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Stephanie Sheen

Fellow – Stephanie Sheen

Mentor – Sharon Kerwin

Project – Prevalence of radiographic evidence of subclinical degenerative joint disease and characterization of persistent pain in declawed cats

Objective – To determine prevalence of radiographic evidence of subclinical degenerative joint disease (DJD) in healthy declawed cats of all ages and compare those figures to the incidence among healthy non-declawed cats and to describe persistent pain and lameness among declawed cats.

Design – Prospective study.

Animals or Sample Population – 229 cats, drawn from age groups >4 m- 1 yr., 2 yr.- 5 yrs., 6 yrs.-10 yrs., and >10 yrs, with no history of trauma or neurological disease.

Procedure – Cats included in the study received a general physical and orthopedic exam. The cats were then sedated and the orthopedic exam repeated. Participants then underwent survey radiography, both a forelimb and hindlimb lateral view and ventrodorsal pelvic view. If any DJD was suspected, focused radiographs were taken of the joints of interest. Any DJD present was graded on a 0-4 scale, with 4 being most severe.

Results and Conclusions – There is no statistically significant evidence that declawing increases a cat’s risk of developing OA. There is, however, evidence that age is a significant predictor of DJD risk. Osteoarthritis most frequently affects the elbow and hip joints of the feline patient. The overall feline population prevalence of DJD in our study was 26.6%. Long-term pain was evident in 9% of study cats and is a real outcome of the declawing procedure that may need to be addressed therapeutically. Forty-one (68.3%) of the 60 declawed cats with available data were declawed at neutering – 53% of these at or prior to 6 months of age.

Clinical Relevance – Although OA is difficult to diagnose in cats, it is a relatively frequently occurring disease that may necessitate treatment. Older cats are more likely to be affected. Although declawing does not predispose a cat to developing arthritis, it does carry substantial risk of long-term pain. Declawing appears to currently be approached as a preventive rather than corrective surgery, although published positions of major veterinary medical organizations recommend otherwise. Further study should be conducted to determine whether leaving remnants of P3 during onychectomy is beneficial or detrimental to the patient and approaches should be altered accordingly.