Cats cannot be shown if they are declawed, but pet quality kittens
are sold to good homes and some of the new owners will want to have
their cats declawed. Some of the veterinary surgeons I know will not
declaw cats, and there are good medical and surgical reasons for
Declaw surgery is more difficult than either castration or
ovariohysterectomy, and post-operative complications are common. If
all the germinal cells from which the claw grows are not removed,
the claw or claws will regrow, but in abnormal positions so that the
claw will point upward or curl under in the digital (paw) pad. These
claws usually cannot be retracted because the ligaments have been
removed, and they are easily torn and become painful. If the pad is
lacerated as the last digit and claw are removed, the pads are
mutilated and painful, and the cat may not walk normally on the feet
for days or weeks.
If the bone is not severed cleanly, bone chips will break off and
remain under the skin. The skin will not heal and will constantly
drain a slightly bloody fluid. If bacterial infection is present,
pus will drain from the opening. If bacterial infection ascends up
the leg, osteomyelitis can occur in the remaining bones of the toe.
The ONLY way to stop the draining fistulous tract is to repeat the
surgery and explore the toe until every bone chip has been located
If the cat removes the bandages soon after surgery, hemorrhage may
be severe. If the hemorrhage is not noticed and pressure bandages
re-applied, the cat will go into shock once it has lost 2 or 3
ounces of blood (60-80 cc for a normal sized cat). If allowed to
bleed overnight, the cat will be dead by morning.
Bandages are normally left on for 48 hours and even then hemorrhage
may occur after the bandages are removed. Many cats, ready to be
taken home, get excited when they see their owners and must be taken
back into surgery for pressure bandages to control hemorrhage.
So that declaw surgery can be done in a bloodless field, tourniquets
are applied to the legs between the shoulder and the elbow. If the
tourniquet is applied too tightly, too close to the elbow, the
radial nerve may be damaged - temporarily or permanently. These cats
will not bear weight upon that paw or will walk on the tip of the
If the post-op bandages are applied too tightly, the blood supply to
the leg, foot, and paw is cut off and gangrene sets in. This
particular complication of declawing is NOT infrequent. Cats do just
fine with three legs, but what a way to lose a limb!
Finally, declawing changes a cat's personality, especially on
subsequent visits to the vet, and also the way the cat interacts
with other cats in situations the cat perceives as potentially
dangerous. Some, if not all, of the most difficult cats I have had
to handle are declawed. These cats behave as though they feel
insecure and unable to protect themselves; they adopt the attitude
that the best defense is a good offense.
Once the cat realizes that I know it is declawed but am not going to
take advantage of that, it can be handled easily. Unfortunately,
while some cats learn quickly, others require much more time and
Examining a fractious cat is nerve-wracking for the veterinarian and
owners, and very undignified for the cat.
So what is the new owner to do?
The breeder should teach the new owner how and where to clip the
claws. Make sure the owner understands the procedure by clipping the
claws on one foot while the breeder watches and instructs. The new
owner should clip all nails every 2-4 weeks.
The cat should have several pieces of cat furniture (cat house,
scratching post, hassock, etc. where scratching is allowed) so that
it can groom its claws. The new owner must spend time with the new
kitten so that it learns to distinguish ITS furniture from the
owner's furniture. If the kitten is exceptionally headstrong and
stubborn, a water pistol or spray bottle with warm water may help
the learning process.
Will the cat scratch the children? Children should be taught to
allow the cat to make the overtures and NOT vice versa. Cats prefer
it this way. Unlike bears, big cats and little cats never maul a
person unless the person has asked for it.
If you are not sure how a cat will react in a particular situation,
back off and watch the cat before acting.
Complications arising from declaw surgery are common. Declawing a
cat has no benefits to offer. I think every breeder has the right to
insist that kittens sold as pets will not be declawed.