Many cat owners who get their pets declawed do so to reduce scratching on furniture or walls, mistakenly thinking it's just a more permanent version of trimming. Declawing, however, is a painful and extreme surgery. Part of the cat's bone is taken as well as the claw in a procedure that's more similar to cutting off part of a person's fingers than cutting their nails. Some cat owners have to declaw due to medical emergencies like tumors in the paw or adopt cats who have already been declawed. However, there are many other ways to reduce scratching for those who have cats with intact claws. Owners should seriously consider the adverse effects of declawing before having it done.
Usually, declawing involves using a scalpel or guillotine to amputate the last bone of each toe. The wounds are then stitched or closed with surgical glue. While cats are anesthetized during the procedure, recovery is painful. Cat paws are also not designed to walk comfortably without their claws. Even after the wounds heal, walking for a declawed cat may feel like wearing uncomfortable shoes for the rest of their life.
Newly declawed cats are at a much higher risk of infection. Owners will need to watch the cat's wounds carefully for signs of infection and may need to take them to the vet for additional treatment. The wounds might bleed excessively or refuse to heal. In extreme cases, infections from declawing can lead to paw amputations, necrosis, and even death.
Many cats refuse to use their litter box while they recover from declawing and use random spots around the house instead. Litter is painful and uncomfortable to walk on, and attempts to line the litter box or replace the litter to keep granules out of the wounds make the litter box unfamiliar and less appealing. Cats may also become more territorial and mark spots in the house out of anxiety.
Cats who've been recently declawed tend to be reluctant to put weight on their paws. This is especially true if the wounds were sealed by an adhesive instead of stitches and if they are bleeding. After they heal, walking on declawed paws may be uncomfortable, or the cat may be too afraid of future pain to walk normally.
Nerve damage is a risk in any surgical procedure. In rare cases, the paw can become paralyzed. Even when the declawing goes perfectly, it is still an amputation. Cats can develop a similar sensation to phantom limb syndrome in humans. The disconnected nerves from their missing toes can cause long-lasting pain, tingling sensations, and throbbing.
Cats don't understand why they've been declawed. They use their claws to walk, scratch, grip, defend themselves, hunt, climb, stretch, mark their territory, and communicate. Losing their claws is extremely stressful for a cat, and they might express this stress by getting defensive and territorial. The pain might also make a cat grumpy as they recover from surgery.
Claws are a cat's first line of defense. After declawing, many cats feel anxious and vulnerable. Their teeth are all they have left, so even a cat that didn't bite before may begin chewing on items and furniture or biting people. Cat bites tend to be more dangerous to humans than scratching because their teeth can create deep wounds with a higher risk of infection.
Grooming is a way for cats to manage anxiety and calm themselves. After a stressful declawing, however, cats can develop obsessive grooming behaviors to cope. They may constantly chew or lick at their skin, causing bald patches, lesions, and infections. This behavior can continue to cause problems long after they have physically recovered from the procedure.
Cat paws are not designed to walk directly against the floor; their claws are meant to prop them up. Claws also help cats stretch effectively. Declawing keeps cats from being able to stretch and walk properly, which can lead to back pain in later life. This is especially true when the technique used to declaw them or a mistake by the surgeon leaves fragments of their toe joint in place.
Declawing is not an exact science. Roughly 3% of cats experience regrowth of their claws after the procedure, with some techniques increasing the risk to 10%. Improperly removed claws can grow back deformed. In some cases, the growth occurs under the skin. Owners may not notice the regrowing claws for months or even years while the cat experiences severe pain, bleeding, and damage to their paws.
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