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Declawing Your Cat

Words from a Veterinary Technician

Maybe you think this will make Fluffy a more agreeable cat. Maybe you have decided that you have no other viable alternative left. Maybe you have convinced yourself that really the operation is no big deal; sure it's tough, but Fluffy will be back to his old self in a few days. Or maybe you are picking out a new kitten and have already resigned yourself to the idea that soon you will have to make that fateful trip with Fluffy Jr. to the vet.

Before you make an irreversible decision, let me talk to you a little first. "Who is this person?" you are probably asking yourself. I'm the person who will greet you and Fluffy when you step in the door on the day of Fluffy's surgery.I'm the veterinary technician. If you really want to know how things truly are back in the OR, I'm the one who's got the skinny. I'll be taking care of Fluffy before, during, and after his mutilation (or surgery as we like to call it).

Let me tell you my story....

I get to work around 8:00 and check on all our patients. I have to get the clinic in working order so we can begin checking in the surgery patients at 8:30. You are the first client here.We fill out the paperwork and you hand me Fluffy and say "I'll be back tomorrow Fluf. Don't worry!" Then you head out the door, get in your car and go wherever it is you are going. I weigh Fluffy and make him comfortable in his cage.

Around 2:00 or so, Fluffy's time has come. He gets some anesthesia and some pain medicine and he's out like a light. I shave between all of his toes and scrub them clean. I have everything ready: the nail clippers, hemostats, glue, tape, bandage. It's show time. I hold up one of Fluffy's feet and the doc begins: The procedure is sort of a half pull, half cut kinda thing. The nail clippers are doing their best to saw through the joint while the hemostats are ripping it away. And please make no mistake here, this isn't a nail trim. A cat's first joint, just like on your finger, is being ripped out.

Fluffy utters a half growl/meow of pain as the joint tears away, even after all this medicine. The pain must be excruciating; it is certainly a gruesome spectacle to watch. Doc fills the gaping socket where Fluffy's toe used to be with some special glue and squeezes it together for a few seconds. We move on to the next toe until we're done.

Now we bandage and when we're done Fluffy looks as though he's wearing little mittens...aww. I come in the next morning and reach for the doorknob to the recovery room. "Crap!" I think, because the smell hits my brain before I even open the door to see. Blood has a very specific odor, you see, and after a while you have the ability to recognize many things: parvo, cancer, bloody declaw cats that don't seem to like their mittens- all by their respective smells. Sure enough, Fluffy got a head start on removing his bandages so I begin my day scrubbing his blood off the walls, the door, the floor, and his cage. I clean the blood off Fluffy's fur the best I can and begin to take off his bandages. I try so hard to be gentle but I know I still hurt. I have to cut down the bandage until I'm right beside Fluffy's purple swollen toes and he cries. I examine each hole where Fluffy used to have claws and make sure they are all still sealed. They never are, of course. There is invariably at least one or two that must be reglued, so I sigh and get my glue. Then I drop some goo into Fluffy's socket and squeeze his tender and bruised deformed little toes together for several seconds. This hurts. A lot. And I feel like the scum of the earth.

I clean the last bit of blood from Fluffy's feet as best I can without hurting too bad and hope that Fluffy will finish the job himself before you come. You rush in on your lunch hour and I bring out Fluffy and remind you that Fluffy's feet are going to be very sore for a while. You already knew that.....bye Fluffy.

Three months later you bring Fluffy in to update his shots. You ask me why Fluffy doesn't seem like the cat he used to be anymore. He never wants to play or do much of anything. And he has turned into a biter! You don't understand, you tell me. Why isn't Fluffy the same? I don't know why. But I do know that when I watch my cats play (who all have their claws) they love to scratch on trees, climb up trees, hunt moths... (you know, cat stuff). And I know that cats who don't have claws would find it very difficult to climb a tree, and scratching is definitely out.Scratching is something domestic cats really enjoy- I know this because my cats used to have contests around the scratching post. They would fling themselves around it and see who could scratch the fastest and the hardest.

I had 8 cats all with claws intact in my house. I also had a brand new couch; the two co-existed peacefully. It wasn't easy, I admit. Training a cat requires patience, much like children. I used waterguns and scratching posts. Please remember if you have a kitten that some materials may be too rough on your kitten's claws. It takes a while to break these things in- give it a little time! Try a carpeted scratching post that also has the heavy duty stuff. I kept my cats' nails trimmed regularly, starting as kittens. Try SoftPaws. Provide fun distractions: my cats had a 6 foot tall cat tree and they loved it! As far as biting goes, this is a common "side effect". Cats with no claws have no other means of expressing dissatisfaction with their lot in life and resort to biting. Or maybe they are just mad at the world now. I don't know.

And finally, for those have attempted to rationalize a declaw by comparing it to a spay/neuter- you aren't even in the same ballpark. A spay/neuter cat comes in just like Fluffy, but he doesn't cry during his surgery. He gets to go home that very day while Fluffy must wait behind. He bounces and runs around the house that very night because he is so glad to be home. He doesn't even seem to notice that he will never be a dad. Meanwhile Fluffy is getting a pain injection. Our doc stopped doing ear crops. I hope declaws are the next to go.

Mutilation in the name of aesthetics or convenience is still mutilation.