Declawing Cats in California. Everything You Need to Know About the Controversial Law

Introduction

Declawing cats is a controversial practice that involves amputating a cat’s toes up to the first knuckle. Many countries have banned declawing, but it remains legal in most parts of the United States. However, some individual cities and counties in California have enacted local bans on declawing cats.

Declawing removes a cat’s claws by amputating the last bone in each toe. This is usually done in kittens around 3-4 months old. Many veterinarians and animal welfare groups strongly oppose declawing, believing it causes unnecessary pain and can lead to behavioral problems in cats.

However, some cat owners request the procedure to protect furniture and belongings from scratching. There is an ongoing debate around whether declawing should be banned statewide in California, with passionate views on both sides.

What is Declawing?

Declawing is the surgical amputation of a cat’s claws by removing the last bone of each toe. The standard declawing procedure, called an onychectomy, removes the entire third phalanx bone along with the claw (Ingleside, 2022).

This amputation involves cutting through tendons, ligaments, and nerves to remove the last segment of the cat’s toe. It is a form of mutilation and often compared to cutting a human’s finger off at the last knuckle joint (Human Society, 2022). After the surgery, the toes are bandaged and the feet put in splints to heal. The cat is usually hospitalized for 1-2 days.

Declawing results in the permanent removal of the cat’s claws. The claws do not grow back after amputation of the last bone. Many vets compare it to deforming or crippling the cat. Declawing eliminates the cat’s primary defense mechanism and severely impacts their ability to balance, climb,scratch, and stretch their bodies.

Declawing Bans in California

There are currently several local bans on declawing cats in California, but no statewide ban yet. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, 8 cities in California have enacted bans on cat declawing: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, and West Hollywood [1]. These local ordinances generally prohibit veterinarians from performing declawing procedures unless medically necessary.

The Los Angeles ban, passed in 2009, makes it “unlawful for any person to perform or cause to be performed an onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy procedure by any means on a cat within the city limits, except when necessary for a therapeutic purpose” [2]. The other city bans have similar language.

While several attempts have been made in recent years, California does not yet have a statewide ban on declawing. In 2022, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to prohibit declawing except for therapeutic purposes, but it did not pass [3]. Animal welfare groups continue advocacy efforts for a statewide declawing ban in California.

Local Bans

Several cities and counties in California have enacted local bans prohibiting cat declawing. According to the Paw Project, eight cities in California have banned the procedure as of 2022: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Berkeley, Culver City, Burbank, and West Hollywood.

The city of Los Angeles passed a ban in 2009, becoming the first major U.S. city to outlaw cat declawing. San Francisco followed in 2018, banning declawing except for medical necessity. Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Berkeley, Culver City, and Burbank enacted their bans between 2019 and 2021. Most recently in 2022, West Hollywood approved an ordinance to prohibit elective declawing procedures.

In addition to city bans, Santa Clara County passed an ordinance in 2020 prohibiting veterinarians from performing declawing surgeries except for medical reasons. Nearby Santa Cruz County banned the practice in 2021.

Statewide Proposals

In recent years, there have been multiple attempts to ban declawing statewide in California. In 2019, California Assembly Bill 1230 was introduced to prohibit veterinarians from performing declawing procedures unless medically necessary. The bill made it through the state Assembly but ultimately failed to pass the Senate (ALDF).

In 2021, another bill called AB 1968 was introduced in the Assembly to ban elective declawing statewide. This bill stalled in committee and did not make it to a vote (Paw Project). Most recently in 2023, California Senator Scott Wiener introduced SB 2 to prohibit declawing except for medical necessity. This bill is still active but faces opposition from veterinary associations.

Proponents of a ban cite declawing as an inhumane procedure that leads to long-term complications for cats. Opponents argue it should remain a last resort option for owners struggling with destructive clawing behaviors. Though previous attempts have failed, animal welfare advocates continue pushing for a statewide ban in California.

Veterinary Perspectives

There are differing viewpoints among veterinarians on declawing in California. The California Veterinary Medical Board addressed declawing in their January 2023 meeting, summarizing that while declawing procedures are rarely performed, some vets believe declawing should remain an option as a last resort for certain cases (1). The American Veterinary Medical Association revised their declawing policy in 2020 to discourage the procedure except when medically necessary. Their policy states declawing should be considered only after alternatives have failed and cites examples like infectious claw disease that can’t be controlled otherwise (2). The American Association of Feline Practitioners strongly opposes declawing cats unless for medical purposes, arguing it provides no benefit to the cat and has potential physical and behavioral complications (3). Overall, California veterinary groups acknowledge declawing solely for human convenience is ethically questionable, though opinions differ on appropriate medical uses.

Animal Welfare Views

Many animal welfare groups strongly oppose the practice of declawing cats. The ASPCA’s official position is that declawing “should be considered only after trying behavioral modification or alternatives.” They view declawing as an “ethically questionable procedure” that should be a last resort when alternatives have failed. The ASPCA opposes bans on declawing, believing vets should decide when it’s medically necessary, but supports legislation requiring informed consent (1).

Other groups like the Humane Society of the United States and Alley Cat Allies campaign for anti-declawing legislation, believing declawing inflicts unnecessary pain and permanent disability on cats for human convenience. They view declawing as “mutilation” and point to alternatives like trimming claws and training cats to use scratching posts (2). These groups lobby lawmakers to ban elective declawing, allowing it only for medical necessity as determined by a vet.

In summary, many animal welfare groups strongly oppose routine declawing of cats, viewing it as inhumane. They campaign for legislation banning elective declawing and requiring informed consent, believing the practice causes lasting harm to cats for human convenience. These groups view declawing as a last resort when alternatives fail.

Sources:
(1) https://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/position-statement-declawing-cats
(2) https://citythekitty.org/aspca-keeps-changing-their-excuses-to-keep-declawing-legal/

Alternatives to Declawing

Declawing should always be an absolute last resort. There are many more humane alternatives to stop cats from undesirable scratching that should be tried first. Here are some of the top alternatives recommended by vets and animal welfare organizations:

Training – With positive reinforcement, deterrents, and providing approved scratching surfaces, most cats can be trained to avoid destructive scratching. For example, every time your cat scratches furniture, firmly say “No!”, then redirect them to their preferred scratching post and praise/treat when they use it.

Regular Nail Trimming – Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed reduces damage from scratching and reduces their urge to scratch. Introduce nail trims young and make it a frequent, rewarding routine.

Nail Caps – Soft plastic caps like Soft Paws can be affixed to cats’ nails using veterinarian-recommended adhesive. These blunt the nails and prevent damage while allowing normal scratching behavior.

Pheromone Diffusers – Products like Feliway release feline facial pheromones to calm stress and anxiety leading to unwanted scratching. Used alongside training, this can reinforce desired scratching locations.

Appropriate Scratching Posts/Surfaces – Provide scratching surfaces your cat prefers – different materials, heights, locations – and reward scratching there. Vertical posts, cardboard scratchers, cat trees etc. can satisfy natural scratching instincts.

Consequences of Declawing

Declawing a cat can lead to many potential medical and behavioral issues. According to the Humane Society, declawing can cause long-term pain in the paws, back pain, infection, tissue death, and lameness (https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/why-declawing-bad-your-cat). Removing the claws changes the way a cat’s feet meet the ground while walking, which can alter their gait and put more pressure on other joints like the back. This frequently leads to compensatory pain elsewhere.

Declawed cats may also develop behavioral issues from the traumatic surgery and chronic pain. These include increased biting tendencies, aggression/fearfulness, anxiety, stress, and avoidance of the litter box (https://www.paws.org/resources/problems-with-declawing/). The surgery removes the cat’s main defense mechanism, so they often resort to increased biting when feeling threatened. Additionally, the altered paw sensitivity and chronic pain can cause litter box avoidance since using it becomes uncomfortable. This frequently results in inappropriate urination/defecation outside the box.

Overall, declawing poses major risks of short and long-term medical complications like infection or chronic pain syndromes. It also often leads to undesirable behavioral changes in cats as they struggle to cope with altered paw function and chronic discomfort. These consequences significantly impact feline welfare.

Conclusion

In summary, the controversy around declawing cats in California centers around the practice being considered inhumane and detrimental to cats’ health and wellbeing. Several cities in California, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and West Hollywood, have banned the practice locally. There have also been attempts to ban declawing statewide in California, with bills being proposed but not yet passed into law. Those in favor of bans cite evidence that declawing can cause pain, impairment, and behavior problems in cats. Veterinary associations have guidelines recommending declawing only as a last resort. Animal welfare groups strongly oppose declawing as an unnecessary procedure that harms cats. Some vets still defend it as a way to prevent furniture damage and keep cats in homes. Overall, there is a trend toward banning declawing in California, but the practice remains legal statewide for now, despite active efforts to end it.

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