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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

We had our cat Samantha declawed about six weeks ago She’s a big cat, 20 pounds, and about 6 years old. She doesn’t want to jump off anything and mostly lays around in the bedroom and looks sad. When she does walk, she walks really slow like she’s tiptoeing around. She doesn’t want us to touch her front feet. She even lays down to drink water. What can we do to help her?

~ Brenda

Siouxsie: Before we even start to answer your question, Brenda, we want to speak to our other readers. We know that many of you have very strong feelings about declawing — and rightly so — but we ask you to please refrain from making nasty comments. Any shaming or cussing will be deleted.

Mia is a front-declawed cat available for adoption through PAWS in Lynwood, Wash.

Mia is a front-declawed cat available for adoption (as of March 15, 2012) through PAWS in Lynwood, Wash. If you want a declawed cat, we recommend searching Petfinder or inquiring at shelters in your area. Click the photo to go to Mia's Petfinder page.

Thomas: There! Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business. In order to help you understand why your cat is in pain, we’ll explain what declawing surgery is: it’s the amputation of the third joints of your cat’s front toes. That third joint is like the joints on the ends of your fingers where your fingernails are.

Siouxsie: Dahlia, where are you? You’re late! …. oh, *sniffle* that’s right …

Thomas: There, there, Siouxsie. We must carry on. *sniffle*

Siouxsie: Yes, yes we must. *sniffle, sigh* Anyway, Brenda. Amputating the ends of a cat’s front toes results in a lot of pain, especially considering that cats carry about 60 percent of their weight on their front legs.

Thomas: The information we’ve read on recovery from declawing indicates that your cat really shouldn’t be reluctant to walk after about a week post-surgery. The fact that Samantha is still in such obvious pain after six weeks is a red flag to us: We think you need to call your vet and tell him or her what’s going on.

Siouxsie: Sometimes declawed cats develop infections in the paws.

Thomas: Another thing that can happen with declaw surgery is that if the cat’s nail bed isn’t completely removed, the claws can grow back, deformed, inside the paws.

A diagram of clawed vs. declawed cat toes.

Clawed vs. declawed cat toes. Click to embiggenate the picture for easy reading. Image courtesy of Little Big Cat

Siouxsie: A cat’s body undergoes a lot of changes after declawing. Removing that last phalange (finger joint) causes other tendons and ligaments in the forelegs to over-contract or over-expand, which can cause a cascading effect on other parts of the body.

Thomas: For more information about this, check out this article written by veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve about the physical consequences of declawing.

Siouxsie: We don’t know if your cat is big because she’s a big-framed cat like a Maine Coon or a Bengal, or if she’s overweight. One of the best things you can do to manage a declawed cat’s pain is to ensure that she’s not obese.

Thomas: If Samantha is overweight, please work with your vet to develop a diet and exercise plan to get her back down to an appropriate weight.

Siouxsie: Declawing is pretty much an American phenomenon. The surgery is banned in many other countries. In England, for example, the surgery is outlawed as inhumane and an unnecessary mutilation.

Thomas: We’re not saying this to make you feel bad. We’re more “hissed off” at your vet for not helping you to understand what’s really involved in declawing surgery. We think if you’d known, you probably wouldn’t have had Samantha declawed. After all, there are lots of ways to keep your cat from scratching furniture — or you — that don’t involve such drastic measures.

Siouxsie: Since you can’t make the declaw un-happen, though, the next best thing you can do (after you get her checked out by your vet, of course) is to make it as easy as possible for her to move around with minimal pain.

Thomas: Steps leading to her favorite places, for example, will enable her to walk up without trying to grasp with her now-nonexistent claws and exit without jumping onto the floor and causing pain to her feet.

Siouxsie: Work with your vet on pain management. Pain management is tricky in cats because NSAIDs, the most common non-narcotic pain relievers, are too toxic to cats to use long-term. Integrative medicine techniques like acupuncture can offer some relief.

Thomas: We hope you can get Samantha sorted out. If things have gone seriously wrong, there are veterinarians who do declaw repair surgery to correct the problems that lead to chronic pain in declawed cats.

Siouxsie: As for the rest of you — if you really want a declawed cat, there are zillions of them in shelters all across the United States. A quick search on Petfinder yielded 89 of them in one Seattle zip code — and that gorgeous orange cat at the top of this article is one of them.

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