Studies Pertaining to Feline Onychectomy
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2001
Gary Patronek
United States



Relevant Outcomes

Description of Study, Sample and Major Findings

Benson et al., 1991


Post-operative plasma catecholamine levels

Randomized experiment. 24 cats were randomized to either no surgery, or onychectomy with intravenous morphine, xylazine, or salicylate. Onychectomy was associated with increased postoperative plasma catecholamines that were decreased by morphine and xylazine but not saline.


Bennett, Houpt and Erb, 1988


Reason for declawing, desirable and undesirable behaviors up to two years post surgery

Retrospective survey of a sample of 25 intact and 25 declawed cats in private practice and a medical record review of 24 cats from a behavior referral service in a teaching hospital. Similar proportions of intact and declawed cats were reported biting and house soiling. Reported that 1 (4%) cat began to defecate out of box and 3 (12%) began to bite after onychectomy. 60/217 (27.6%) private practice cats were simultaneously declawed. A larger proportion (55%) of cats in the referral population were declawed.

Borchelt and Voith, 1987


Aggressive behavior

Retrospective survey of 887 cat owners from private practices. Clients were asked to fill out a survey on the incidence of aggressive behaviors in their cats. Similar proportions (60/252, 23.8%) of declawed vs. (168/613, 27.4%) intact cats bit family members; 2.3% of each seriously enough for medical attention

Carroll et al., 1998


Pain, lameness appetite and personality, 24, 48, and 72 hrs post surgery

Randomized controlled trial in a teaching hospital, DVM student surgeons. Post-operative analgesia evaluated in 63 cats undergoing elective onychectomy. 42 received butorphanol postoperatively and orally for two days after surgery. Post-operative analgesia and recovery scores better in butorphanol treated group. Owner-reported appetite and lameness scores were better in the butorphanol treated group on day 1; no differences were observed in owner evaluations by day 2.

Cambridge et al., 2000


Pain, endorphins, vital signs up to 36 hrs post-surgery

Randomized controlled trial in a teaching hospital. Temperature, pulse, respiration, pain, plasma ß-endorphins, and cortisol were assessed in six cats admitted for elective onychectomy, six for elective tendonectomy and compared with six bandaged, non-surgical controls. Only visual analogue scores for pain and response to palpation scores differed significantly between control and surgical groups.

Franks et al., 2000


Recovery, vital signs, pain, and lameness, up to 40 hours post-onychectomy

Randomized controlled trial in a teaching hospital, DVM student surgeons. Cats undergoing elective onychectomy were randomly assigned to be treated with transdermal fentanyl patches or butorphanol. Cats treated with fentanyl patches had better recovery scores at two of four evaluation times, lower sedation scores at two of eight evaluation times, and lower pain scores at six of eight evaluation times. There were no differences in forelimb pressure between the groups, but there were differences between pre and postoperative values.

*Number of declawed cats for which data was provided

Jankowski et al., 1998


Short and long term complications, owner satisfaction in tendonectomy vs. onychectomy

Prospective clinical study using teaching hospital and private practice clients. 13/18 of the elective onychectomies were performed by DVM student surgeons. 4/17 (24%) cats had short-term postoperative complications including, two hemorrhage, one infection, and one change in behavior. Mean and median days until walking normally were 6.3 and 7 days, respectively, range 1–21 days. One cat did not walk normally for 180 days. Sixteen (88.9%) owners were satisfied.

Landsberg, 1991


Owner satisfaction, short and long term complications

Retrospective written survey of private practice clients. 70% of cats were declawed between 0.5 and 12 months of age, and 69% at the time of neutering. 266 (96%) owners had a positive attitude towards declawing. Primary reason (86%) was household damage, and second (29%) was to reduce injuries to people. Owners reported that 94 (34%) cats had discomfort post-surgically, primarily tenderness (78%). 157/233 (67%) recovered fully within three days, and 96% within two weeks. Cats done > 1 yr had more post-surgical discomfort; 102/246 (41%) were still allowed outdoors. One (0.4%) cat had difficulty bearing weight for at least four months, and another (0.4%) developed a house soiling problem. Ten (4%) reported a possible increase in biting or harder biting, but these owners still remained positive about the surgery.

Landsberg, 1991


Veterinarians’ attitudes, estimated complications

Retrospective mail survey of veterinarians. 320/400 returned questionnaires. 196/250 (78.4%) did not advocate declawing and only did it on request. 104/221(47%) veterinarians' recollections indicated no problems, 55 (24.9%) reported nail regrowth, and 22 (9.9%) reported additional long term problems. Out of an estimated total of 120,000 cats declawed, this was extrapolated to a complication rate of 1/6,000 cats.

Levy et al., 1999 (Abstract)


Bleeding, pain, healing, behavior, plasma cortisol, urine cortisol:creatinine ratios up to 24 hours after surgery

Clinical trial. 40 cats were assigned to either non-surgical control (20) or onychectomy via laser (10) or blade.(10) Complication rates, behavioral changes, plasma cortisol, and urine cortisol:creatinine ratios were evaluated up to 48 hours post-surgery. Complication rates were generally higher for the laser declaw group in the first two days, but were equivalent thereafter. Negative behavioral changes were more pronounced in the blade declaw group for two days, with less play and willingness to use their paws. Blood and urine cortisol were increased more in the blade declaw group for 24 hours.

Lin et al., 1993


Plasma catecholamine levels

Randomized experiment. 27 cats were randomly assigned to one of four anesthetic regimens involving a dissociative/tranquilizer combination plus either butorphanol or oxymorphone. Onychectomy performed on one forefoot without analgesics, and catecholamine levels were measured. Protocol was repeated the following week using the other forefoot, plus cats received either butorphanol or oxymorphone. Addition of butorphanol decreased norepinephrine levels immediately after surgery; oxymorphone resulted in lower epinephrine values four hours after surgery.

Martinez et al., 1993


Complications seven days and six months post-surgery

Prospective clinical study in a teaching hospital, DVM student surgeons Two techniques for onychectomy and two adhesives for wound closure were compared. 167/252 (66%) cats returned for both one week and six-month clinician rechecks. Lameness occurred more frequently in cats with disarticulation amputation (14/87, 16%) than in cats with bony amputation (4/80, 5%), possibly due to greater soft tissue trauma. Dehiscence occurred in 22% and 12% of cats, respectively. Lameness resolved within six months.

Morgan and Houpt, 1989


Behavior problems and owner attitudes

Cross sectional internet survey, convenience sample of 60 owners; 24/ 122 (19.6%) cats were declawed. Complication rates after declawing were not reported. Declawed cats showed more jumping on tables (~75%) than intact cats (~53%) and more house soiling (~25%) than intact cats (~15%) but this latter difference was not significant. Twenty percent of all respondents reacted negatively to the question about declawing.

Patronek et al., 1996


Behavior problems, risk of relinquishment

Case-control study of owned and relinquished cats involving a random digit dial survey of cat owners. Prevalence of declawing was 45%(476/1056) in the owned cat population. In the univariate analysis, declawed cats were at decreased risk of relinquishment compared to non-declawed cats (OR=0.63; 95% CI 0.45-0.87). After adjustment in a multivariate model, declawed cats were at an increased risk of relinquishment (OR=1.89;1.00-3.58); this reversal made the effect of declawing difficult to interpret. Among 218 cats relinquished to a shelter, more (44/84; 52.4%) declawed cats than non-declawed cats (39/134; 29.1%) were reported by owners to have inappropriate elimination (p=0.022).

Pollari and Bonnett, 1996


Prevalence of complications of elective surgeries

Computer records of short-term complications (within three weeks) of all elective surgeries performed at five private practices over 5–13 months. 450/851 (52.9%) feline sterilizations had onychectomy performed at the same time. Recording of complications in the computerized records was inconsistent.

Pollari et al., 1996


Prevalence of complications of elective surgeries

Computerized abstracts of medical records and sub-sample of written medical records at a teaching hospital. 287/1313 (21.8%) of cats sterilized were simultaneously declawed. Complications detected for 2/146 (1.4%) cats that underwent elective onychectomy alone during prior eight yrs. Specific complications were not reported.

Tobias, 1994


Prevalence of post-operative complications, pain, behavior problems

Retrospective review of medical records at a teaching hospital, DVM student surgeons. 163 medical records of cats undergoing elective onychectomy reviewed for post-operative complications. Follow-up was by exam and phone. Early complication rate 82.5% for blade and 51.5% for shear onychectomy. 61 cats were painful 1-42 days post-operatively (median two days) and 43 cats showed lameness that persisted from 1-54 days. Long term follow up was done for 121/163 cats; one cat showed prolonged lameness (96 months). High complication rate attributed to student surgeons.

Winkler et al., 1997


Pain in the immediate post-operative period

Clinical trial in a teaching hospital, DVM student surgeons. 18 cats that underwent elective onychectomy were alternately assigned to treatment groups and evaluated blindly to determine if wound irrigation with bupivicaine decreased pain in immediate post-op period. Bupivicaine treated patients had higher pain scores than saline treated controls at two hrs but not three hours post-op.

Yeon et al.,



Recovery, short and long term complications, owner attitudes

Retrospective phone follow-up of teaching hospital clients, DVM student surgeons. 39/98 owners whose cats underwent elective onychectomy or tendonectomy were contacted two months to five years (median 11.5 months) after surgery. 17 (44%) of declawed cats returned to normal within three days, 35 (90%) within two weeks. 31 (80%) had more than one medical complication. 13 (33%) developed at least one behavior problem. 6(15.4%) would not use the litter box and 7 (17.9%) had an increase in biting habits or intensity. 34(87%) owners had a positive attitude and 2 (5.1%) had a negative attitude towards declawing.


1.  Bennett M, Houpt KA, Erb HN. Effects of declawing on feline behavior. Comp Anim Pract 1988;2:7-12.

2.  Benson GJ, Wheaton LG, Thurmon JC et al. Postoperative catecholamine response to onychectomy in isoflurane-anesthetized cats. Effect of analgesics. Vet Surg 1991;20:222-225.

3.  Borchelt PL, Voith VL. Aggressive behavior in cats. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet 1987;9:49-57.

4.  Cambridge AJ, Tobias KM, Newberry RC et al. Subjective and objective measurements of postoperative pain in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:685-690.

5.  Carroll GL, Howe LB, Slater MR, et al. Evaluation of analgesia provided by postoperative administration of butorphanol to cats undergoing onychectomy. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998;213:246-250.

6.  Franks JN, Boothe HW, Taylor L, et al. Evaluation of transdermal fentanyl patches for analgesia in cats undergoing onychectomy. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:1013-1020.

7.  Jankowski AJ, Brown DC, Duval J, et al. Comparison of effects of elective tenectomy or onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998;213:370-373.

8.  Landsberg GM. Cat owners’ attitudes toward declawing. Anthrozoos 1991;4:192-197.

9.  Landsberg GM. Declawing is controversial but saves pets. A veterinarian survey. Vet Forum 1991;8:66-67.

10. Levy J, Lapham B, Hardie E, et al. Evaluation of laser onychectomy in the cat. (Abstract) Proc 19th Annu Meet Soc Laser Med 1999;73.

11. Lin HC, Benson GJ, Thurmon JC, et al. Influence of anesthetic regimens on the perioperative catecholamine response associated with onychectomy in cats. Am J Vet Res 1993; 54:1721-1724.

12. Martinez SA, Hauptmann J, Walshaw R. Comparing two techniques for onychectomy in cats and two adhesives for wound closure. Vet Med 1993; 88:516-525.

13. Morgan M, Houpt KA. Feline behavior problems: the influence of declawing. Anthrozoos 1989;3:50-53.

14. Patronek, GJ, Glickman LT, Beck AM, et al. Risk factors for relinquishment of cats to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:582–588.

15. Pollari FL, Bonnett BN. Evaluation of postoperative complications following elective surgeries of dogs and cats at private practices using computer records. Can Vet J 1996;37:672-678.

16. Pollari FL, Bonnett BN, Bamsey SC, et al. Postoperative complications of elective surgeries in dogs and cats determined by examining electronic and paper medical records. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;208:1882-1886.

17. Tobias KS. Feline onychectomy at a teaching institution: a retrospective study of 163 cases. Vet Surg 1994; 23:274-280.

18. Winkler KP, Greenfield CL, Benson GJ. The effect of wound irrigation with bupivicaine on postoperative analgesia of the feline onychectomy patient. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 1997; 33:346-352.

19. Yeon SC, Flanders JA, Scarlett JM, et al. Attitudes of owners regarding tendonectomy and onychectomy in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:43-47.

Speaker Information
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Gary Patronek
United States

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