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What Is a Declaw?

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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A declaw is the surgical removal of the toenails. The operation removes the last bone and toenail of each toe. Usually, only the nails of the fore feet are removed. In a few cases, the nails of the rear paws may also be removed.

What Are the Indications For Performing a Declaw?

This operation is performed to prevent destructive behavior such as scratching and to prevent scratches to people and other animals. This operation is done in cats and rarely, if ever, performed in dogs.

What Preoperative Examinations or Tests Are Needed?

Preoperative tests depend in part on the age and general health of the cat. In young cats, minimal tests are needed provided the pet has been vaccinated, dewormed, and proven healthy based on clinical examination. Often simple blood tests, such as a packed cell volume or blood count, will be done prior to anesthesia. In older animals, it would be common to perform a routine blood count, serum biochemical tests, urinalysis, and possibly a chest X-ray or EKG prior to anesthesia. These recommendations vary on a case-by-case basis, and depend on the overall health of the pet.

What Type of Anesthesia Is Needed For a Declaw?

This procedure requires general anesthesia to induce complete unconsciousness and relaxation. In the usual case, the pet will receive a pre-anesthetic sedative-analgesic drug to help him relax, a brief intravenous anesthetic to allow placement of a breathing tube in the windpipe, and subsequently inhalation (gas) anesthesia in oxygen during the actual surgery.

How Is the Declaw Operation Done?

Following anesthesia, the pet is placed on a surgical table, lying on his stomach. The paws are typically not clipped but are scrubbed with surgical soap to disinfect the area. A sterile drape is placed over the surgical site. A scalpel or surgical nail trimmer is used to incise the skin at the base of the first bone of each toe. The bone is removed at the joint connecting the first and second bones of the toe. After removal of the bone and nail, some surgeons use sutures to close the skin, some use surgical glue and other allow the incision to heal on it's own. The sutures and glue typically are absorbable and do not need to be removed. Bandages are placed on the feet for 1 to 2 days following surgery to help reduce bleeding.

How Long Does the Declaw Take To Perform?

The procedure takes about 30 minutes to 45 minutes to perform in most cases, including the needed time for preparation and anesthesia.

What Are the Risks and Complications of a Declaw Operation?

The overall risk of this surgery in a healthy young pet is very low. The major risks are those of general anesthesia, bleeding (hemorrhage) and post-operative infection. Overall complication rate is low, but serious complications can result in the need for additional surgery.

What Is the Typical Postoperative Care?

Postoperative medication should be given to relieve pain, which is judged in most cases to be mild to moderate and can be effectively eliminated with safe and effective pain medicines. Generally young cats are acting normally within 24 to 48 hours and are released one or two days after surgery. Some will limp or walk tenderly for several days to weeks. Older cats that are declawed may have more pain and postoperative problems such as limping. The home care requires reduced activity until the feet are healed and using shredded paper in the litter box to reduce the risk of infection. The toes should be inspected daily by the pet owner for signs of redness, discharge, swelling, or pain.

How Long Is the Hospital Stay?

The typical stay is one or two days. The declaw procedure may be combined with a spaying or neutering operation (see elsewhere on this site), and this may require an extra day in the hospital.

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