When It Comes to Declawing, Reality Bites

New York could have become a more humane state for cats had two bills to ban declawing passed. The bills, introduced in New York’s Assembly and Senate, sought to prohibit declawing unless medically necessary to treat injured or diseased paws. It would have made New York the first state to ban this veterinary surgery.

Sadly, veterinary lobbyists blocked the measure in June, ensuring that both bills failed to advance prior to New York legislature’s summer adjournment. 
Move over New York. New Jersey now hopes to become the first state to ban declawing.

But here’s the reality. Declawing involves ten amputations - 20 if the back claws are included. The surgeon guillotines the last bone of each toe and severs each paw’s tendons, nerves, and ligaments.

The mutilation has serious side-effects, including possible hemorrhaging, paw pad lacerations, swelling, radial nerve damage, lameness, infections, the reopening of wounds, chronic pain, and biting and urinating outside the litter box. Yet, many veterinarians bite their tongues when it comes to declawing’s dangers.

Thankfully not all. “Declawing fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery,” says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, and founder of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.

He’s not alone. Declawing is verboten in nearly 30 countries and eight California cities. It’s also opposed by several American veterinary colleges and scores of U.S. veterinarians and animal protection groups.

One group, The Paw Project, founded by veterinarian Jennifer Conrad, educates the public about the painful, crippling effects of declawing and actively works to abolish it. The organization championed the New York anti-declawing bills, along with forty-four other organizations and 133 state veterinarians.

The bills’ opposition came from surprising sources. The New York State Veterinary Medical Society and New York State Association of Veterinary Technicians fought hard against the bills, claiming declawing keeps cats out of shelters. But the facts don’t support it. Biting and litter box avoidance—often the results of declawing—are the top reasons cats are surrendered, not claws.

Conrad has her own theory why some veterinary organizations oppose a ban. Declawing is lucrative. Clients can pay up to $900 to declaw both paws. Clinics often include declawing in a packaged deal with spaying/neutering, thus catapulting the price.

But the fight is not over yet. On June 16th, New Jersey Assemblyman Troy Singleton introduced a bill that would add declawing to his state’s criminal animal cruelty offenses.

Under Singleton’s bill, New Jersey individuals who perform declawing and people who seek it out will face fines up to $1,000 or spend six months in jail. Violators will also face $500 to $2,000 in civil penalties. An identical bill was introduced in the New Jersey senate. Both bills have been referred to their appropriate committees and we anticipate both committees will hold hearings about them in the fall.

Education is key, says the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Scratching is a natural behavior that communicates joy, excitement, or stress. It’s also how cats exercise and play. Dozens of alternatives to declawing exist, including nail trimming, scratching posts, claw caps and deterrents. Veterinarians need to discuss humane alternatives with their clients.

Let’s hope New Jersey succeeds in making history as the first state to ban declawing. Otherwise, for New Jersey cats, reality’s bite could continue to be quite painful.