How to Avoid Declawing Your Cat by Choosing a Little Known Alternative Method
Do you know how many cat owners wrestle with guilt over the "To Declaw Or Not To Declaw" question? There's an alternative surgery that most cat owners are not aware of that will resolve the declaw issue, save your belongings, and spare your kitty enormous pain.
Calvin is a really happy, "non-declawed" kitty. His human is a happy cat owner with all her furniture and floors completely free of scratches. They live lovingly and peacefully together. That's not the scenario in many cat households across the country. Every year, thousands and thousands of cats are declawed. Sometimes, it's because the owner is diabetic or on blood thinners or immunocompromised. More often, it's because the life of the rugs or furniture is at stake. Whatever the cause, the lives of the cats subjected to this procedure are definitely affected. The declawing process is VERY PAINFUL!!! Many cat owners do not realize what is involved in this surgery. It is often rumored that the cat's nails are "simply" clipped too short (as if even THIS would be simple and painless). That is not, however, what happens. It is important to understand the anatomy of a cat's paw in order to understand the declaw process.
The anatomy of a cat's "finger" is very much like your own. Look at one of your fingers. There are three distinct sections. The first section, at the tip of your finger, includes the nail and area down to the first bend (joint). The second section is from that first joint down to the next joint which we often call the knuckle. The third section of your finger runs from the knuckle down to the next joint where your finger joins the palm of your hand. These three distinct sections are actually three distinct bones. The name Phalanx (plural phalanges) is commonly given to these bones. In cats, we refer to these 3 different bones as P1, P2, and P3 with P3 being at the tips of the fingers and P1 closest to the hand.
To reiterate, the declaw procedure does not involve just clipping nails too short or all the way to the nail bed. Doing that would just result in pain and then regrowth of the nail. A cat's claw grows out of germinal (growth) cells located in a specific area within the bone, P3. This region must be removed completely or the nail will regrow and often does so in a deformed way that may lead to infection. The only way to be sure the nail doesn't regrow is to amputate the entire P3 bone (the first bone at the tip of the toe all the way to the joint.) Therefore, the process of declawing a cat involves not just amputating the claws, but all of the bone (P3), as well as the ligaments, tendons, nerve, and joint capsule. I hate to be so graphic, but the best way to understand this, and everyone needs to understand this, is to explain it in human terms. If a person were to have the equivalent of a declaw, they would have all ten fingers amputated at the last joint of each finger (the joint below your finger nail, WELL below your fingernail.) Like a scene out of a James Bond movie.
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Alternatives to declawing your cat include regular nail clipping, Soft Paws, behavioral modification, and an alternative surgical procedure, a tendonectomy. The tendonectomy alternative has been around for many years. Calvin, the kitty in the picture, had a tendonectomy 10 years ago. Yet many, if not most, cat owners still do not know it exists. Cats that have tendonectomies experience far less pain than those that are declawed. When Calvin and his three brothers had the procedure 10 years ago, I took them home immediately after the surgery (within minutes) and confined them to a bathroom to keep them from walking around or falling down stairs. The very moment I put them in the bathroom, they started to play. It was as if nothing had happened. Within another few minutes, their playful, noisy antics convinced me to open the door and allow access to the entire house. That was the end of it. I don't think the cats or I have thought much about it since. That is certainly not what happens after a cat has been declawed.
A tendonectomy is the surgical removal of a very small portion of the tendons that allow a cat to extend its nails. The claws are left intact. Bones are not amputated. The flexor tendon is simply "disabled". The kitty cannot extend the claws and therefore cannot cause any damage by scratching. A tendonectomy is far less painful to a kitty. Healing is much faster than that experienced after a typical declaw procedure. The extremely small skin incision made to allow access to the tendon is behind the pad. When the cat walks, it is not walking on the surgical site as with a declaw. Post-op complications have, in my experience, been non-existent. There are no stitches or bandages required, the cats can go home more quickly than if they were declawed, and the pain is minimal.
This is a much better alternative to being declawed for any cat. It is especially better for older cats if there is suddenly a need to stop them from using their claws. Declawing an older cat is worse than declawing a kitten. It is more painful, takes longer to heal, is psychologically more difficult for the cat, and has more post-op complications. In my opinion, an older cat should never be declawed. However, if absolutely necessary, tendonectomy is a reasonable alternative.
In summary, before you have a cat declawed, consider how painful the procedure is and try alternatives. Learn to clip your cat's nails, give Soft Paws a try, supply lots of scratching posts and encourage their usage and discourage scratching anywhere else. If all that fails, consider tendonectomy before thinking of declawing your cat.
Find out before your cat has this procedure if you can trim the kitty's nails at home periodically or make the commitment to visit the vet or groomer regularly for a nail trim. Since the claws are not removed, they will continue to grow. However, your cat cannot scratch in a normal fashion to keep the claws naturally shortened. The nails can grow and curve inward and penetrate the pad if they are not kept trimmed. This procedure is not for you and your cat if you cannot trim your cat's nails at least once monthly or take your cat to the vet or groomer to have them clipped.