Cat Declawing in America. The Controversial Truth

Introduction

Cat declawing is a controversial procedure that involves surgically removing the claw and last bone of each toe of a cat’s paw. Many people declaw cats to prevent them from scratching furniture and other household items. However, declawing is considered inhumane by animal welfare groups because it causes unnecessary pain and permanently disables normal cat behavior. In recent years, several U.S. states and cities have banned or restricted cat declawing due to concerns about animal cruelty. This article will examine the legality of cat declawing in the United States.

What is Cat Declawing?

Cat declawing is a surgical procedure that removes all or most of the last bone in a cat’s toes. The procedure involves amputating the distal phalanx, or third phalanx bone, in each toe. The front paws have 5 toes and claws on each, so declawing removes 10 total claws in a front declaw procedure. According to Ingleside Veterinary Hospital, the phalanx that is removed corresponds to the last bone in a human finger.

The declawing procedure is typically performed under general anesthesia or heavy sedation. The veterinarian cuts through the joint between the second and third phalanges, and then closes off the end of the toe. The skin at the end of the toe heals over the cut bone. Most veterinarians will also provide post-surgical pain medication for a few days after the procedure.

Declawing permanently removes the claws and prevents them from growing back. It aims to prevent cats from scratching furniture, carpets, and people. However, declawing also removes cats’ primary defense mechanism and negatively impacts their physical abilities and behavior.

Reasons for Declawing

Some cat owners choose to declaw their cats for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is to prevent property damage from scratching. Declawed cats are less likely to damage furniture, carpets, drapes and other household items with their claws. According to the AVMA, 78% of cat owners surveyed reported having their cats declawed to prevent damage to property.

Another reason cat owners declaw is to prevent injuries, either to themselves or others. Cat scratches, even playful ones, can carry risk of infection. By removing the claws, the risk of scratches is eliminated. Some owners with immunodeficiencies or bleeding disorders may choose to declaw to reduce these risks from scratches.

There are also some medical reasons for declawing. In rare cases, veterinarians may recommend partial declaws for conditions like cancer, deformity or injury affecting one or more claws. This more limited procedure can remove diseased tissue while allowing the cat to keep most of its claws.

While less common today, some cat owners still choose to declaw kittens early on so they never learn to scratch inappropriately. However, the ASPCA and other groups strongly recommend against this practice.

Arguments Against Declawing

Many animal welfare organizations strongly oppose declawing cats due to concerns about animal cruelty and potential medical/behavioral issues. According to the Humane Society of the United States, declawing can cause chronic pain, infection, tissue death, back pain, and other problems for cats (https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/why-declawing-bad-your-cat). Declawing removes a cat’s claws by amputating the last bone of each toe, which involves severing muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This can alter a cat’s gait and may lead to joint stiffness or back pain later in life. Since claws are also used for balance and climbing, declawed cats may suffer injuries from falling or have difficulty navigating their environment.

Many vets also note that declawed cats may exhibit behavioral issues after the surgery, such as increased biting or refusing to use the litterbox. The lack of claws can cause stress and diminish cats’ ability to play and exhibit natural behaviors. PETA argues that declawing can make cats feel defenseless, frightened, or in pain, taking away their quality of life (https://www.peta.org/living/animal-companions/8-reasons-never-declaw-cats/). Given the potential suffering it can inflict, declawing is viewed by many as an act of cruelty and mutilation.

Declawing Bans

Several cities, counties, and states have passed laws banning elective cat declawing. New York became the first U.S. state to ban the practice in 2019, except for medical necessity. The ban made it illegal for veterinarians to perform the procedure unless there is a medical reason to remove the cat’s claws, such as infection or injury. Violators faced fines of up to $1,000.

New Jersey followed shortly after, becoming the second state to prohibit elective cat declawing in 2020. Assemblyman Troy Singleton, who sponsored the New Jersey bill, stated that declawing is “inhumane and causes unnecessary pain.” The New Jersey law has similar exceptions allowing declawing for medical reasons.

Beyond New York and New Jersey, several other cities and counties have bans including Denver, Colorado; Austin, Texas; San Francisco, California; and St. Louis, Missouri. Many other countries have also outlawed the procedure including the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, Israel, and most European Union member states.

The bans typically prohibit elective declawing, but allow exceptions for medical necessity as determined by a veterinarian. Proponents argue declawing leads to potential physical and psychological complications for cats and view the procedure as inhumane. Critics say declawing should remain a last resort option for owners struggling with destructive scratching behavior.

Federal Legality

There is currently no nationwide ban on cat declawing in the United States at the federal level. However, a bill called the Kitten Act was introduced in Congress in 2019 that would prohibit declawing except for therapeutic purpose recommended by a licensed veterinarian [1]. This bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act to include a ban on elective cat declawing. As of 2023, the Kitten Act has not become law.

The lack of a federal ban means cat declawing remains legal in most of the country. Federal legislation would be required to implement a nationwide prohibition on the practice. Some declawing opponents argue that declawing violates the Animal Welfare Act’s requirement to ensure animal pain and distress is minimized [2]. But the courts have not found declawing itself to be prohibited under current federal law.

[1] https://aldf.org/issue/declawing-cats/

[2] https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/cat-declawing-legality-by-state

State Legality

Declawing cats is currently legal in 48 of the 50 US states, with only two states recently banning the procedure. Declawing bans have been passed in New York and Maryland. In 2019, New York became the first state to ban declawing, making it illegal unless medically necessary for the cat’s health. In 2022, Maryland followed suit and passed a statewide ban.

Some other states and cities have partial bans in place or are considering legislation to prohibit the practice. These include California, which makes declawing illegal for wild and exotic cats only. The cities of Denver, Colorado, Austin, Texas, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and St. Louis, Missouri also have declawing bans. Most declawing laws include an exception if the procedure is deemed medically necessary.

Beyond complete bans, a few states regulate the practice in other ways. New Jersey and Massachusetts require veterinarians to distribute information about potential negative effects before declawing a cat. Overall though, declawing remains legal and commonly practiced in most of the United States.

Professional Associations’ Positions

The leading veterinary associations in the U.S., including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), discourage elective cat declawing but do not call for banning the procedure outright.

The AVMA’s policy states that declawing “should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).” The AVMA policy goes on to say declawing should only be performed by licensed veterinarians under anesthesia and with analgesics to manage pain, and only after the veterinarian has provided cat owners with information about both surgical and non-surgical alternatives. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/declawing-domestic-cats

Similarly, the AAHA’s position statement says declawing “should be considered only as a last resort when all other attempts to control inappropriate scratching have failed.” The AAHA recommends declawing only after behavioral and environmental modification strategies have been exhausted, and only with proper analgesia by a licensed veterinarian. https://www.aaha.org/about-aaha/aaha-position-statements/declawing/

Public Opinion

Polling suggests a mixed public view on declawing in the US. A survey by NBC News in 2011 found that most cat owners support declawing, with 59% saying it was acceptable and only 24% in favor of banning the practice. However, a more recent 2019 poll by Today’s Veterinary Nurse found that 61% of respondents supported banning declawing across the US, following New York’s statewide ban. Views seem closely tied to cat ownership, as cat owners are more opposed to declawing.

Conclusion

In summary, cat declawing is the amputation of a cat’s toes back to the first knuckle joint. It is an unnecessary procedure that provides no medical benefit to cats and can cause serious physical and psychological complications. Many veterinary professionals view declawing as an act of cruelty. While some pet owners still choose to declaw, public opinion has been shifting against the practice.

Currently, declawing cats is legally permitted throughout most of the United States. Only New York and Maryland have enacted state-wide bans, although a few individual cities in other states have also banned the practice. Some veterinary associations have spoken out against declawing, but there are no nationwide prohibitions in place. Animal welfare advocates continue working to make declawing illegal across more parts of the country.

In summary, while declawing remains legal in most of the US, the practice is increasingly being viewed as inhumane and unnecessary. The trend appears to be moving toward additional statewide bans, but declawing cats is still permitted throughout much of the country at this time.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top