Declawing of cats is done much less frequently than it used to be, when it was almost a routine recommendation for indoor cats. But there are still times when it is needed, and done properly it can be as safe and pain free as any other surgical procedure. Declaw surgeries used to be done with "Resco" type nail trimmers, but instead of just trimming the nail, the whole third bone of the toe was chopped off. Or at least that was what was supposed to happen. Often times with that technique a piece of bone at the joint was left in place, and that caused the cat much discomfort - just about like a stone in your shoe that you can't take out. I sure wouldn't want to walk around like that for the rest of my life! Then came the good recommendation to use a scalpel blade to dissect out that third phalanx or toe bone. See, cat toes (and dog's toes too, for that matter) are very similar to our fingers. There are three bones in the finger or toe, and the nail grows from the third bone or phalanx. With the scalpel technique, the whole bone could be removed, and the problem of the bone chip solved. Great care must be used when doing a declaw this way as well, because a slip of the blade would take of all or part of the pad for the toe. I have seen many declawed cats with missing or partial pads due to this error. Thankfully, I see much fewer of them than I used to! And now the latest technique is laser surgery declawing. This is a huge advancement for the kitties undergoing this procedure. This technique combines the advantages of the CO2 laser with the good removal by dissection of that third phalanx. The laser allows us to seal nerve endings(no pain!), blood vessels(bloodless), and lymphatics(no swelling), thereby reducing the pain and inflammation typically associated with this procedure. With the old techniques, a tourniquet was placed on the cat's leg just below the elbow to reduce bleeding during the surgery. Bandages were placed after surgery, and oftentimes those were soaked in dried blood when we removed them 2 days later. There was also the risk of nerve damage from the tourniquet being applied too tightly or incorrectly. With the laser, no tourniquet is needed. The sealing of the those blood vessels eliminates the bleeding, and we don't even need to use bandages anymore! We used to keep cats for two days after a declaw surgery, and they were very painful. We experimented with all sorts of pain control from injectible narcotics to transdermal fentanyl patches, to a liquid absorbed through the gums. Now, with the laser, these cats get one dose of an oral narcotic after surgery, and are good to go. We do keep them overnight, not because they are painful, but we found that if we send them home right away they feel so good they will be jumping up and down off of things, and are much more likely to open an incision than if we keep them for a night. When we first got our surgical CO2 laser over 10 years ago, we offered its use as an option with our surgeries. We knew we loved it and how it made our patients feel, but some people did not want to pay the extra for its use. I will never forget, one day we had two cats in for declawing, and one owner chose the laser option, one did not. After the procedures, the laser cat was laying in its cage reaching out through the bars to try and grab our attention as we walked by. The other cat sat at the back of its cage on its hind feet, holding the front feet up off the ground. That was the last day we offered declaws without the use of the laser. It is amazing what the advances in medicine and surgery do for our patients' well being! So if you are thinking about getting your cat declawed, be sure you get it done the right way. Ask your vet how they do declaws, and be your cat's advocate to find someone to do it the best way. It will benefit you and your cat for many years down the road.
On February 27th, 2012 Flower had her right front leg amputated due to an aggressive tumor around her shoulder. Flower had started showing signs of discomfort in the middle of January, and we attributed it to a pin in her left front leg from a fracture she had as a kitten. Upon closer inspection we found it was her right leg that was painful. Her first round of x-rays did not reveal anything unusual. We treated her with anti-inflammatory medications and she continued to worsen. In the middle of February we were able to palpate a mass over her right shoulder, and took xrays again. This time there was evidence of bony changes in the scapula(shoulder blade). We checked her lungs for metastasis, and found them to be clear. So the leg was removed, and Flower began her recovery process. She is doing well now, and learning to get around on three legs. She is not painful anymore, and much happier and more loving.
The tumor results came back as an aggressive soft tissue sarcoma. When we were shaving Flower for the surgery, we noticed a scar on the right shoulder. Oftentimes these sarcomas are associated with some type of trauma or injection site reaction. Flower's scar was likely from when she was a kitten, before we knew her, as we were not aware of any wound which would result in a scar like that in the 15 years we have had her.
Cats are somewhat unique in their handling of tissue reactions, and are the only documented species that develops injection site sarcomas. This has been a concern in recent years, and vaccine manufacturers have moved away from irritating adjuvants in feline vaccines to try and reduce the incidence of these tumors. We give vaccines in different locations on cats to try to identify which vaccines may cause problems or reactions, and also to make surgical resection easier if it is necessary. So when you bring your cat in for shots, this is the reasoning behind our choice of injection sites. Your cat's risk of developing an injection site sarcoma is much lower than their risk of catching one of the diseases we vaccinate for, so don't be alarmed and think you should not have your cat vaccinated. However, we do not advocate giving shots your cat does not need, and assess risk individually for each patient. Also, any type of penetrating wound can cause the same type of problem, as evidenced by Flower and her scar.