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Behavioural signs of postoperative pain in cats following onychectomy or tenectomy surgery

By S. Cloutier, R. C. Newberry, A. J. Cambridge, K. M. Tobias

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We hypothesised that the relative degree of acute pain in cats undergoing onychectomy (declaw), digital flexor tenectomy, or a sham procedure could be detected using behavioural indicators. We predicted that onychectomy would produce more behavioural signs of post-surgical pain than tenectomy. Cats presented at the hospital for onychectomy were recruited to the study. Six cats were randomly assigned to each of three groups: Control (sham surgery), Tenectomy, and Onychectomy. All surgeries were performed under anesthesia by the same surgeon. The forepaws of all cats were then bandaged. Analgesic was administered to all cats pre-operatively and to any cat subjectively assessed to be experiencing pain post-operatively. Starting one hour prior to surgery, and at 0.5, 1.5, 3.5, 7.5, 11.5, 23.5 and 35.5 h after surgery, we made a 30-min videotape of each cat. The 1-0 frequencies per minute of the following behaviours were assessed from the videotapes: groom body, groom with forepaw, groom bandages, shake forepaw, wipe forepaw, stand/sit, lie on sternum, lie on side, manipulate toy with forepaw, hide under blanket, and drink. All behavioural observations were made by the same trained observer who was blind to the treatments. Cats from all treatments showed higher levels of forepaw wiping, forepaw shaking and lying on their side after, than before, surgery (mixed-model ANOVA, P<0.01). Control cats rested in sternal recumbency more than tenectomy cats (mixed model ANOVA, P<0.04). In the hour following surgery, Tenectomy cats groomed their bandages more than Onychectomy or Control cats (mixed model ANOVA, P<0.05). At the time of peak pain, Control cats groomed their bodies more than Onychectomy and Tenectomy cats (GLM, P<0.04). The application of bandages probably accounts for the increased forepaw wiping and shaking after surgery. In cats treated pre- and post-operatively with analgesics, we found no evidence to support the view that tenectomy is less painful than onychectomy. Our objective behavioural observations at the time of peak pain, in combination with subjective pain scores and post-surgical analgesic administration data, suggest that cats in both surgical groups experienced more pain than the Control cats in the first hour after surgery.

Date 2005
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 92
Issue 4
Pages 325-335
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2004.11.009
Language English
Author Address Center for the Study of Animal Well-being, Department of Veterinary and Comparative Anatomy, Pharmacology and Physiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, P.O. Box 646520, Pullman, WA 99164, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  3. Carnivores
  4. Cats
  5. Claw
  6. Declawing
  7. Mammals
  8. Pain
  9. peer-reviewed
  10. Pets and companion animals
  11. surgery
  1. peer-reviewed