Have you heard about the man and woman who have been charged with felony animal cruelty because of what they did to a kitten name Toby? To quote the Miami Herald:

 

When Carmenza Piedrahita wanted to declaw her kitten Toby, Miami-Dade prosecutors say, she didn’t go to a licensed veterinarian.

Instead, she turned to an elderly Miami man [Geronimo Gonzalez] who along with another man performed an illegal do-it-yourself declawing of the cat, police said. Toby fell ill. For two weeks, he lingered in pain and dehydration, vomiting a green substance, the exposed bones on his front paws infected and swollen.

 

Piedrahita finally took Toby to a Miami animal clinic, where he died.

 

Disgusting! I hope Piedrahita, Gonzalez, and the unnamed man all receive the maximum sentences possible under the law.

 

This story reaffirms my belief that declaws performed by compassionate and well-trained veterinarians must always remain available as an option of last resort for owners.

 

Don’t get me wrong, declaws are potentially inhumane. The surgery essentially involves the amputation of every one of a cat’s fingers at the first knuckle (the one just under your nail if you’re looking at your own hands). Therefore, cats should not be declawed until all other reasonable options, like the following, have been pursued.

 

  • Prevent access to the areas where your cat has been inappropriately scratching. Close doors or consider placing a ScatMat (a pad that delivers a small electric zap when stepped on) in front of your couch corner, molding, etc. If you can’t keep your cat away, cover the specific areas with double sided tape or aluminum foil to make them less attractive.
  • Provide multiple scratching posts made from different materials (carpet, corrugated cardboard, wood, rope-covered, etc.) to determine which type your cat likes best. Try different orientations since some cats like to scratch on horizontal surfaces and others prefer vertical.
  • Trim your cat’s nails regularly. A nail trimmer with sharp blades is essential. Praise and reward your cat when he or she is cooperative.
  • Rubbery nail covers work for some cats but have to be replaced on a regular basis.

 

But what’s an owner to do if none of this works? Is it reasonable to ask someone to simply put up with a cat’s destructive behavior? I don’t think so, since the chances of that individual cat remaining a welcome and cherished household member are negligible at best. It is in these cases that declaws are a viable option.

 

I have declawed cats. Because I perform nerve blocks, provide aggressive oral or injectable pain relief, prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection, and insist on several days of post-operative hospitalization, I have seen how comfortable cats can be after a “good” declaw. (One memorable patient started batting around toys as soon as she woke up from anesthesia). I am afraid that if we make obtaining a quality declaw surgery harder or even impossible by banning the procedure, cases like Toby’s could become more frequent.

 

 

Dr. Jennifer Coates