To Declaw or not to Declaw? That is the Question.   Leave a comment


Recently I have had several questions concerning declawing cats.  Let me start by saying the purpose of this article is not to encourage or discourage this procedure; but rather, to clear up misconceptions about this procedure. Owners may elect to declaw their cats for several reasons.  The most common reasons being their cat may be destructive with their claws or their cat is aggressive. In either case, the behavior affects how well the cat fits into the home environment. In some cases, the behavior makes them unsuitable pets.


The correct medical term for declaw is Onychectomy. The goal of the surgery is to remove the tissue responsible for the growth of the nail; most commonly, it is done to the front feet only.  These results can be achieved in several different ways and some of these procedures are superior to others.  Contrary to popular belief, the nails are not “ripped out.”  In fact when done correctly, the procedure is no more painful than many other elective surgeries we perform such as spaying or neutering. The second popular belief is the declawed cats are unable to defend themselves. This procedure is not advocated for the “outdoor” cat where claws would be needed for hunting and defense. Indoor cats however, are not in need of protection nor are they required to hunt.


The first surgical method we will discuss is where the third phalanx, the last bone of the finger so to speak, is cut. This involves the actual cutting of the bone and fortunately is rarely done these days.  This method involves post-surgical discomfort which is why this method has fallen out of favor.


The second method involves removal of the entire third phalanx. With this technique, the removal is through the joint.  There is no cutting of bone which means far less discomfort. There are a couple of specific ways to do this. One is the use of a scalpel to dissect down to and through the joint space while the second method is the use of a laser. The laser method is far superior as it minimizes inflammation and post-surgical discomfort. Additionally, there is minimal bleeding due to the cauterization of the blood vessels by the laser. Most commonly, cats that have had this procedure do not exhibit any signs of discomfort post-surgery. From a cosmetic standpoint, the feet appear normal other than lacking a nail and the cat’s behavior remains unchanged.


Declawing is not for every cat or every cat owner; however, it does have its place. When done in a humane manner, it can make a cat a more enjoyable pet and family member.


Dr. Ronald S. Ball DVM, MS is a veterinarian in practice with Animal Care Extraordinaire in Stuart, Florida.  This small animal veterinary clinic has been located in Martin County for over 30 years. To learn more about the hospital, you may visit or call 772 287-2513.



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