Laser Declawing Cats: How it works & Better Alternatives

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Laser declawing cats is the amputation of the first joint of each toe on a cat’s front paws. Many pet owners are turning to a laser procedure instead of traditional methods because lasers provide some superficial benefits that standard procedures don’t offer. However, regardless of how the declawing is done, declawing cats does serious long-term damage to a cat’s health and wellbeing.

Declawing is most often turned to in order to solve behavioral problems. However, there are better ways to address unwanted feline behaviors. Read on to learn more about the process of laser declawing cats, how it works, and some better options for addressing clawing issues.

What Is Laser Declawing?

Laser declawing, also called an onychectomy, is a way to remove the claws from cats by using lasers rather than traditional shears or surgery. It’s a less invasive treatment because it doesn’t require incisions and stitches.

A cat’s claw gets trimmed like a human fingernail, but physiologically it is actually the end of a cat’s toe bone. In a laser declawing procedure, lasers burn away the tips of the cat’s toes. This removed the claws entirely, which of course eliminates the cat’s ability to scratch.

During the procedure, a medical-grade CO2 laser removes the cat’s toe at the last joint. A traditional declaw procedure would use a scalpel, shears, or a guillotine tool to amputate the toes. The laser cauterizes as it cuts through tissue.

This amputation must be done 10 times to fully declaw both of a cat’s front paws. Each amputation includes not only the toe bone, but associated nerve, the joint capsule, collateral ligaments, the extensor tendons and the flexor tendons. All these structures must be removed 10 times.

Laser declawing cats
Laser declawing cats (and any type of declawing) involves amputating each toe at the first joint.

The declawing procedure has been somewhat graphically compared to amputating human fingers at the last joint. If this sounds extreme, it feels extreme for the cat too. After the procedure, the cat is declawed, and can suffer a great deal physically and psychologically from not being able to use its paws and claws appropriately.

How Is Laser Declawing Different from Traditional Cat Declaw?

There are several differences between laser declawing and traditional claw removal:

  • Less-invasive: Laser declawing doesn’t require stitches or sutures after surgery.
  • Quicker: This method only takes about 15 minutes to remove a cat’s claw, which is much faster than traditional procedures that can take up to an hour per paw.
  • No anaesthesia: Laser declawing cats requires no anaesthesia. Only a topical anaesthetic cream goes on the paw pads and claws
  • Less trauma: Laser beams cauterize as they cut. So there’s minimal bleeding or swelling. This means your cat can go home the same day.
  • Tools: The traditional method of cat declawing needs a scalpel. 
  • Laser declawing cats will usually cost more than a traditional declawing procedure.
What is laser declawing for cats?
Laser declawing a cat is equivalent to amputating the last joint of each finger on the cat’s “hands”.

Benefits of Laser Declawing of Cats

There are several perceived advantages to laser declawing over surgical declawing, though none address the true problems caused by declawing. Problems with declawing often emerge days, weeks, or years after the procedure. However, compared to a traditional declawing procedure, the benefits of laser declawing include:

  • Speed: Laser declawing is a relatively quick procedure.
  • Precision: Laser beams allow for a very precise incision that cauterizes the blood vessels as it cuts each claw, so there are fewer bleeding or post-operative complications
  • Less physical trauma: Laser beams cauterize as they cut, so there is less bleeding and swelling. That means your cat can go home the same day.
  • Fewer drugs: Laser declawing does not require heavy sedation of anaesthetic drugs that can cause side effects, resulting in fewer postoperative problems.

Compared to a traditional surgical declaw procedure, laser declawing has a few benefits. However, the end goal of removing a cat’s claws is inherently harmful.

How Does Declawing Affect a Cat Physiologically?

Cats are digitigrade animals, meaning they walk on their toes. Cats use their claws not only for self defense and climbing, but for balance, and stretching. Without claws, cats have a great deal of difficulty stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders, and paws.

Stretching

When cats dig their claws into a surface and pull, they are not just sharpening and filing their claws. Pulling on the claw stretches muscles and ligaments in the paw. This in turn stretches muscles and ligaments in their legs, which stretches their shoulders, and their back. Clawing is truly a whole-body activity that contributes directly to the health of a cat’s musculoskeletal system.

Not only does clawing benefit a cat physically, but it is an intrinsically cat-like behavior. There are few behaviors that could be considered more cat-like than a good stretch-‘n-claw. Being able to extend his claws and perform these essentially feline behaviors contributes to the cat-ness of your cat, and will help him to feel whole and fulfilled throughout his life.

Claw Health

When cats scratch, they are conditioning their claws by removing the dead external cuticle. If you ever see a papery substance coming off of a cat’s nail, this is the cuticle. Scratching to remove this is a form of self-care for the cat. If the claws and toe bones are amputated by declawing the cat, this process no longer happens. However, understanding that it’s an important part of being a cat can help you craft your cat’s environment so that he can perform this task in an appropriate location.

Marking Territory

Cats scratch to leave visual and scent markings on their territory. This is a deeply ingrained instinctual behavior. Satisfying the need to scratch for these purposes helps your cat to feel at home, safe, secure, and content with his communications. If your cat is doing this on inappropriate surfaces, you can analyze those locations and provide your cat with an acceptable alternative. For example, if your cat likes to scratch on the vertical side of a sofa (unacceptable), you can provide your cat with a vertical scratching post that he can scratch to his heart’s content (acceptable!).

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Long Term Effects of Declawing a Cat

Declawing a cat using any method can be extremely dangerous. The claws play an essential part in the cat’s life, and removing them is often detrimental to the cat’s long term health, happiness, and wellbeing. Because of the negative effects of being declawed, owners of declawed cats often have to manage difficult behaviors from their struggling companions including medical issues and poor litter box behaviors.

Some potential long term effects of declawing cats are listed below.

Litter Box Problems after Laser Declawing

Short term and long term litter box problems are common in declawed cats. Declawed cats will avoid using the litter box immediately after the procedure due to the pain of walking on the litter after all their toes have been amputated.

Cats will also often begin avoiding the litter box months or years after the procedure, due to increasing paw and leg pain. This pain is due to the cat’s inability to stretch the wrist ligaments appropriately. Imagine if you could never stretch your arm again – it would cramp up and cause you severe pain. This is what a declawed cat experiences, and one reason that cats may start soiling different areas of the house after being declawed.

Another litter box issue that often pops up after declawing is that cats may stop covering their feces. Even if they tolerate stepping on litter long enough to use the box appropriately, the feel of litter on their damaged paws (even after healing) can be too unpleasant.

Painful Recovery After Declawing

Declawing is an invasive surgery that involves amputating a cat’s toes up until its first joint. Even with a “less invasive” laser procedure, cats experience severe pain and discomfort during their recovery process. This can last up to six weeks.

Bone Spurs After Declawing

The bones in a cat’s toes have blood vessels and nerves, which means that when they remove the claws, it can cause bone spurs to grow continuously throughout their lifetime. This leads to arthritis pain for cats once they get older.

Misaligned Back Legs Due To Declawing

A clawless cat does not have the same balance since she can no longer grip and walk on surfaces like before. That leads to a cat’s legs splaying outwards in an awkward manner which causes the spine to get misaligned over time. Various health problems and pains can result from this misalignment.

Infection From Procedure

The surgery that cats go through for declawing involves cutting into the tip of a cat’s toe. This invasive procedure leaves the bones and nerves exposed, allowing bacteria to get in potentially cause infections. Laser declawing will lead to fewer infections than traditional methods, but the risk is still present.

Is Declawing Cats Illegal?

There is a push to ban declawing cats because the practice is considered inhumane and unnecessary in almost all cases. Declawing, even laser declawing, falls under under animal cruelty laws as a form of animal abuse and is therefore illegal in those places.Even in locales where declawing is still legal, many veterinarians will refuse to perform the procedure.

The legality of declawing cats varies from place to place. Many cities and countries are now considering declawing cats to be illegal and have taken steps to ban the procedure entirely.

Countries Where Declawing Cats is Illegal

As per the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, about 25 countries banned or restricted cat declawing.

They include:

  • England
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Finland
  • Romania
  • Austria
  • Italy
  • Sweden
  • France
  • Cyprus
  • Spain
  • Luxembourg
  • Denmark
  • Latvia
  • Greece
  • Lithuania
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Switzerland
  • Ukraine
  • Serbia
  • Turkey

US Cities & States Where Declawing Cats is Illegal

In the United States, Hollywood became the first city to ban declawing. Other cities in California that ban the procedure include Beverly Hills, Culver City, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Berkeley. California, in general, prohibited the declawing of exotic and wild cats. New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Florida banned declawing cats.

Canadian Provinces Where Declawing Cats is Illegal

There’s no federal law in Canada that bans declawing. However, seven of the North American country’s provinces made declawing illegal. These provinces include Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Alternatives to Laser Declawing Cats

The most common reason for declawing cats is to prevent destructive behaviors to furniture and household items. Addressing the root cause of the misdirect scratching is the best approach followed by non-invasive methods for disincentivizing unwanted scratching. Now that you know declawing comes with adverse effects, here are some alternatives to the procedure.

Provide Frequent Attention

One reason for a catGiving your Another alternative to declawing is simply giving your cats more attention. By brushing your cat or playing with them, you can reduce their scratching and chewing behaviors.

Train Your Cat to Use Her Scratching Post

Providing your cat with an appropriate scratching surface, will go a long way toward such as a sisal rope or a wooden post. 

You should encourage your cat to use their designated object by rewarding them with treats and praise. If your cat isn’t using the post available to them, try offering a different scratching surface.

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Nail Caps

If you would like to protect your furniture without the invasive medical procedure of declawing, nail caps are a great alternative. 

Nail caps are soft, colorful caps that are glued onto your cat’s nails. Think fake nails for humans, but slightly squishy. They remain on the claw for 2-6 weeks, and then they fall off with the natural shedding cycle of the cat’s claw. You can then reapply a new cap.

Nail caps can stop a cat from scratching surfaces. They are also useful for preventing accidentally (or purposeful) scratches to humans, since the caps aren’t sharp. If there’s a person in the home who is at a higher risk of infection or other complication from an accidental cat scratch, nail caps might be the way to go.

Trim the Cat’s Nails

Clipping or filing down claws is not an invasive procedure like declawing. Trimming the cat’s nails will prevent her from scratching and damaging your furniture.

You can cut your cat’s nails regularly with cat clippers to keep them short and blunt. If you aren’t sure how to do this, I recommend you check out our guides on clipping cat nails and clipping kitten nails for an in-depth guide on how to do this task easily.

If you’re still not comfortable, your vet can show you the proper way to trim your cat’s nails. Or, you can check with your local pet stores to see if they offer cat grooming services. You can also use an electric pet nail file if that is more appealing to your and your cat.

Tendonectomy Surgery (NOT Recommended)

A tendonectomy is a procedure in which the tendons that allow a cat to extend his claws are cut. This type of surgery reduces but does not eliminate scratching behaviour and can be more painful than traditional declawing techniques. The claws will continue to grow, and require the cat’s nails to be trimmed regularly.

Because a cat cannot use its claws appropriately after a tendonectomy, the claws have a tendency to become brittle over the course of the cat’s life. Brittle nails will split and cause the cat severe pain.

Tendonectomys have the same rates of infection, bleeding, and lameness as declawing. The American Veterinary Medical Association does not recommend the procedure, and it is also illegal in many places.

Is Laser Declawing Cats Humane?

Declawing cats should be an extreme option only considered if all other options have been exhausted. If the cat’s behaviors have not improved with the options suggested above, a cat owner may feel that a cat must be declawed in order to keep it in the home due to safety concerns. In this case, a laser declawing procedure may be a better option than a traditional declawing procedure.

Make sure you check with your country, state, or city’s legislation about laser declawing cats before you embark on the procedure. You should also consider what your friends, family, and neighbours think about the declawing procedure, and crowd-source other possible options for your cat with your community.

Sometimes, declawing is the only option to keep a cat safely homed. However, there is usually a less extreme solution. By trimming nails regularly, using nail caps, getting your cat groomed, keeping him entertained and exercised, and providing him with plenty of varied scratching surfaces, your cat has a good chance of decreasing any unwanted claw-related behaviors. In most cases, cats and owners can learn to live together peacefully and loveingly, claws and all.

Is laser declawing humane?
Is Laser Declawing Humane? How it works & Better Alternatives