Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I adopted my 3-year-old cat, Pepper, last February from the SPCA. Pepper’s former owner had him declawed and now I’ve noticed that he’s got a couple of deformed claws regrowing on each of his front paws. There’s not any redness or swelling that I can see, but he really doesn’t like me messing with his paws. I know this can happen after declawing, but what I’m not sure about is what can be done for him now. He doesn’t appear to be in any pain and he’s acting completely normal — playing, eating, drinking, and getting into mischief. And despite his lack of front claws, he still loves to claw things.
Is this something I can just let him live with or will this eventually cause him any pain and discomfort in the future? Please help. I’m an experienced cat owner, but as I’ve never had a cat declawed (nor do I intend to) I’m at a loss as to what to do. Pepper is the sweetest, most loving cat, and I just want him to have a happy wonderful life, and the best care it’s possible for me to give him.
Thank you for your help.
Siouxsie: We know declawing is a very emotional issue, so before anyone goes off half-cocked and criticizes this reader for declawing, please note that Pepper was declawed when she adopted him and that she has no intention of ever declawing a cat herself. … OK, now that everybody’s taken a deep breath, let’s get on with our answer.
Thomas: Unfortunately, Barbi, your cat’s problem is quite common. According to veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve, up to a third of cats who are declawed have post-surgical complications including abscesses, lameness, and claw regrowth. These complications can occur anywhere from days to years after the surgery.
Dahlia: There are many other declaw complications including chronic pain, arthritis, litterbox problems, and biting, and personality changes.
Siouxsie: Apparently there is a reparative surgery that can be done for cats with deformed claw outgrowth as a result of botched declaw surgery.
Thomas: The procedure is expensive and painful, mind you, and it’s basically a second declaw procedure to remove the bone from which the claws are growing.
Dahlia: Deformed claws can cause problems, particularly if they grow into the pads and cause irritation or infection.
Siouxsie: It’s also hard to know if the bone from which the claws are growing is causing your cat discomfort or pain. If the bone is growing improperly, that too can cause infection.
Thomas: Cats are very good at hiding pain until it’s pretty much unbearable, so it’s hard to know how much he’s hurting.
Dahlia: We’d recommend that you talk to your vet about your options. He or she will be able to take X-rays and find out what’s really going on inside Pepper’s paws and give you sound advice on whether or not it would be in your cat’s best interest to have the surgical repair done.
Siouxsie: Veterinarians who do declaw surgeries prefer to do them between 4 and 8 months of age because, theoretically, cats will adapt better to declaw surgery if they have it done when they’re young.
Thomas: It’s generally not considered wise to declaw an overweight cat, since the recovery is painful enough without having extra weight on the toes. So if your cat is overweight, your vet may either suggest you get him on a weight loss program before any reparative surgery is done.
Dahlia: For our part, we’re against declawing. The vast majority of declaw surgeries are done for the owner’s convenience, not for the benefit of the cat. There are much more humane ways to prevent unwanted furniture scratching or train your cat to scratch on appropriate surfaces.
Siouxsie: We know there are some very rare exceptions where declawing may be medically necessary for the cat — for example, if the paws and claws are congenitally deformed and having claws would lead to even more long-term pain and risk of infection than the procedure itself.
Thomas: And there are other very rare exceptions where a cat’s caretaker has a severely compromised immune system and it would be worse for the cat to be rehomed than it would to have the surgery.
Dahlia: However, we should point out that we personally know a cat caretaker who has a compromised immune system due to organ transplant surgery and the anti-rejection drugs he has to take, and his cats aren’t declawed. They’re just really good about not scratching because they were well-trained from kittenhood. So it’s not absolutely necessary to have a cat declawed if your immune system is not sound.
Siouxsie: Barbi, we’re so grateful to you not only for caring so much about Pepper’s well-being, but for adopting an adult cat. We’re big fans of adopting adult cats!
Thomas: I know I’m a particularly big fan. Mama adopted me from the shelter when I was 3 years old, and I didn’t know if I’d ever find a home because everyone wanted kittens!
Dahlia: Please let us know what you find out when you talk with your vet about reparative surgery and how things turn out with Pepper!