Cat declawing – the practice of surgically removing a cat’s claws -- is a cruel procedure that can be likened to having the last bone of each of your toes amputated. It is unnecessary because there are more humane ways to keep cats from scratching furniture. And for the animal the consequences last a lifetime, including behavioral and health problems.
Fortunately, a growing number of lawmakers are moving to make declawing illegal. Yesterday, Austin became the first city in Texas, and one of a handful of cities nationwide, to ban this procedure unless it is necessary for the cat’s own well-being.
This is great news, and it illustrates changing attitudes among Americans and their lawmakers about subjecting companion animals to procedures like these, which are typically done for purely cosmetic or convenience reasons. New York became the first state in the nation to pass a ban on elective cat declaw surgery in 2019, and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and St. Louis have passed similar bans in recent years. More than 20 countries, including England, Germany, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, have also long banned the practice.
Bills on cat declawing have been introduced and are now being considered in several states, including in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut. We also hope to see similar bills introduced this year or next in Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Illinois, among other states.
Cat owners often mistakenly believe that declawing their cats is a harmless "quick fix" for unwanted scratching. But for a cat, declawing is no trip to the spa. After the surgery, cats, who walk on their toes (unlike humans who walk on the soles of our feet) can face severe problems. Austin veterinarian Katrina Breitreiter, who was at the forefront of passing the ban in her city, says declawing “can lead to long term complications including persistent postoperative pain, back pain, phantom pain, limping, infection, arthritis, overgrooming, toe pad calluses, bone fragments, claw regrowth under the skin, and tendon contracture.” One in five cats has long-term complications from declaw surgery and 50% suffer complications immediately after surgery.
One third of declawed cats develop behavioral problems after declawing.
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, important for their physical and mental wellbeing. It removes dead husks from their claws, it helps them mark territory, and it helps stretch their muscles. Unfortunately, this natural behavior is considered misbehavior by humans, especially when furniture or other household objects are damaged in the process. But as Dr. Barbara Hodges of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association points out, there are a range of humane alternatives that do not risk the health and welfare of cats. These include routine nail trims, training, scratching posts and nail caps.
Declawing started without any scientific study or assessment of pain or any understanding of the long-term impacts of multiple amputations. When domestic cats began moving into our homes, shortly after the invention of kitty litter, a crude procedure involving the use of guillotine clippers to amputate cats’ toes was described in a letter from a Chicago practitioner to an American veterinary journal in 1952 as a solution to the damage cats’ claws can cause to furniture. Sadly, the practice became normalized in veterinary medicine.
Thanks to advances in the field, we know so much more today about the ill effects of declawing and increasingly the veterinary community is clear: it needs to end. The veterinarian-led Paw Project has pushed for reform in this area, and organizations like the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Animal Hospital Association, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the HSVMA are all opposed to declawing. The largest U.S. veterinary hospital systems – VCA, Banfield and Blue Pearl — do not perform elective declaw procedures on cats. And the American Association of Feline Practitioners banned declawing in their certified "cat friendly practices" at the beginning of this year.
This shift in the veterinary profession needs to be cemented in policy. The HSUS is working closely with the Paw Project to pass laws against declawing in cities and states around the country. As Dr. Jennifer Conrad, founder and director of the Paw Project, emphasizes, “declawing, better described as de-knuckling, has no place in ethical veterinary care.”
We applaud Austin’s council members for making the right decision for cats in their city, and we urge lawmakers around the United States to work swiftly to end this harmful and unnecessary practice.