August 1, 2022

More than half of the homes in the US have a cat or cats as pets. And love them like we do, there are still areas of concern cat owners have about safely living with them. 

While inappropriate urination may be number one on that list, and second is biting, a close third is the danger of having cat claws contact human skin and prized human possessions. And granted, yes, you can replace your belongings, it is easier to live in harmony with our cats when their claws are disarmed. 

There has been a movement in the last 20 years away from surgically declawing cats. As an elective procedure, this historically had been done almost as commonly as neutering and spaying. While some would argue that spaying and neutering are essential, it is possible to manage this non-surgically. However, this is a topic for another article. 

Since routinely declawing cats at spaying and neutering is no longer done, we have to offer alternatives to owners who must protect their skin from injury due to cat scratches. In the very young or elderly; and in patients on immunosuppressants, chemotherapy, anticoagulants (blood thinners), and those with immunosuppressive disorders such as AIDS, these scratches can lead to serious health consequences and elimination of cats in their lives. Many of these patients live alone or have small families, and the cat(s) can be an essential part of their interactions and mental health. 

What Are The Alternatives?

So if we no longer find it palatable, legal, or morally appropriate to declaw our cat(s), what alternatives do we have? 

There are plastic sheathes that can be glued onto the cat's nails. However, these are hard to apply; cats resist them and are only a short-term solution. 

The best alternative is to have your veterinarian perform a minor surgical procedure known as a Deep Digital Flexor Tendonectomy or Tendonotomy (DDFT). This can easily be performed while the cat is under anesthesia for a spay or neuter, a dental, or as a stand-alone procedure. It does require general anesthesia. A small slit incision is made on the underside of each toe, the tendon that controls the extension of the claw is isolated, and about 6 mm of the tendon is removed. Then the skin is glued closed. There is little to no bleeding, no bandaging, and no overnight stay in the hospital.  A local block and a few short days of oral or injectable post-op pain medication are administered and sent home with the cat. 

By a day or two post-op, the cat will be back to moving around your home comfortably, using the litter box, eating, drinking, and interacting with you. The only difference is that you no longer have to wear jeans in the summer or long sleeves to protect your skin. You don’t have to worry that the cat will Velcro themselves to the leather couch, climb your favorite stereo speakers, or dangle from the curtains. 

The only downside to this is that you will still need to provide nail care – nail trimming – for your cat as they will not be able to shed the nail sheath by using a scratching post or your precious family heirlooms. 

This is not a difficult procedure for most veterinarians to learn and perform. And the cost should be affordable. Spay/neuter clinics are unlikely to perform this procedure at desexing procedures, so you will likely have to find a veterinarian who is well versed in feline surgery and care. 

So for those of you who love living with cats or wish you could, here is a great alternative to the fear of cat claw damage, deliberate or inadvertent. 

Contact your veterinary professional for more information on this great alternative to declawing or damage.