Complications Of Declawing

by Michael
(London, UK)

Photo by Bekah Stargazing (Flickr)

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Photo by Bekah Stargazing (Flickr)

A vet has kindly listed the complications of declawing cats. This was not done for any altruistic reason. It is simply a dispassionate explanation, which in itself speaks volumes of the attitude of veterinarians to declawing cats in the USA.

This page, then simply represents his list together with explanations where necessary. The veterinarian is Gary W. Ellison, DVM,MS, MRCVS, Diplomate ACVS, University of Florida.

Note (source4 for this boxed section is not from Dr. Ellison): In declawing cats there is an exceptionally high complication rate, 50% in the immediate postoperative period (during hospitalization period) and 19.8% in the late postoperative period (the period following hospital discharge).

Early postoperative complications include pain, hemorrhage, laceration of the digital pad, swelling, reluctance to bear weight on affected limbs, neuropraxia from improper tourniquet use, and lameness.

Late postoperative complications include infection, tissue necrosis from improper bandage application, wound dehiscence or incomplete healing with protrusion of the 2nd phalanx (P2), regrowth from the ungual process of the 3rd phalanx (P3) or scurs (production of deformed claw segment from epithelial cells of the ungual crest), retention of flexor process of P3, chronic draining tracts, palmigrade stance, and chronic intermittent lameness.


These are the complications of declawing. They exclude reference to possible psychological problems except on one occasion. The words are mine but I have made extensive use of licensed definitions and other sources using their words under fair use:


Unsurprisingly a cat’s paws bleed when the ends of their toes are chopped off. Prevention is to bandage the paws and possibly sedate the cat.

Another thing that can be done is to close the wound with sutures or tissue adhesive. A suture usually refers to stitching the tissue together. Tissue adhesive is what is sounds: glue to hold tissue together as a substitute for sutures. A further new method to substitute stitches is the CO2 laser. Researchers are (or were) experimenting with using CO2 lasers to weld human tissue, as an alternative1.


One of the classic complications of declawing. Hardly surprising again. Under this heading the doctor there are two subheadings:

  1. Preventative
  2. Postoperative – lameness and reclusiveness.

The doctor’s treatments under this heading are all concerned with drugs:

Pain killers are listed are:

  • Local anaesthesia – ring block and nerve block.
  • Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAID) – these are given post operation and are listed as Ketoprofen and Meloxicam.
  • Opioids – Fentanyl, Butorphanol, Buprenorphine.

These methods and drugs require some explanation:

Ring block - regional anaesthesia by the injection of local aesthetic in a complete circle around2..the area to be operated on.

Nerve block - a general term used to refer to the injection of local anesthetic onto or near nerves for temporary control of pain3.

Ketoprofen -  used for humans and also used as a mild painkiller in smaller animals, generally following surgical procedures. It is most commonly used for muscoskeletal pain, joint problems, and soft tissue injury. It is a NSAID.

Meloxicam - is a NSAID used as an analgesic, fever reducer and anti-inflammatory. Used for humans3.

Fentanyl  - approximately 100 times more potent than morphine. Historically it has been used to treat chronic breakthrough pain and is commonly used in pre-procedures (humans). It is a potent narcotic analgesic with a rapid onset and short duration of action3. Fentanyl's major side effects (more than 10% of patients - humans) include diarrhea, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, somnolence, confusion, asthenia (weakness), and sweating…the pharmacodynamics of fentanyl are poorly understood. It can cause sudden respiratory depression. A lot of people are dying of this drug. The pop star, Prince, was one of them.

Butorphanol – Used for humans. In veterinary use, butorphanol ("Torbugesic") is widely used as a sedative and analgesic in dogs, cats and horses.  As with other opioid analgesics, central nervous system effects (such as sedation, confusion, and dizziness) are considerations with butorphanol. Nausea and vomiting are common. Less common are the gastrointestinal effects of other opioids (mostly constipation)3.

Buprenorphine - powerful analgesia approximately twenty-five to forty times as potent as morphine. Common adverse drug reactions associated with the use of buprenorphine are similar to those of other opioids (see above). Respiratory depression is also a problem.


Wound Infection

  • Swelling
  • Drainage
  • Dehiscence (release of material by splitting open of an organ or tissue2) -

Treatment for this complication of declawing are listed as:

  • Chlorhexidine soaks - Chlorhexidine is a chemical antiseptic3.
  • Oral antibiotics
  • Exposed bone excision (removal by cutting).
  • Suture skin flaps once wound is clean. A suture usually refers to stitching the tissue together.
  • Bandage limb

Residual Nail Bed

  • Drainage
  • Lameness
  • Erupted nail

Treatments are listed as: Surgical removal of residual P3 (3rd phalanx)
& suture skin flaps. 

Chronic Lameness

Treatment for this complication of declawing is to examine for swelling, drainage and remove residual P3 (3rd phalanx). Comment: are bone fragments left in sometimes?

Radial Paralysis

Radial paralysis: Distal radial paralysis results in an inability to extend the carpus and digit. Proximal radial paralysis prevents the animal from extending the elbow, carpus, {and fetlock} to bear weight5.


  • Carpus - is the sole cluster of bones in the wrist between the radius and ulna and the metacarpus3.
  • carpal - one of the wrist bones. There are eight carpal bones that are arranged in two rows6.

Treatment: Physical therapy and carpal extension bandage/splints.

Ischemia of Paw

Another one of the complications of declawing. Ischemia is a restriction in blood supply, generally due to factors in the blood vessels, with resultant damage or dysfunction of tissue3.

  • Swelling
  • Malodorous pad – paw pads having a bad odour
  • Skin and tendon slough
  • Exposed bone


  • Vasodilators (agents that act as blood vessel dilators and open vessels by relaxing their muscular walls6): Acepromazine which is frequently used in animals as a sedative and antiemetic. Its principal value is in quietening and calming anxious animals3.
  • Hot soaks + antibiotics
  • Skin flaps
  • Amputation: Toe or limb

Update 9th May 2014 - please see Dr Hofve's comment which adds to this page.

Since writing this The Paw Project has listed the complications of declawing as follows:

Pain, hemorrhage, laceration of paw pads, claw regrowth, scurs (growth of deformed claw segments), retention of flexor process of third phalanx, chronic draining tracts, self-mutilation, dermatitis, lethargy, palmigrade stance (walking on wrists), chronic intermittent lameness, chronic pain syndrome, flexor tendon contracture, and cystitis (stress-associated bladder inflammation), swelling, reluctance to bear weight on affected limb, neuropraxia (transient motor paralysis), radial nerve damage, lameness, infection, abscess, tissue necrosis, wound dehiscence, incomplete healing, protrusion of 2nd (middle toe bone) phalanx.

A lot of declawing is botched due to speed, lack of awareness and carelessness by veterinarians. These operations leave shards of bone in the paw causing great pain and long term discomfort. Also there is claw regrowth. Read this shocking page.

Source material:

Complications of declawing - Notes:

1. "Israeli researchers pioneer laser treatment for sealing wounds". Israel21c. November 16, 2008. . Retrieved Mar. 8, 2009.


3. Wikipedia authors


5. The Merick Veterinary Manual


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Complications Of Declawing

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Oct 20, 2010 Risky
by: Anonymous

For sure even the threat of a single one of those complications should stop any person from risking it happening to their pet.

Jun 01, 2010 Pet-Friendly Housing Helps Prevent Declawing & Abuse
by: Chris

Data shows that landlords & governments who make their accommodations pet-friendly by using the Companion Animals Renters Program (CARP)- available free from - benefit in many ways.

The Calgary Humane Society (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada) tries to encourage pet-friendly accommodations - they recommend FIREPAW on their site )

"The Calgary Humane Society believes that if landlords and government officials were aware of the significant benefits of pet-friendly housing, they would be more inclined to offer such accommodations to the tenants of Calgary."

The Denver Dumb Friends League also has info called "Developing an Effective “Pets Are Welcome” Policy" that says "Do not require that cats be declawed or dogs be debarked"

More people need to know about FIREPAW and the significant data and research they have available regarding animal welfare.

FIREPAW - The Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare ) is "charitable nonprofit organization focusing on research and education to stop animal suffering. FIREPAW, Inc. offers research and consulting services for a myriad of animal-related projects including program evaluation, empirical research, needs assessment, and financial analysis for animal welfare organizations, municipal animal control projects, and animal shelters, among others. FIREPAW has developed numerous research and education projects including conducting an empirical research study examining the factors associated with companion animal victims of domestic violence, conducting a nationwide empirical study to reduce abandoned animals by examining the factors impacting the availability of pet-friendly rental housing, conducting numerous empirical studies on the factors influencing spay-neuter and pet overpopulation, forming a partnership with American Partnership for Pets (APP), an alliance designed to raise awareness about the plight of homeless and unwanted animals, forming a partnership with Maddie's Fund to study the effectiveness of programs nationwide designed to reduce euthanasia and unwanted animals, publishing articles in professional and scientific journals, conducting numerous seminars, conferences and television appearances, and authoring numerous books about the antecedents, consequences and solutions surrounding animal suffering."

Jun 01, 2010 Efforts to End Declawing & Encourage Pet-Friendly Housing
by: Chris

Thank you and please keep providing the facts about declawing to everyone who lives in the US AND Canada!

In my opinion, saying something is "inhumane" or "too painful" don't have the same effect a cold, hard data, unfortunately. Too many vets, cat owners and apartment landlords don't have the newest long-term data about the problems declawing creates!

Dr. Jean Hovfe is a US veterinarian who belongs to the Paw Project ), a group that has been successful in their attempts to ban declawing in 8 cities in California. Hopefully their bill will pass that will prohibit landlords from requiring their tenants to declaw their cats and debark their dogs.

Dr. Jean, as she refers to herself, has some great articles on her site, Little Big Cat (, including articles about declawing.

In "Declawing and Science - Should Declawing be Banned?" ( she presents a summary of the facts and the data that has resulted in declawing being declared illegal in 8 cities in California (to date).

Dr. Fox also has an article there about declawing.

You can sign up for updates & find out what else you can do to help by signing up for the free e-newsletter at Little Big Cat and the Paw Project, as well as on Facebook causes - more info on my POC page:

There are also videos on You Tube by the vets & others opposed to and in support of declawing. There are some links on the site, I believe.

Video: "Dr. Jean Hovfe a declaw expert speaks for the declaw ban in Santa Monica"

"Dr. Jean Hovfe (rhymes with Bon Jovi) is an expert on cat declawing. She used to work for the DAX Foundation collecting research on declawing. She's since parted ways. When asked about Dave Weiss the CEO of the DAX Foundation she stated that he was in contact with the CVMA daily. She was told if Dave was to kill the declaw ban the CVMA promised him business from the vets. This explains why Dave Weiss did a 180 deg [turn] on the issue. Just weeks ago he had press releases in his website supporting the ban saying that declawing was inhumane."

May 30, 2010 Good ammunition for the anti-declaw argument
by: Michele S.

This was a sad but interesting read. I think it conained information that could be very persuasive in getting people to reconsider their stance on declawing. The more ammunition we have to shoot down the pro-declawing arguments, the better chance we have of getting it banned everywhere.

May 30, 2010 I hate declawing...
by: Maggie Sharp

Michael, I couldn't read all of this, a great article no doubt but far too sad.

I can't stand anyone who declaws cats, it's just so cruel. All of the pain that cats go through, honestly, it's just not worth it...

Why can't the USA and Canada just wake up to themselves, there are many fine Americans and Canadias who wouldn't declaw out there, but there are too many who do. It annoys me so much, it's animal cruelty, it's abuse, regardless of the selfish human based benefits.

The thought of all those suffering cats makes me want to cry, I'm so glad that it's illegal here, and my darling boy will never be at risk of such a horrific lifestyle.

No cat should feel the pain of declawing, as no cat should feel the pain of abuse.

May 30, 2010 Chilling
by: Michael

I would redefine the word, "complications" with the word "damage". The operation is bound to cause this sort of damage. "Complications" is another veterinary euphemism. It infers that the damage is not normal - wrong. This operation is brutal and the problems afterwards are to be expected.

I am sorry to say that the vets have a habit of dressing up the whole sordid thing....hateful.

I agree with Ruth. When the list of "complications" is set out it makes chilling reading and vets look upon this list as just another "complication" to overcome.

No - these are the injuries that are to be expected when a vet cuts off the third phalanx of all ten digits of a cat's forepaws.

Michael Avatar

May 30, 2010 Dreadful
by: Carol

This is about pain management and how to treat complications as if declawing is a procedure which has to be done!
Why don't people realise cats have claws,that if they didn't need claws kittens wouldn't be born with them.
They react to claws with horror,oh dear something must be done about them,they are so sharp.
How do they think people in countries where declawing is banned manage living alongside such fearsome objects?
Why get cats and not let them be cats?
I can't get my head around the mentality of all this.
Claws are as much a BEAUTIFUL part of the cat as are whiskers,tails, etc etc and so forth......

May 30, 2010 Reality check
by: Barbara

Reading this is horrifying, all this analgesia needed for an unnecessary, owner elective procedure that is banned in 38 other countries. What is going on in the USA? How can so many minds be closed to the suffering caused to cats by declawing them?

May 30, 2010 DO SOMETHING !
by: Fran

If this doesn't motivate the Americans to DO something about this cruelty going on in THEIR country,then nothing will.
The evidence is there in black and white,it is cats in needless pain we are reading about.
Pro declaw vets are getting away with this torturing of innocent animals EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Stand up and be counted....
for the cats sakes.

May 30, 2010 Highly informative
by: Tracey (England)

Brilliant article Michael.

All that pain and they still do it....

How can this have gone on for so long and continue to happen? I just can't belive it sometimes.

Thank god we know the truth and we don't do it in the UK.

As Ruth said for Gods sake Americans wake up and expose the de-clawing vets! If it were happening here in the UK we'd be protesting outside the practice of every one!

May 30, 2010 Chilling reading
by: Ruth

That makes chilling reading Michael ! I really don't see how any vet can justify the unecessary agony of declawing which is apparent by the list of drugs needed to control the pain.
That is besides the risk of the complications immediately after the operation or at any time in the future.
This pre meditated abuse of cats has to stop.
PLEASE Americans and Canadians BOYCOTT declaw vets and do all you can to educate your fellow countrymen about this cruelty too.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

7 thoughts on “Complications Of Declawing”

  1. Great article, but not the half of it! Here’s a complete list of the known, documented complications of declawing:

    Hemorrhage (bleeding)
    Laceration of the paw pads
    Reluctance to bear weight on affected limbs
    Neuropraxia (transient motor paralysis)
    Radial nerve damage (due to improper tourniquet placement)
    Tissue necrosis
    Wound dehiscence (re-opening of surgical site)
    Incomplete healing
    Protrusion of 2nd phalanx (middle finger bone)
    Claw regrowth
    Scurs (growth of deformed claw segments)
    Retention of flexor process of last bone (3rd phalanx)
    Chronic draining tracts
    Palmigrade stance (walking on wrists)
    Chronic intermittent lameness
    Chronic pain syndrome
    Flexor tendon contracture
    Cystitis (bladder inflammation triggered by stress)

    BTW we have updated our website; the correct link to all the articles on declawing is:

    • Gobsmacked. Stunned and sad. But many thanks, Dr Hofve, for adding such useful information to this page. Fantastic. It is just too awful to contemplate. That vets can do this for no good reason.


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