Declawing in Cats

General Information

Scratching with the front claws is normal, instinctive behavior for cats.  The purpose of this activity is to remove old, worn fragments of nails and to mark territory.  Though scratching is normal for cats, this behavior can be destructive and costly in the home.   Some owners may prefer to  have their cat’s nails trimmed periodically to keep them short.  Another alternative to declawing is Soft Paws, which are soft covers that are glued to each individual nail … but they usually only last about 1 month.  For many cat owners, declawing is the only solution.  If you know you are going to declaw your cat, it is best performed when they are young and growing, as the surgery is easier on them and they heal faster.  Declawing, however, can be performed also in older cats if necessary. A declawed cat should be confined indoors, since the claws are its primary means of defense.  A house cat has little need for defense and is a more suitable pet because it can no longer ruin furnishings or scratch people as readily.  I recommend that if you are going to declaw your cat,  to do only the front claws.

Surgical Procedure

Declawing (onychectomy) is performed under general anesthesia and consists of surgical removal of the nail bed.  The feet are usually bandaged post surgery and the cat is kept overnight for observation and rest.  The next day, the bandages are removed and your pet will be able to walk normally, though tenderness may be evident for a few days.  Longer term pain meds can be used to help control post surgical discomfort.

Home Care

  1. Exercise:  Restricting exercise is difficult.  However, you should prevent your cat from jumping as much as possible for the first week… especially down off of any high surfaces.
  2. Bleeding:  Occasionally, a cat breaks open one of the small incisions where the nail was removed.  A few drops of blood followed by a rapid cessation of bleeding is normal.  Call the doctor if the bleeding persists.
  3. Litter box:  Replace the normal cat litter with a non-dusty, non-particulate cat litter.  A small bag of “Yesterday’s News” cat litter will be sent home with your cat.  Use this at minimum for the next 7 days.
  4. Check the feet daily for any sign of toe swelling or drainage.   Your cat’s toes should NOT swell or develop any drainage.  If any of these occur, then please notify the doctor.

Notify the doctor if any of the following occur…

  • Your cat’s feet appear swollen or bleed frequently.
  • Your cat is reluctant to walk.
  • There is a change is your cat’s general health or behavior.
  • Your cat refused to eat or is depressed after surgery.
Feline Declaw Illustration

The dotted line in the picture indicates site of removal of nail bed. It is performed at the first joint distal to the nail.