Q: I've always avoided declawing my cat because it seemed like it would be painful for her. Now that I'm getting new furniture, I'll either have to get rid of the claws or find a new home for my cat. Can you tell me about the declawing operation?--K.T. A: Cats have a natural instinct to sharpen their claws. Often a carpet-covered scratching post will satisfy them, but if not, the toenails of their front paws can be removed in a simple surgical procedure. Your cat would be put under a general anesthetic, making the surgery painless. The paws will be sore for a few days and usually are kept bandaged to help prevent bleeding and infection. Some veterinarians prefer to keep the cats hospitalized during this time. Once your cat is home, it is important to keep her feet clean. She should not be allowed outside, and her litterbox should be filled with shredded white paper rather than litter. The best time to declaw cats is while they are being neutered--between 6 and 9 months of age.