Declawing Cats with Laser Surgery

Declawing has become more controversial in recent years. Choosing whether or not to declaw a cat is an important decision. For many cat owners, maintaining a peaceful relationship with an indoor cat requires declawing. It helps to curtail destruction of household furnishings and also helps prevent the sometimes significant bodily trauma cats can inflict (intentionally or not!) with their claws. Fortunately, we now have technology at I-20 Animal Medical Center that allows us to declaw cats in the most humane way possible.

Declawing is essentially the removal of the first knuckle of each digit, as this is required to completely remove the nail bed and prevent abnormal nail regrowth. Traditionally, this has been done with sharpened, sterile nail trimmers or in surgery using a scalpel blade, but for the past twelve years, we have only used laser technology at our facility. The laser offers the distinct advantage of cauterizing tissue as it cuts, which not only makes the procedure essentially bloodless, but it also temporarily cauterizes nerve endings. Most cats can walk and use their front paws normally within a few hours of recovery from anesthesia. By the time nerve endings are restored, a large portion of healing has already occurred.

Of course, complications can occur after any surgery, and infection, bleeding and incisions opening can result from a cat being too active, like climbing and jumping during the postoperative healing period. Keeping your cat confined and keeping them from jumping for several days after surgery will help prevent this. Also, use of paper litter (pellet type) can prevent contamination of toe incisions during visits to the litter box (we supply the litter to use for after surgery).

Cats of any age can be declawed, but younger kittens, four to seven months old, appear to heal much quicker. Cats older than five to six and cats that are significantly overweight may have prolonged postoperative healing periods.

There are no sutures placed after the operation is complete, and toe incisions are closed with tissue glue. The paws are lightly wrapped, and the patient is kept in the hospital overnight after the procedure so that every precaution can be taken to prevent bleeding during the most critical 12 to 24 hours after surgery. We only recommend declawing the front paws, but the rear claws can be removed if needed. Rear claw removal would need to be done during a separate visit, after front paws have completely healed, as cats generally do not easily tolerate all four paws being done at the same time, regardless of age or the technique used.

Contrary to popular belief, a cat can still climb if the front paws are declawed, but it will make it even more important for them to be confined indoors, as they will not be able to defend themselves outside as they normally would. Declawed cats will still use the litter box normally, and cats already prone to aggression will not bite more after being declawed.