Many people have heard the news and are celebrating that the state of New York has banned the act of declawing cats. A few cities have banned the procedure, but New York is the first state that has done so. Felines and many other species are what we call “digitigrade” meaning that they walk on the tips of their toes, compared to species, like humans, who walk “plantigrade” or on their heels. The declawing procedure is done under anesthesia, and it involves amputating the 3rd phalanx, or last toe bone, along with the claws. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) strongly oppose declawing cats, while the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) promotes client education before considering declawing.
Why are cats declawed?
There are two main reasons: for humans and for cats. Many people want to protect household items such as furniture (I can tell you from experience, my cats have destroyed couches and even my screen door!). Declawing can also be used to protect people such as geriatrics, diabetics, and those who have compromised immune systems and could be seriously injured if they were to be scratched by a cat. As for the benefit of cats, declawing could be an alternative to abandonment, keeping them outdoors, or even preventing euthanasia. Declawing could be essential to keep cats in their home.
What are the welfare concerns?
The major concern is pain both during and after the procedure, but also the possibility of long term pain. Other welfare concerns include surgical complications and impairment of balance, climbing and social interactions, but interestingly no scientific reports of this have been confirmed this to date. There are also concerns about problem behaviors such as inappropriate elimination and aggression.
Beliefs on this topic are still fairly split in the veterinary community. There are alternatives to declawing, such as nail caps, regular nail trimmings, and behavior modification. These options may work for some animals, but every cat and home is different. So what might the implications mean for this ban in the state of New York?
Declawing is considered by some a cosmetic procedure, one that is only for the benefit of humans and is cruel and painful to the cats. It can also be considered by others as a last resort surgery to keep cats out of shelters where they may be at a higher risk of euthanasia. It’s a controversial topic, but the ban in New York has brought to light a conversation to educate owners about the procedure, the welfare concerns, and risks involved.