De-clawing Cats — What do you mean, you “don’t think he’s hurting?”

Some days I think I am a great communicator.  Heaven knows, I love to listen to me talking.  Then there are days like today.

De-clawing is a major surgery for the cat (pretty routine for me).  I don’t feel it is something to be entered into lightly, or to be considered "minor" in any way.  You are amputating the last bone (digit, third phalanx, whatever you want to call it) on every toe that is being de-clawed.  This is not crippling to a cat, as they walk on the next bone up, with that last bone and claw flipped up out of the way — the old, retractable claw business.  On the other hand, just imagine having the ends of all your fingers cut off…  Ouch!   Okay, you can stop imagining now.

There are definitely times when de-clawing is indicated.  Sometimes either the claws have got to go or the cat has got to go.  I don’t want the kitty to lose his home, and I know that it won’t be long before he’s able to walk normally and pain-free again.  Sometimes you just have to make the best choice you can. The important thing is to make the surgery and recovery as pain-free as possible.  In addition to general anesthesia, we use local anesthetic to block the nerves to the paw.  This prevents some of the pain perception mechanism from ever getting triggered.  We use a lot of buprenorphine post-operatively.  It’s a mild narcotic that cats tolerate well, and you can give a tiny volume simply by squirting it in the mouth.  They don’t actually have to swallow it, as it absorbs across the cheeks and tongue.  We send home enough to give every 6 to 8 hours for at least three days.

It’s unusual to de-claw an adult cat, but when folks have adopted a cat who needed a home desperately and the cat starts shredding his new home…  This was a big cat: fourteen pounds.  We talked about what a major surgery this is. I told the folks that he would stay in the hospital an extra day with his bandages on to protect his paws, and that we would be using extra pain medication to be sure that he had enough when he went home.  An adult doesn’t heal as fast as a growing kitten.

When we called to check on him, we found that they weren’t giving him his pain medicine.  "Well, we didn’t think he needed it.  We had a cat before, and when he was hurting, he did a lot of panting and crying."  [As cats have a strong tendency to conceal signs of pain or illness, I wish we had had the presence of mind to ask what was wrong with their previous cat to get him panting and crying.]

Here’s a predicament for you: If the people listen to me now, they have to admit they were wrong and were letting the cat suffer without his meds.  To be right, they have to hold on to their previous mindset and wait for him to pant and cry.  The best I could think of was to remind them that some cats try very hard to conceal their weakness.  It’s a survival instinct.  Don’t show your weakness, as other predators may take advantage of you.  "Just in case he is one of those cats, let’s go ahead and give the medicine… just to be on the safe side, you know.  It won’t hurt him." [Since it’s, whaddayacallit? … pain medicine]

It’s just another reminder that animals (and people) don’t always show their feelings in the same way.  One cat purrs only when happy, the next purrs like a machine when he’s about to come unglued and take the room apart.  I have to keep falling back on, "Would I be hurting if this were me?"

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