How do cats get declawed?

Scratching is a natural behavior of cats. Anyone that has been at the end of the cat’s sharp claws would know how mean cat’s claws can be. These sharp claws and the cat’s inclination to scratch would easily decorate furniture and other belongings with the cat’s signature. Cat owners that give top priority to the safety of the people the pet cat associates with as well as the safety of the belongings would opt to have the pet declawed. Declawing or onychectomy is a surgical procedure done to remove the last joint on the cat’s toes which is basically the nail bed of the claws. The procedure requires more than clipping the nails very short as aside from the pain that the cat would suffer from, the claws would just regrow. Declawing requires the complete removal of the bone at the tip of the toe where the claw grows out. Declawing is a painful procedure. The cat has to be under general anesthesia as the germinal cells from where the claws grow, the tendons, ligaments, the nerves and the joint capsule have to be removed.

Claws are important for cats as these curved and sharp appendages at the end of every toe have several functions for the cat. Aside from being an important hunting tool, claws are used by the cat to fight predators. The nimbleness, the grace and the sense of balance of these animals is partially due to its retractable claws. By using the claws to scratch, cats can mark the territory. Of course, it must not be forgotten that cats derive a sense of comfort when they knead and claws would be very important when they manifest this behavior. A cat’s claws though can make mince meat of the upholstery, can bore holes in the carpet and most importantly can hurt humans that interact with the cat. As such, it has been a practice in some countries to declaw the cat.

Declawing is a surgical procedure that removes these toe appendages. To prevent claw regrowth, the ephetilium or germinal cells where the claws grow have to be amputated. The anatomy of a cat’s toe is very similar to human fingers. Human finger has three joints. The tip is the nail area. The second joint is what we call knuckle and the third joint is the one that connects the finger to the palm of the hand. When a cat is declawed, the first joint where the germinal cells as well as the bone within has to be completely removed. Declawing is a painful procedure thus the cat has to be under general anesthesia. The toes are thoroughly washed with antiseptic soap. A tourniquet is placed under the elbow to prevent excessive bleeding. With a scalpel, the vet will cut the skin and remove the joint capsule including the nerves, tendons and ligaments. This is done to prevent the claws from growing back. Sutures will close the wound and bandage is applied.

The declawing procedure is usually done only on the cat’s front paws. The surgical procedure is best done on kittens over 4 months in age as young cats are very resilient and recovery time is usually shorter as compared to declawing older cats that need 2 to 3 days hospitalization. Declawed cats must be prevented from playing and jumping as much as possible during the recovery period. Older cats may not be inclined to put pressure on the toes but young cats can recover quickly and strenuous movements can break open the scabs where the nail bed was removed. This would cause bleeding and swelling. Declawing is a safe procedure but there are cases where pets would not want to walk and would manifest signs of malaise. The vet must be notified ASAP.