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Declawing in Cats - May 2013

When Kitty just won’t leave the furniture alone…

By Dr. Moira Drosdovech, Kelowna, BC

declawing cats

Most normal healthy cats like to scratch things, whether it be trees, couches, stairs, even human skin! Occasionally, this normal behaviour becomes a nuisance when it involves household items such as furniture, stereo speakers and the like. As much as the cat might like to think of it as art, the overall effect tends to take away from the esthetic value of the item in question!

All cats should be provided with some object or structure to scratch on that they can call their own. This might be a scratching post covered with carpet or heavy rope, but I usually suggest something else in addition to this like a piece of a log or rough cedar that they can really sink their claws into. By providing them with something other than just carpet, all of the carpet in the house does not suffer from similar attacks. If the cat will not go for a vertical post, try one that is horizontally constructed.

When you first get a new kitten, make sure you begin right away trimming their nails, using scissors designed for cats, not human nail clippers. The latter tend to shred the nail more than cut it. Get someone to teach you how to do this. What this early trimming accomplishes is getting your kitten accustomed to this procedure and the fact that you are going to do it every few weeks, fully expecting them to allow it gracefully.

You will also want to “train” your kitten not to scratch on your favourite things. Despite their reputation for independence, cats can readily be trained to leave the sofa, curtains, or carpet untouched. Using surgery to prevent or correct a behavioral problem is expedient, but it is definitely not the smartest, kindest, most cost-effective, or best solution for you and your cat. Your veterinarian has an obligation to educate you as to the nature of the procedure, the risks of anesthesia and surgery, and the potential for serious physical and behavioral complications, both short- and long-term.

Cats with trimmed nails can still climb, so no need to worry if they go outside or that they will no longer be able to climb the curtains. The damage they inflict is somewhat less with short nails and not as much blood is drawn when they attempt to shred your arms during routine play!

If your cat has decided that no one will be giving them any more pedicures and that no one will dictate what they can scratch or cannot scratch, then, Houston, you have a problem. Declawing can solve this problem, but let’s take a look at how it is done.

Under anesthetic, your cat’s “finger-tip” from the last “knuckle” is surgically removed. Imagine the pain. Some cats, I feel, never seem to fully recover mentally from this and many become a little nasty over time, to put it mildly. They might brush up on techniques designed to inflict damage on you using hind claws and teeth instead of front claws. They might even stop using the litter box. You may have been told that declawing, which is now considered illegal in some countries, is the only option for cats that won’t stop scratching your stuff.

But, there are alternatives that are much more humane and effective at the same time. One such alternative is nail caps that are applied every 6-12 weeks with something like crazy glue. These can get a little expensive over years of use, but they do work as long as they are applied properly. You still have to trim the nails once the caps fall off and before the next application.

My preferred technique is called a Tendonectomy. This also involves anesthesia, like declawing, but no joints are incised and only mild and temporary discomfort is the result. The small tendons running along the bottom of each toe that allow the claws to be pulled in or flexed are cut through a tiny incision over each one.

What I have witnessed is the vast majority are up and acting normal very soon after surgery, the opposite of declawing where most are cowering in the back of the kennel with their paws tucked underneath them, even with pain killers. Most cats with the tendon surgery can go home the same day, certainly by the following morning and they do not need pain killers, bandages, etc.

One thing to keep in mind with tendonectomies is that your cat must allow nail trimming as the nails are still there and still grow, but they won’t be able to wear off the old growth by scratching and sharpening them anymore. So this procedure is not for the cats who become Tasmanian devils when they are restrained for manicures!




Dr. Moira DrosdovechDr. Moira's Bio: A practicing veterinarian for 20 years, has been in Kelowna since 1990, first owning Rutland Pet Hospital and now, after selling the former, Pawsitive Veterinary Care, opened in 2000 and focused on primarily holistic health care. She welcomes new clients and loves to educate! Kelowna (250) 862-2727. - Dr. Moira Drosdovech Website - Email


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