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Mind Over Miller: An exorbitant onychectomy


Dr. Robert Miller swore he would never again get involved in the cat declawing controversy, but then...

I swore I was never again going to get involved in the cat declawing controversy, but I have been forced to. Debby and I went to visit our son, who lives with his wife and our grandkids in central California.

They have a new cat, an 8-month-old neutered male. The entire family had scratch wounds on their hands, and, while we were there, the dog suffered a bloody nose. I suggested declawing their new cat's forepaws.

They telephoned the veterinarian who had declawed their last cat in 2005—the cat that had escaped the house and disappeared permanently and was replaced by Mister Pawhooks. The charge last time was $157. This time, the veterinarian quoted a fee of $1,000. When I retired, I was charging fifty bucks for the procedure, which took 20 minutes in the O.R.

I uttered an expletive and tried to analyze the fee. Was my colleague trying to discourage onychectomy? It is now outlawed in some areas.

Was he, perhaps, the only member of our profession willing to perform the procedure in his community and, therefore, demanding an exorbitant fee?

Had he recently tangled with a cat owner?

Was his gout or his migraine flaring?

I knew a colleague half an hour's drive away who had interned in my practice way back in 1969. I telephoned him and made an appointment for my grandcat's declawing, which was done at a realistic fee.

The onychectomy technique I was taught in surgery class in 1955 was the Resco nail trimmer technique, which is simple, fast, and efficient. Periodically, some misguided colleague comes out with an "improved" technique that invariably turns out to be more complex and more uncomfortable for the patient. I'm talking about procedures involving the use of lasers, cautery, and deep digital flexor tenotomy—even gluing plastic caps on the nails.

Using the Resco technique, we declawed thousands of cats in my practice. That included dozens of big cats such as full-grown lions and tigers from circus acts, but, of course, we did not use a Resco on these big cats. All of my own cats had their forepaws declawed and all lived a long and happy rural life.

The only time we had complications is when we tried one of the new techniques.

I suspect the problem is the Resco nail trimmer. "What? Do surgery with a simple, inexpensive grooming tool? No way! I'm going to find a way to declaw cats using costly equipment and instruments."

So that's why I'm writing this column after vowing to never again mention declawing.

I want someone to produce and sell a glamorous stainless steel version of the cheap little Resco nail trimmer. They can call it an "onychectomizer," or a "partial digitalectomy severance device." That way, exorbitant fees can be justified in the surgeon's mind.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at robertmmiller.com.

Robert M. Miller, DVM

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