Cats and Claws

Cats leave dogs in the dust when it comes to the dexterity of the fore paws. This allows them to fish small cavities and holes, hooking hidden prey with their well-sharpened claws. Unfortunately, their claws can do a lot of damage to furniture, drapes, human skin, and other cats. Minimizing this damage potential can be a challenge, especially for indoor cats.

 Do I need to trim my cat’s nails?

The simple answer to this question is “no”, unless you are trimming their nails to maintain the natural look of your own skin. In fact, whether you trim your cats’ nails or not, they will constantly sharpen them. This process involves removing some of the outer layers of the nail as they grow so that they will remain clean and pointed. Those cats that cannot sharpen their nails (older cats and cats with extra toes) may need to have their nails trimmed to keep them from overgrowing.

To avoid having your cats tear up your drapes, rugs, or favorite chair, provide them with their own scratching surface. This could be a wooden post with or without carpeting, cut corrugated cardboard packed densely in a low box (about two to three inches high), or something bought from the pet store designed to attract their scratching attention. Adding catnip will often encourage a reluctant cat to try to a new surface. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few items to find the right surface for you cat; it’s an obligation of all cats to make things difficult for their owners.

Cats also mark their territory by scratching. This may be the case if you find them practicing their sculpturing techniques on the trim around your door and windows, especially if there is an ‘enemy’ cat outside that is hanging around a lot. In addition to providing other objects for your cats to release their artistic inclinations, spraying a synthetic cheek gland pheromone in the area or using a pheromone diffuser may help calm them and eliminate the drive to mark their territory.

 When is it necessary to de-claw my cat?

 Hopefully, never. De-clawing cats is my least favorite veterinary obligation. Well, to be honest, emptying anal glands outranks de-clawing. There is one thought that can pick me up whenever I’m feeling life is a bit tough: we humans could have had anal glands.

If however it comes down to the cat must be de-clawed or the cat must go (too much shredded furniture or skin) de-clawing is something to consider. The procedure involves removing the entire third phalanx, the last toe bone, to prevent re-growth of the nail. Since this is more than just clipping a hangnail, it is important to make sure that your veterinarian believes in good pain control.

At our hospital, we place a pain patch on your cat the day before the surgery. We use a gas anesthetic for the general, IV fluids to maintain blood pressure and avoid dehydration, inject a combination of local anesthetics to eliminate the immediate post-operative pain, and bandage the paws for 24 hours to control bleeding. The following day, the bandages are removed, the IV catheter is taken out, and your cat is discharged in the afternoon. It may be coincidental, but since the advent of pain patches, cats seem to be in a much better mood when they see us at their next visit.

Post operative home care involves preventing your cat from jumping onto high places (the jump down is a bummer for a couple of weeks), maybe some oral antibiotics, using paper-type litter, and removing the pain patch in three to four days.

Because declawed cats have lost their best line of defense, keeping them indoors for the rest of their lives is critical for letting them have a long rest-of-their-lives. Actually, this is good advice for all cats since cats that go outdoors live on average half as long as those that live indoors only.

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