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Laser Declawing – A Better Solution

Laser Declawing – A Better Solution

Laser Declawing – A Better Solution


Of the approximate 37 million cat-owning households in the US (“U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook”), one of the largest reported behavioral problems is scratching—usually in the form of furniture destruction. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states, “Scientific data does indicate that cats that have destructive clawing behavior are more likely to be euthanized, or more readily relinquished, released or abandoned, thereby contributing to the homeless cat population” (“AVMA policy statement on declawing of domestic cats” 16).

For many years, one of the solutions to this issue was onychectomy, or a surgical procedure also known as “declawing.” This procedure was an area of extreme contention among animal rights activists and pet owners alike in the US, even resulting an attempted ban on the surgery in West Hollywood, California (“West Hollywood Cat Fight”). Traditional methods of onychectomy were performed using a guillotine-style clipper or scalpel, removing a substantial portion of the feline’s toe in an effort to remove the nailbed. Rightly, this practice was regarded as barbaric due to the pain and trauma inflicted upon the animal; however, a new solution has presented itself. In the last several years, previously cutting-edge human medical technology has spilled over into animal medical technology, resulting in the use of such advances as the surgical laser (Potts). The most notable advance is the use of lasers for a modified onychectomy, a method that is astoundingly different from previous procedures.  Simply put, the laser surgery is safe, humane, and shows no long-term negative effects, making it the better medical solution.

First, the use of this amazing laser is dependable and virtually harmless to the pet. The most common device used is a CO2 laser, which has a tiny, highly precise beam. When the laser is used to make an incision, it cauterizes the tissue, resulting in no bleeding and minimal damage to the surrounding tissue. It also vaporizes bacteria, leaving a much cleaner surgical site (Mison, et al. 651), which decreases the chances of infection. Infections are the most common and most dangerous side effect from surgeries of any sort; therefore, a tool that virtually eliminates that threat is extraordinary. The laser is hand-held and its precision use cuts down on the risks of pad damage, post-operation lameness, and other harmful complications (Mison et al 652).  It is important to note that there are risks with the use of general anesthetic, especially with older cats. The average laser declaw can be longer (by nearly 20%) in duration than when done by blade (Mison et. al 652); therefore, the cat may be under anesthesia longer. These risks are minor when compared to other risks like infection, so the laser remains the better surgical alternative. The risks associated with surgery are one of the primary reasons that most pet owners shy away from such alternatives, and the laser has been shown to have very few.

Laser declawing is also the most humane choice, by far. Critics of declawing are quick to claim that declawing is cruel because of the immense pain caused by the removal of the nailbed. The CO2 laser not only cauterizes blood vessels, it also seals nerve endings on contact, eliminating all sensation of pain (Regaldo D1). Cats have many tiny nerve clusters in the feet that allow them to respond to pressure with grace and balance. An exhaustive study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) has shown cats who underwent laser onychectomy had improved lower limb function (paws and legs) almost immediately, as opposed to traditional methods that resulted in painful, limited function for up to a month (Robinson et al). The laser declawing is also revolutionary in that it is no longer necessary to remove the claws on all four feet. Destructive or aggressive scratching is done with the front paws, and traditional methods required all four to be done to ensure the cat’s balance owing to the amount of tissue removed from the foot. Surgeons utilizing the laser now only need operate bilaterally, or on just the front paws.

Recovery time is essentially non-existent, with most cats walking normally within 15 minutes of waking from general anesthesia and having no need for bandages or pain medication (“Laser Declawing (Onychectomy) in Cats”). Without pain or discomfort, most cats are completely unaware of the procedure and return to normal activity nearly immediately. All other forms of surgery mandate the cat must be hospitalized for 1 to 3 days, which can be incredibly stressful for both pet and owner. A cat that has had laser declawing, on the other hand, can go home the same day. The laser’s unique function also means stress is minimized in other ways: no pain medications or antibiotics to administer, no surgical site to inspect, and no bandages to change. When a surgery’s impact on a pet is this limited, there is no credibility to an accusation of it being inhumane.

If a cat’s recovery time is minimal, what about the effects on the pet and owner? With no trauma to the digits and pads, risk of lameness and gait problems are eliminated. It was often thought that declawing negatively affected a cat’s behavior, and we know this now to be untrue. Another study published in JAVMA shows behavioral side effects after onychectomy were unpronounced and owner satisfaction with the procedure was high (Yeon et al. 46). The laser allows for the cat to be virtually ignorant of any changes to his physiology, and he resumes life as before—the only difference being the condition of the household’s furnishings.  The cat can still catch prey, defend himself, and climb trees, because his back claws are still intact. He will still use his paws in the same clawing or treading fashion, with no knowledge that he does not have his claws any longer. Depression, loss of appetite, and lack of social drive are also not found in laser patients (Yeon et al. 44-45), which makes an owner feel much more at ease post-surgery.

The only major drawback to laser surgery is the cost. The laser device can put a clinic back $25,000 or more, but most veterinarians feel it is well worth it (Potts). This can increase the price of the procedure, typically by approximately $50. Dr. Marianne Kelley, DVM, says “I don’t think people mind paying for good medicine” (qtd. in Potts). Of course, this additional cost is wholly offset by no need for medications post-surgery or an overnight stay at the hospital—costs that can often be well over the $50 increase. Most pet owners will also agree that it is impossible to put a price tag on a pet’s health and comfort.

Any veterinarian or pet professional will advise behavioral solutions before surgery, but when those options are not successful, surgery is sometimes the only option. Laser surgery is the best alternative to traditional methods, made plain after examining its use and results. While there are always risks with any procedure, it is evident that laser surgery is the best of both worlds—dangerous risks are minimized while potential benefits are maximized. The claws are removed in a painless, bloodless fashion that is both gentle and safe. There is virtually no recovery time and no need for owner remorse. As more improvements are made to veterinary medicine and new technologies are added, advocates of animal rights will have to return to fur coats and rabbits’ feet—not the practices of the local vet.  Hopefully, as the costs of laser devices decline and more clinics add them, the number of cats abandoned for behavioral problems will also decrease, resulting in many more happy pet-owning homes.

Works Cited


American Veterinary Medicine Association. U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook.

Center for Information Management American V. 15 June. 1997

“AVMA Policy Statement on Declawing of Domestic Cats.” DVM 1 Aug. 2007: 16. Sciences Module. ProQuest.  University of Ohio Library. Toledo OH. 7 Dec. 2008 <>

“West Hollywood’s Cat Fight.” DVM 1 Aug. 2007: 16. Sciences Module. ProQuest University of Ohio Library. Toledo OH.  8 Dec. 2008 <>

Potts, Gregory. “The Cutting Edge for Pet Surgeries” Journal Record, the [Oklahoma City].  Aug 5. 1999 <>

Mison, Michael B.  DVM; Bohart, George H.  DVM; Walshaw, Richard BVMS, DACVS, et al. “Use of Carbon Dioxide Laser For Onychectomy in Cats” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 221.5. 1 Sept. 2002: 651-653

Yeon, Seong C. DVM, PhD; Flanders, James A. DVM, DACVS; Scarlett, Janet M.  DVM, MPH, PhD, et al. “Attitudes of Owners Regarding Tendonectomy and Onychectomy in Cats” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Vol 218.1.  1 Jan. 2001

Robinson, Duane A. DVM;  Romans, Cory W. MS, DVM; Wanda J. Gordon-Evans, DVM, DACVA. Et al. “Evaluation of Short-Term Limb Function Following Unilateral Carbon Dioxide Laser or Scalpel Onychectomy in Cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 230. 3 1 Feb. 2007

“Laser Declawing (Onychectomy) in Cats” New England Animal Medical Center Online. 2006. 03 Dec. 2008. <>

Regalado, Antonio. “Vet to Pet: `This Won’t Hurt a Bit’ — FDA Clears Shot That Curbs Pain in Neutering Dogs; Laser Surgery for the Cat. ” Wall Street Journal [New York, N.Y.] 21  May 2003, Eastern edition: D.1. Wall Street Journal. ProQuest.  University of Ohio Library. Toledo OH. 7 Dec. 2008 <>


One Response to “Laser Declawing – A Better Solution”

  1. Kurt says:

    I am inclined to believe that, due to the cauterization of bloodd vessels and nerve endings, laser declawing is a much better and less risky procedure than the two clearly barbaric and traumatic traditional methods. I had previously declawed two cats by the traditional method and had grown up with at least 8 traditionally-declawed cats, all of whom recovered well and had no noticeable subsequent behavioral problems, but recovery time took weeks and paper strips had to be substituted for the litterboxes.

    The only thing that concerns me somewhat is that my NYC veterinary clinic vet (at St. Mark’s) informed me that with my current cat, who is 6 and heavy (20.6 – 21lbs.), it is possible that he won’t want to use the same type of litter again (that I may need to use clumping litter, which I dislike compared to pine pellets), that there is some risk of pain or infection and that he may bite some (he never really bites, just occassionally nips gently). How accurate is this information I was given?

    I really do need to have him declawed because he loves to scratch “unmarked”/unfamiliar furniture and he totally scratched up a leather couch. I’m getting some new furniture and no doubt he’ll go after it. Scratching posts don’t interest him.