How is a declaw surgery performed?

Cat Claw and Bones of the Foot
Cat Claw and Bones of the Foot. Getty / Dorling Kindersley

Question: How is a declaw surgery performed?

The decision to declaw your cat, especially a cat older than 6 months, should not be taken lightly. Being informed and discussing the pros and cons with your veterinarian is helpful for the decision-making process.

It may surprise some people to learn that there are a few different ways to declaw a cat. The intent of this FAQ is not to endorse declawing, but rather provide information about the techniques commonly utilized.

Answer: Declawing a cat is commonly done one of two ways: 

  1. Excisional method
  2. Guillotine (clipper) method

The cat claw extends from the P3 bone, and it is analogous to the human fingernail extending from the tip of our finger. 

The excisional method removes all of the last bone (P3) of the toe using a scalpel or laser. The excisional method is most commonly done using a scalpel blade. Some vets use laser and report less hemorrhaging. 

The guillotine method cuts through the last bone (P3) of the toe, typically done with a nail clipper. This method removes the claw and distal (end) part of this bone, sometimes cutting through the toe pad as well.

A third technique, called a Deep Digital Flexor Tendonectomy, is not technically a declaw, but a surgical procedure where the tendons that operate the claw are cut; leaving the claw intact. This is to prevent active use of the claws. Care must be taken after this procedure to keep the nails trimmed, so they do not grow into the pad (the cat doesn't have control over the claw).

My view: My cats are not declawed.

The excisional method takes more time, and thus may cost more. I feel that cutting through the bone (guillotine method) creates a more painful recovery with more possibility for complications.

People should be aware of alternatives to declawing, such as: behavior modification, application of Soft Paws (or similar) and regular nail trimming to make an informed decision.

Related Reading:
The Declawing Dilemma what you should know about declawing
In-depth look at declawing and alternatives to declawing.
Declawing & Humane Alternatives
From Cats Guide, Franny Syufy who has many declawing resources on her site to check out.

Please note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. Please discuss options for your cat with your veterinarian.