For some animal welfare advocates declawing cats is not always a black and white issue–especially given the number of cats surrendered to shelters every month, many who go on to be euthanized. While it is far less common for cats to harm structures (such as rental property walls or flooring) they can definitely do a number on personal property like sofas, drapes and chairs. In fact, the destruction of personal property is a common reason given by cat owners who surrender their cats to animal shelters. But there are also human health related reasons for declawing cats including family members with immunodeficiencies or bleeding disorders who must avoid being scratched. So the question becomes ‘Is declawing always animal cruelty?’–Even when it saves the lives of cats that would otherwise be killed? One politician says ‘yes’ and wants to make a statewide ban on declawing…
Veterinarians are divided on whether declaw surgery is abhorrent or key to keeping some cats alive.
Many cat owners continue to have the family feline declawed, chiefly driven by a desire to prevent kitty from scratching up the furniture. But the surgery is the subject of a growing divide in the veterinary community, with critics saying it amounts to a painful amputation that can lead to behavior problems in cats and others arguing that it prevents some owners from euthanizing scratch-happy cats. About 20 countries, mostly in Europe, have banned the procedure, as have San Francisco, Los Angeles and six other California cities. Some veterinary clinics refuse to perform the surgery.
Now the debate has reached the statehouse in New Jersey, where the General Assembly last month approved a bill that would add declawing, or onychectomy, to the list of criminal animal cruelty offenses. The measure, if passed by the state Senate, would make New Jersey the first to impose a statewide declaw ban; New York is considering a similar law. But the bill is facing strong opposition…
Pain and Suffering
Some veterinarians…say owners who choose to declaw their cats — and there are no firm figures for how many do, though some estimates hover around 25 percent —are blithely unaware of the gravity of this procedure…
“It’s an amputation at the last bone of every one of your cat’s toes. And it is one of the most painful routinely performed surgeries in all of veterinary medicine.”
-Jennifer Conrad, a veterinarian who is the founder of the Paw Project, which campaigns against declawing
Conrad said that while cats may receive pain medication to take the edge off any postoperative agony, patients typically experience a sort of time-release pain some years later. As a by-product, she said, cats can develop difficulty moving around and often reach their height of misery when using the litter box. That can lead to a sad domino effect, she said: Cats tend to quit their boxes and start taking care of business elsewhere, eroding their popularity in the household. That they can no longer scratch to defend themselves — and start biting instead — expands their new status as unwelcome residents. All that can lead to cats’ being surrendered to shelters…
Declawing vs. Euthanasia
“I guess the first statement I’ll make is that we’re not pro-declaw, we’re anti-euthanasia. Our concern is that there are owners that may choose, for various reasons, not to have a cat if they can’t get it declawed. Or, if they have an intact cat, tempted to relinquish it or abandon it if they can’t get it declawed.”
-Richard Alampi, Executive Director, New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association
For those passionate about this topic, a modest political thriller is playing out in New Jersey. The pivotal next scene involves the bill advancing through the state Senate. And if it does, the climax would unspool in Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) office, where he’ll decide whether to sign it.
Do bans on cat declawing trigger an increase in cats abandoned to shelters?
A FIREPAW reader argues that cat declawing bans do not cause an increase in the number of cats surrendered to public animal shelters. See it here.