Bans of the discredited practice gain momentum
By Nicole Rivard
Declawing a cat is a far cry from a mani-pedi. It’s a brutal surgical procedure—an amputation— that removes individual toe bones from the animal’s paws.
That’s the message New York Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal wanted to make clear when she introduced a bill to ban cat declawing in January 2015.
Her message was effective. In July 2019, New York became the first state in the country to ban the practice. The law prohibits declawing unless done to treat a medical condition affecting the cat such as an injury, tumor or untreatable infection. Vets face up to $1,000 in fines.
“When I pass a law I follow up to make sure it’s being enforced,” said Rosenthal. “So we’ve been calling random veterinarians and asking if they declaw and get the answer, ‘No, it’s against the law.’ And it’s very satisfying.”
It’s also rewarding for Friends of Animals since we have been educating people about the horrors of declawing for decades. Our brochure talks about the importance of a cat’s claws, the ill effects of declawing and how you can discourage your cat from scratching furniture.
Rosenthal is appalled that the main reason people declaw their cats is to protect their furniture.
“It’s so selfish to say your furniture means more to you than an animal,” said Rosenthal, who has two rescue cats of her own. “What I always say is if your furniture is more important to you than a cat’s integrity and life, then don’t get a cat.
“Cat’s scratch, that’s part of who they are and what they do. People need to be prepared to put a little effort into getting their cat not to scratch furniture—there are many tried and true methods.”
We couldn’t agree more. And we’re bolstered by Maryland becoming the second state to ban declawing earlier this year. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis and Austin have passed similar bans. And more than 20 countries, including England, Germany, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, have also long banned the practice.
Rosenthal explained that it took four years to get the bill passed because of opposition from part of the veterinary community, which was disseminating misinformation.
“It’s a money maker for some. They upsell,” she said. “You bring a cat in for spay/neuter and then they offer a package for declawing. They don’t want anything to interfere with their business model.”
According to the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, most veterinarians offer declawing and 5% make more than $1,000/hour performing the procedure.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association came out against declawing in 2017.
Myths vs Reality
The misinformation that opponents spread included that surrenders to shelters would go up. However, the Paw Project, the California-based nonprofit that Rosenthal met with prompting her to draft and introduce legislation, points out that there is ample evidence showing that declawing results in increased biting and litter box avoidance, and those are the behaviors that scientific researchers and shelter workers agree are the most common reasons for relinquishment. Many animal shelters publicly discourage declawing.
“Opponents also said people who were immunocompromised would risk their lives if they didn’t declaw their cats. That is absolutely untrue,” Rosenthal said.
Scientific studies have found that declawed cats bite more often and harder than their clawed counterparts. A bite wound is unquestionably more dangerous to immunocompromised people, children, or the elderly than a cat scratch, according to the Paw Project. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, the US Public Health Services, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America agree that declawing cats to protect humans is “not advised.”
“It’s important to educate elected leaders to the fact that there are no human health benefits to declawing, and that there are other options to prevent scratching,” said Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, who championed the Maryland declaw ban. “It’s also important to make sure elected leaders understand the actual procedure and the long-term damage to cats.”
The ill effects include a gradual weakening of the muscles of the legs, shoulders and back, which leads to impaired balance. Declawing is known to cause acute and chronic pain and permanent or intermittent lameness.
Data also shows that declawed cats have chronic stress.
A little training goes a long way
As mentioned earlier, there are tried and true methods to training a cat to use scratching posts.
Be aware of what the cat chooses to scratch on and duplicate it in your choice of scratching posts. Placing a little catnip on the post will help entice the cat to use it. Always reward the cat for scratching in the right place.
There are a plethora of products that can be applied to furniture to help deter a cat from scratching. They include double-sided sticky tape like Sticky Paws; the Sofa-Scratcher , a combination scratcher/furniture guard that fits snugly against a couch or chair; and the Clawguard, which slips over the arm of the couch.
There are cat repellent sprays for furniture that use pheromones or strong fragrances like citrus or lavender to safely deter kitties, as well as products that use sound to ward off your pet.
Of course, regular nail trimming and nail caps called Soft Paw or Soft Claws can also help prevent damage to furniture.
Don’t underestimate your ability to affect change: With New York and Maryland making cat declawing illegal, there is precedent for banning declawing.
“A constituent educated me on the cruelty of the practice of declawing. I was appalled and immediately willing to introduce a bill to ban it,” said Maryland’s Charkoudian.
Rosenthal agrees.“Elected officials want to get reelected. If their constituents demand something they would be smart to listen. People who vote based on how someone handles animal issues are a mighty force.”
Be patient: “Change doesn’t happen overnight, however, slowly but surely we refuted all of the oppositions’ points,” Rosenthal said. “It comes down to showing that declawing is motivated by selfishness and putting humans needs above that of an animal who is defenseless, who needs you to care for him or her. Why would anyone want to confer pain onto a defenseless animal who depends on you?”
To order FoA’s “Paws Come with Claws” brochure, visit friendsofanimals.org and click on the Store tab.