Thursday, 25 June 2009

Declawing - a human experience

Recently a friend, P, had to have some of her toenails removed, and after remarking jokingly that she was going to be declawed I thought maybe hearing what this similar procedure was like for a human might give us an inkling of an idea what cats go through when they have their claws, and toe ends, removed. P was kind enough to oblige and wrote down her experiences.

P was firstly given this written explanation of what would happen. “This operation is conducted to remove part or all of a diseased, damaged, thickened or ingrowing toenail. We are going to take your toenails off permanently because of severe ingrowing toenails. Two big toes and two adjacent toes on both feet will be operated on. Firstly your left foot, followed by surgery on your right foot at a later date. Note that only one foot would be attended to at a time with a break in between surgery. Please read the document and if you agree, please sign the consent form.”

Well this sounds very frightening to me, I think I would have limped a mile to avoid that. And I would imagine that seeing it all written down in black and white was pretty scary for P too. But imagine, if you will, if she hadn’t been given that explanation, didn’t even have ingrown toenails but had normal healthy feet and knew nothing about any forthcoming procedure until the day came that she was bundled into an ambulance, by the consent of someone she trusted, against her will and delivered to the hospital.
Having read and understood the proposed treatment P was then invited to sign the consent form and rightly so, it would be unthinkable not to be given the choice once she knew what was going to happen, at that point she may have decided not to go through with it after all. Ah but, going back to our earlier imagined scenario, the P that knew nothing of what was in store for her, that P was delivered to the hospital with no idea why, or for that matter where she was. No explanation given, no consent form signed, at least not by P but by someone who had elected themselves as her carer and had decided that this operation would make her easier to care for so had booked her in for it that day. She was then taken and put in a small room, almost like a cage, maybe surrounded by other people, also in small rooms, who were frightened and calling out for explanations and for someone they trusted to come and take them home.

P tells it like this: “I was weighed firstly to assess how much anaesthetic to administer”, now my friend obviously knew what was happening, why she was being weighed, and I guess she was asked kindly to get on and then off the scales. I don’t think our imaginary P was informed, I think it’s more likely that the door to her small room was opened without preamble and she was picked up buy someone much bigger than herself and dumped on a scale and held still while her weight was noted. Then she was returned to her small room to wait and wonder.

P says “Once on the operating table that was arranged for me to be comfortable in a sitting position as I wanted to watch, the anaesthetic local injections were administered around the big toe and the adjacent toe on my left foot. I watched as they scrubbed up and set the sterile trolley. The surgeon tested for numbness and asked if I was comfortable. Lovely music was played quietly to create a relaxing atmosphere. I was asked for the last time if I wanted to go through with the operation. I said yes. The procedure began “

Meanwhile imaginary P has been taken into theatre and given a general anaesthetic. Do you remember the favoured anaesthetics of Paul the Pimp in one of my previous blogs? If you do you will know that P might not only have been given intravenous anaesthesia but she might have also had ketamine sprayed into her eyes if she had she struggled and been hard to restrain. I reckon I'd struggle and be hard to restrain wouldn't you? We'd all have the ketamine sprayed in our eys wouldn't we? Imaginary P has been given a cocktail of anaesthesia and is now at risk of seizures, vomiting, tremors, spastic jerking movements and hypo or hyper thermia amongst other things. She is also at risk of appearing completely sedated, but still being able to move, even kick, bite or scratch, in response to sharp auditory stimulation due to the Xylazine she has been given. I hope she doesn’t move or kick at a crucial moment in the removal of her toenail.

My friend P was lying comfortably on the table, watching the procedure, by her own power of choice. Unconscious but twitching, imaginary P was hauled up into stirrups with her legs held really tight and tourniquets were strapped round her legs, first one and then, later, the other
My friend P says: First an incision was made down the sides and bottom of the big toenail. Another instrument was put down my toe and the nail and the nail levered steadily off. The nail came off very easily but my big toe nail bed bled profusely. Chemicals on tiny swabs were placed slowly but deeply around the matrix (cuticles) to destroy all future nail growth. The adjacent toe was operated on next and exactly the same routine was carried out.

Meanwhile mythical P has turned into a cat (this is quite feasible, after all this is an imaginary exercise) and is having a traditional declawing procedure, paw number one is held securely aloft and the tourniquet is applied. Toe by toe is extended and using either a scalpel or a guillotine type of clipper the vet cuts through bone, nerves, ligaments and tendons. Inevitably there is crushing of bone, tearing of skin and bruising, how could there not be? This happens five times on each front paw, with the possibility of a further 4 on each back paw. Each separate wound has to be sutured and then the paw tightly bandaged to prevent haemorrhaging

P goes on to say: Once the bleeding was brought under control, sterile dressings were applied then wrapped generously in bandages and tube gauze until both toes resembled huge white mushrooms. I was helped off the operating table and helped on with my open toed sandals, with the top fastening completely undone. On crutches I was helped out to where my daughter was waiting to take me home in the car.

Imaginary P is still under the effect of anaesthesia and as that effect wears off may experience as Paul the Pimp puts it “episodes of emergence delirium”, imaginary P, the cat, will gradually become aware of intense pain but will not be able to rationalise what has happened or why the paws are tightly bound, and so will start to worry at the bandages, try to stagger to her feet and begin to cry out in pain and confusion. As she stands and puts pressure on her ruined toes she will feel more pain and possibly the suturing will split and bleeding will begin Perhaps the veterinary practice doesn’t routinely give painkillers unless specifically requested by the carer. Certainly if pain relief is administered it will be charged for as extra. Imaginary P will stay in the small recovery cage all through the night; I guess sleep will not come easily.

My friend P is now at home where she has been told to rest with her foot elevated, her local anaesthetic is wearing off and she reaches for her painkillers.

The day after the declawing procedure imaginary P may be sent home, first being placed in the carrier she was brought into surgery in, it is inevitable that she will have to walk a few steps as she is pushed into the carrier, so far since her operation she hasn’t had her feet elevated at all. Gravity must be pulling at those stumps and making them throb like crazy. Now home she has to emerge from the carrier and hobble towards her resting place and maybe her litter box. Lift those paws high P, don’t hit the edge of the litter box with those throbbing stumps. Resting at last she tries to make sense of what has happened to her, what are the things on her paws, why can’t she get them off, why does she hurt so much.

Three days later my friend P drives herself to hospital for a check up, her dressings were removed, the wounds cleaned and fresh dressings applied. She was asked to return after another week had passed.

Mythical P has had to resume life; pain relief if given was for a couple of days. Litter box must be used, children maybe, or dogs, must be dealt with, sore weeping stumps still wrapped must be protected. Pain makes the best of us irritable. No claws for defence, maybe P will bite instead.

My friend P says: "in between hospital visits I went to the nurse at the doctor’s surgery as I had pain in my knee and couldn’t balance to apply my dressings. An infection set in and at my next visit to the nurse a week later she called in the doctor. He confirmed I had a bad infection. My toes were very red, swollen, oozing and painful. A prescription for antibiotics was given. A week later I returned only to have the doctor say the infection was still there and was given another prescription for further antibiotics. The pain was terrible and I had to take painkillers also. "

Oh no, imaginary P also has an infection, not only that but she has damage to the radial nerves and possibly bone chips working to the surface of the stump. For a time it seems that the infection will take over and one of her paws might have to be amputated. She hasn’t been able to elevate her paws, she wasn’t given crutches to walk with nor an advice sheet telling her to rest, she’s had to walk, jump and scratch in her litter box.

My friend P says The foot clinic at the hospital were horrified at my experience and told me not to go to my doctors surgery anymore and if I had any problems to go and see them. My toes eventually started to heal and I started to leave off the dressings. Healing process had taken three months and a lot of pain

Meanwhile imaginary P is still confused, demoralised, withdrawn, defenceless, and as cats do she is hiding her pain. She still has the instinct to scratch but doing so is useless and she just rubs her wounded toes on surfaces, slipping off and making them sore, her family think this is cute and smile to see her unable to claw the couch, carpet or drapes. Money well spent they say.

My friend P finishes by saying “The same operation on my right big toe and adjacent toe took place after three months. I have had three visits to the hospital for a change of dressings since then and they are keeping a closer eye on me this time. So far all my toes look healthy”.

Imaginary P is frustrated, her stumps still hurt, she bites when scared or taken by surprise. She hides from children and dogs because she fears they will hurt her. She can’t stand the feel of rough litter on her sensitive stumps so she has started to pee and poop where it feels softer. She wonders why she is being yelled at and sprayed with water. Her back starts to ache because she doesn’t walk as cats should. She is a disappointment to her family. Perhaps they will decide to get rid of her after all or maybe get another cat to play with her, if course it will have to be declawed too incase it hurts her, and so it goes on, cat after cat made permanently disabled.

P also wrote this: Cats do not give consent; cats do not rest their legs for a day after the operation to stem bleeding. In the 21st century it is deplorable that de-clawing of cats still happens in some parts of the world that are considered civilized! Cats are born with claws for a reason. If any humans don’t like furniture being clawed then they should not own a cat. Cats are beautiful and loving creatures. Cats do not have any say in how we look after them. They totally trust us to do the right things for them and love us back a hundredfold.

People of the world, please do all you can to ban declawing of cats immediately.

On behalf of our loving pets…. thank you

And from me…thank you Pammy


  1. What a beautifully written interpretation of what is a traumatic experience. It is thought provoking, and the way you have captured the way that imaginary P must be feeling shows that you have true insight into an animals psyche. I hope that everybody who reads it remembers it when they are confronted with owners who want to declaw. Cats are not just animals, they are little people with fur coats. Thank you Babz for posting this for us read, and also from me thanks from real P, and I hope her poor declawed feet are healing well x Stoggy

  2. Babz each time I read the blogs you have written I'm amazed ! I think they can't get any better, but they do, you've excelled yourself this time !!
    Anyone reading this and still thinking declawing cats is acceptable, must have a heart of stone.
    Well done,I'm proud beyond words, to be your sister !

  3. Wow that is quite an article with lots of things to think about. I do hope your friend is on her way to complete healing.

    What is interesting mostly though is that your friend had a medical reason for her surgery and it was made with consent. Cats are declawed only for human convenience and is a cruel and unneccessary procedure.

    While I would probably prefer to limp around with sore toes, as surgery is a risky procedure, I would never, ever submit any cat to this brutal operation. At least your friend's toes are intact with all their joints. Not so for felines. One day the USA will get on board I pray.. every day.. and join the humane countries around the world.

    Thanks for this brilliant article.


  4. Thankyou on behalf of all cats in the USA for caring.


  5. A very valid and well writtn article. My mum is shortly going to have surgery to break the bones in her heel and foot, and then re-set it. She will be in hospital for 4 days, plaster for 6 weeks and then need physiotherapy for a further 6 months. She has been told that it will take 6-12 months before she can expect functioning at an optimal level again.

    Those poor cats, have their joints amputated and are just expected to get on with life. Some of them don't even receive adequate pain relief medication, so I cannot begin to imagine how agonising their recovery must be.