing less traumatic and damaging, and it's not necessarily so. The procedure has a very high rate of short and long term complications regardless of the method used. The lesser of two evils is still evil. What the vets in this article should have explained is that the "new technique" of scalpel disarticulation *only* means that they are using an actual surgical tool to amputate the toes rather than crudely chopping them off with a common nail trimmer, which is what's done in the far more common "Rescoe" or "guillotine" method of declawing. There are at least 100 humane alternatives to declawing; check out the Declaw Intervention Checklist compiled by the Cattress Mattress feline furniture company: http://cattressmattress.com/2011/08/01/the-declaw-intervention-checklist/#more-1146 Declawing is never necessary, and it is never in the best interests of the cat.
Bill Howard October 03, 2011 at 01:44 AM
I resent people talking like I am some kind of monster for having my cat's front claws removed. How about when she scratched up my kids? Should I let that continue? All were playing nice. Many vets will tell you they deal with a lot of cases of other pets being harmed by cat scratches.Like puppies that lose an eye) My lil Tiger has been declawed for 12 years and is still a happy healthy kitty.
Lorelei Kathleen Hickman October 04, 2011 at 12:16 AM
No one here is suggesting that you allow your children or other pets in the home to be injured. The point is that there are many other more humane ways to prevent this without resorting to a painful and radical surgical procedure. Did you take the time to look at the long list of alternatives? http://cattressmattress.com/2011/08/01/the-declaw-intervention-checklist/#more-1146 And I for one do not feel that cat owners who choose to declaw on the advice of a vet are monsters. Laypersons have no real idea what this procedure is like. I myself used to have no strong opinion on declawing one way or the other. It was not until I was directly involved in it and saw for myself the way many cats come out of anesthesia after the surgery that I began to believe that it's wrong. I would not expect the average cat owner to know that declawing is considered the gold standard by which to measure the effectiveness of pain medications, but I DO expect the average vet to know this, since this is what they are taught in vet school, and my definition of "informed consent" for declawing would most certainly include this information- yet I have never once heard a vet admitting this little fact to a client. In my opinion, any vet that recommends declawing without first recommending at least a few of the over 100 humane alternatives is the monster.

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