Flexor tenectomy can reduce pain in declawed cats

Dr. Ron Gaskin DVM has commented on my website about an article that was written many years ago on his declaw salvage surgery, a procedure which has become well known in America. He performs a great service to alleviate the pain of declawed cats. For animal advocates he is a standout vet above almost all others.

And in his comment, he told me about a study of which he is the lead author published on SAGE Journals. The study details are at the base of this page.

Flexor tenectomy as a form of declaw salvage surgery

The study reports on his work in performing ‘flexor tenectomy’ as a form of declaw salvage surgery. Read on to see what that means. Of course, it is a very technical report and I’m not a veterinarian but I will write about it nonetheless as best I can because it’s important.

It’s important that cat caregivers know about methods to alleviate the pain of declawed cats. Before I talk about the flexor tenectomy surgery I would like to remind people, as Dr. Ron Gaskin does in his introduction to the report, that declawed cats can suffer long-term pain. Note: many surgeries are botched by the way.

He starts his report by saying that cats can respond to long-term pain with aggression and inappropriate elimination. This may occur several years after the initial onychectomy (the technical term for declawing). You’ll find that declawed cats are much more likely to bite their owner and others and seven times more likely to pee outside the litter box. When owners discover this they sometimes give their cat to a shelter.

Goal

My interpretation of this study is that one of the goals was to shift the cat’s weight, when walking, away from the toes that cause pain because of the declawing and onto the foot of the cat. You may know that cats are digitigrades (walking on their toes), which is one reason why the declawing operation is so cruel. It leaves the cats with sore toes upon which they’ve got to place all their weight. It’s no wonder they end up with pain in other parts of their body because their body has to unnaturally adjust the way they walk to try and alleviate the pain in their toes. The side of effects of declawing are extensive one of which is an unnatural gait which stresses the body causing discomfort.

Walking on the foot rather than the toes
Walking on the foot rather than the toes.

Walk on feet not toes

Anyway, one objective was to create a “plantigrade stance”. I understand this to mean that this declaw salvage surgery leaves the cats walking on their feet rather than their toes. This must look less than elegant but a necessity as the reduction in pain is more important than aesthetics and feline mobility it seems to me. That’s my personal opinion.

Hyperextension

My understanding is that Dr. Ron Gaskin decided that there are at least two reasons why declawed domestic cats suffer pain (1) bone fragments left in the toe from the distal phalanx which was removed in the declaw surgery and (2) what he calls hyperextension of the PIP which refers to the joint in between the distal phalanx that remains after the declaw surgery and the phalanx next to it. I’ve used his drawing to illustrate that. See below.

This hyperextension results in pain “as the end of P2 is driven into the pads of the digits”. The P2 is the second phalanx which becomes the distal (end) phalanx in the declawed cat.

Dr. Ron Gaskin decided that the removal of the flexor tendon stopped this hyperextension and therefore removed or reduced the pain. But it leaves the cats as plantigrade animals as I further understand it.

Some quotes from the report

One of our goals was to shift the cat’s weight on to the main (metacarpal) pad to create a plantigrade stance and provide a cushion for the amputated toes rather than the natural digitigrade stance that would direct the amputated digit toward the ground.

In this study, it was shown that inappropriate elimination and possibly aggression, apparently caused by the pain from the original onychectomy, can be alleviated or eliminated with TFT.

The rationale was that the more plantigrade stance after the tenectomy would result in the cat no longer walking directly on that P3 fragment. The P3 fragment should be removed to avoid further claw regrowth or fragment infection.

The TFT can be performed on non-regrowth fragment and no-fragment hyperflexed cats; however, it does leave the cat flat-footed. This must be made clear to the cat’s owner.

Conclusion

The conclusion is that the operation alleviates pain.

History of the operation reveals an ommission

I would like to finish off with something else that Dr. Ron Gaskin mentions in a study which I find shocking and is this: the declaw operation which was invented in 1952 was never fully investigated by the authorities as to its short or long term side effects. No research was done on how it would affect the cat in the long term. Despite that omission the operation has become highly popular in America.

Many animal advocates such as myself decry the American veterinarians for conducting the operation because it’s essentially cruel and unethical as it is carried out for non-therapeutic purposes on kittens which I would argue often and to a large extent ruins their lives.

Study details

Gaskin RW, Clarkson CE, Walter PA. Flexor tenectomy: salvage surgery following feline onychectomy. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2023;25(4). doi:10.1177/1098612X231162478

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