SIOUX CITY | Few issues are more hot button in the world of cats than whether or not to declaw.
Proponents say the procedure keeps otherwise destructive or mean cats from ending up on the street or in shelters. Opponents say that it’s inhumane, unnatural and painful.
Dr. Aaron Bessmer, veterinarian at Elk Creek Animal Hospital, calls it “a necessary evil."
“I personally don’t like it, but I’ll do it because I do it right,” he said. “I try to make it as painless as possible. Sometimes you get this cat and it comes in and starts destroying your furniture and you don’t really have a choice. My justification is that it keeps a lot of cats in the house.”
The “right” technique, according to Bessmer, involves removing the last bone of the cat’s toe. This is where the claw originates.
“Basically it would be like taking the last part of your finger off,” he said. “This is why a lot of people don’t like the procedure, but, like I said, if it keeps cats in homes, then it’s worth it.”
Bessmer said that a more outdated procedure for declawing involves using a special guillotine clipper to cut deep into the nail bed. Often, the claws would end up regrowing over time, pushing through the healed skin.
“I bet that would be really painful with the claw breaking through the skin,” he said. “Some vets still use that technique, but I personally wouldn’t.”
Scratching posts are options, but it can be difficult to get a cat to use those exclusively over a favorite armchair or couch. Sometimes removing the claws is the only choice.
As far as whether to declaw all four paws or just the front two, Bessmer almost always recommends just doing the front two.
“For every 20 declaws that I do, I only probably do one that’s all four feet,” he said.
“Cats only use the back claws for traction so I’ll only remove those if you have really expensive furniture you’re trying to protect, if you’re immune-compromised and can’t get scratched, such as having cancer or AIDS, or if you’re an older person with really thin skin.”
Recovery is dependent on the size of the cat, with smaller cats typically having an easier time. Heavier cats have a harder time since more weight on the feet causes more pain.
All cats have to stay overnight in order to stay bandaged and under heavy pain medication. They then are sent home with litter made out of recycled paper because clay litter can pack inside the wound and cause infection.
“It’s a pretty quick recovery for most cats,” Bessmer said. “As long as the owner follows our instructions, uses the litter and pain meds, the experience shouldn’t be too terrible for the cat and healing should go well.”