Sound Off:How best to declaw a cat

Cats are cool! Not unlike dogs, many times cats are man’s best friend. They welcome our love and affection. They make us laugh and keep us company. They lower our blood pressure by simply petting them. Overall they keep us healthier. Studies have shown that children raised with pets are better adjusted socially and are more successful in life. By far the majority give their owners only joy and no problems.

However, a few cats have issues with scratching which can be a very real problem for their owners. Potential landlords may not rent to them because of firsthand experience with the destructive scratching of a few cats. They may be afraid to buy new furniture for fear that it will get ruined. Or the owners may have young children and are concerned that they may be scratched. What to do? How can we as veterinarians help you to make that bond with these special friends stronger than ever?

Plan A: Cat lovers should attempt training. This may include scratching posts of all types and styles, as well as attractants to encourage the cat to scratch in a specific location. If it works great! Celebrate! If it doesn’t work go back and try Plan A again. If it still doesn’t work, then what?

Plan B: Softer, acrylic like nails? Cat claws are amazingly sharp. The reason for this is that cats, unlike dogs or ourselves, shed their claws. The old claws simply peel off and new, super sharp ones are exposed randomly every few weeks. Recently, the Whidbey News-Times featured what appeared to be in essence an “infomercial” about a product called “Soft Paws.” An acrylic nail cap, Soft Paws was presented as a “new” and simple remedy for when scratching is a problem.

In truth, this product is available at every veterinary clinic and pet store on Whidbey Island and has been for years. In those cases where it works it is a great solution. However, the frustrating fact of the matter is that in the majority of cases Soft Paws simply do not work out. Too much hassle for the cat owner, expense, and the fact that they sometimes stay on for only a few days or weeks are all reasons why this method fails to provide a long term solution.

So what next? If you reach this point and your cat is still scratching, what are the possible effects upon him/her? Some would argue that scratching behavior can be life threatening to the cat. Unfortunately, some pet owners simply will not put up with scratching over a prolonged period of time.

The cold, hard truth is that unabated scratching may lead to the owners getting rid of the cat, many times by just dropping them off in the closest undeveloped area or animal shelter. There will never be a shelter big enough for all these cats and some owners are left with no other choice than euthanasia.

Another option that some owners feel forced into is to make their pet an outdoor pet. This increases the risk to the pet from infectious diseases, dangerous interaction with other animals and getting lost, to name a few. There must be a better solution, and that is where your veterinarian can be a trusted resource.

Remember, the oath of the veterinarian, like the physician is “First do no harm.” Unless we can help you find effective solutions to non-compliant destructive cats that work, we have failed you and we have failed your cat. So, until breeders come up with a breed of cats with no claws, owners are left with two final choices to remove the offending nails; declaw by guillotine/scalpel or LASER declaw. In the final analysis having cats with no claws is seldom a concern. Studies show that those who use the guillotine/scalpel declaw surgery have decidedly more complications. Cats take longer to recover, bleed more profusely and are in greater pain for a much longer time using this procedure.

Compare this with the Laser Declaw surgery performed at Best Friend’s Veterinary Center in Oak Harbor. We use gas anesthesia, IVs, extensive monitoring and a $45,000 CO2 laser. The benefit of this investment is that post operatively most cats have very little discomfort as commonly there is no bleeding or need for bandages. Upon waking they can immediately walk around on their feet and generally they go home the next day. And surprisingly, many times the cost of the laser declaw is less than what is charged by those using the guillotine/scalpel technique.

In conclusion, I believe if you find yourself needing to end your cats destructive scratching behavior and have explored all other avenues, then laser surgery would probably be the most humane and possibly best economic choice possible.

Eric E. Anderson, D.V.M., practices in Oak Harbor.