Declawing: 4 potential complications and 4 alternatives

Declawing or onychectomy is a surgery performed under general anesthesia which consists of amputating the last digit. Since it is an amputation, onychectomy does come with the same risks as other surgeries performed under general anesthesia.

For these reasons and so many others, Hôpital Vétérinaire Vieux Village has decided to stop declawing cats as of January 2019.

Four complications

Discover four potential complications of declawing:

  1. Behavioural problems

    Contrary to popular belief, having your cat declawed does not eliminate the risk that it might injure someone. A cat without claws will use the only way it has to defend itself: teeth! A bite is actually often more painful than a scratch and is also more likely to get infected, which then requires a visit to the emergency room for treatment care.

  2. Chronic pain

    Pain, although it can’t be qualified and because it varies from cat to cat (unfortunately, they can’t tell us about it!) is inevitable after an onychectomy. Some cats don’t show that they are in pain at all, while others show many signs.
    One of the causes of this pain can be the intrusion of litter under the skin during the healing process.
    Lumbar and joint pain might also develop because of compensating lameness and abnormal posture post-declawing.

  3. Nail regrowth

    If the surgical technique used is not done appropriately, the lack of precision can cause damage and cartilage could grow back if a piece is left behind. This will not necessarily grow back straight and might cause chronic pain and even require care for another surgery.

  4. Lameness

    It isn’t uncommon to observe lameness post declawing. Damage done to the radial nerve during the surgery or an infected wound can also cause lameness.

Four alternatives

To completely eliminate the risk that your cat deals with one of those complications, consider these four simple and effective alternatives to declawing:

  1. Nail trimming

    In order to keep the length of your cat’s nails under control, trim them about once a week using a nail clipper. That’s it! A short training on how to trim a cat’s nails might be necessary: we are happy to help!

  2. Nail protectors installation (Soft Paws)

    Nail protectors are small plastic caps that are glued to the nails. They are safe, non-toxic and last for four to six weeks. Nails require to be trimmed before installation. They are perfect for people who worry about their couch!

  3. Use of scratching posts

    To each cat its scratching post! Since cats instinctively use their claws, a good scratching post is essential for your cat to avoid doing it on furniture. Your veterinarian can give you advice. You can also visit this section of the Cat Educhateur website for more information.

  4. Use of pheromones

    Pheromones are chemical substances naturally released by cats. They unknowingly deposit some on objects when they rub against them. Depositing pheromones on a scratching post, for example, can encourage your cat to use it, but does not guarantee it. This tool should always be used in conjunction with another alternative in order to fix or avoid a behavioural problem.

Note that declawing is common in Québec for cultural reasons, not logical ones. This quote from a Cat Educator article conveys it well:

This surgical procedure is not even considered by European veterinarians and citizens of those countries do not even think about having their cats declawed. “It is unthinkable, and even thought of as barbaric. Yet, we too have leather couches and we have just as many children as you do”, says, smiling, my colleague Anne-Lise, who is an animal behavior professional from AZCA and animal health technician, and who has long resided in Europe.

If you are still thinking of having your cat declawed, please make sure the veterinary clinic you go to offers the following techniques, which can minimize as much as possible surgical post-operative complications:

  • Laser surgery
  • Analgesia
  • Local anesthesia
  • Acupuncture
  • Osteopathy

If you have any questions about onychectomy and the alternatives to it, our team will be more than happy to answer! Contact us.