By Genevieve Cottraux
There are 21 countries in which it is illegal to have your cat declawed: England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Slovenia, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Conspicuously missing from this list is the United States.
Veterinarian Jennifer Conrad is on a mission to change that. She has been tirelessly working city by city, state by state, for bans on declawing and has been spreading the educational message about the cruelty of the procedure to the public, politicians, and even other veterinarians. In a question and answer session after the screening of the documentary about her organization, The Paw Project, at the New Parkway Cinema in Oakland, California on October 2, 2017, she said that the main opposition to the bans comes from veterinarians and veterinary organizations. Declawing is a lucrative part of veterinary practices performing the process, called onychectomy. Onychectomy is a $1 billion industry in the United States, involving 14.4 million cats per year.
As part of her mobile practice, Dr. Conrad noticed the crippling effects of declawing on big cats like lions, tigers, and jaguars in her work with a wildlife sanctuary in southern California. She developed a surgery to repair the cats’ feet, which included removing large bone fragments left inside their paws. In her talk, she compared these bone fragments to a human trying to walk with their shoes full of pebbles. Many of these cats had been illegal pets, declawed in an attempt to make them less dangerous.
As an alternative to declawing, but equally horrific, is tendonectomy, in which the deep digital flexor is severed, preventing the cat from flexing and extending the claws. The nails continue to grow and must still be trimmed to prevent further health complications. Onychectomy, which is an amputation equivalent to removing the human end of the human finger at the first knuckle, can be performed by 3 methods (pdf file)—blade onychectomy, guillotine-type onychectomy, and laser onychectomy. All lead to chronic pain and behavioral problems such as inappropriate elimination and biting. The cat’s first line of defense—scratching—has been removed and thus they bite. Cat bites are much more dangerous than scratches. When a cat’s paws are in pain, cat litter intensifies the pain, leading the cat to eliminate on surfaces such as carpets and sofas in the home. Due to the behavior problems associated with declawed cats, they are relinquished in higher proportions to animal shelters.
This surgery is medically unnecessary and is performed solely for human benefit, like cosmetic procedures performed on animals, such as ear cropping and tail docking of dogs. Other procedures in this category are vocal cordectomy, also called debarking for dogs, and defanging (removal or blunting of the teeth).
In January of 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that makes it illegal for landlords in the state to require tenants to declaw or devocalize their pets. A similar law was enacted in Rhode Island in 2014. As for banning declawing altogether, West Hollywood became the first city in the United States to pass such a ban in 2003, and now 7 other cities in California have banned the practice. Dr. Conrad is still hopeful of a statewide ban. State legislatures in New York and New Jersey are both considering statewide bans on declawing. The main opposition continues to come from veterinarians and their trade associations. Veterinarians, like medical doctors for humans, take an oath to “first do no harm.” Yet monetary matters for some outweigh the oath. The American Veterinary Medical Association concedes that declawing is medically unnecessary. As long as veterinarians benefit financially from the procedure, many will continue to provide it rather than encouraging alternatives, such as clipping the claws regularly, providing ample appropriate scratching surfaces, vinyl nail caps, and using deterrents like bitter apple or citrus sprays on upholstered furniture to repel the cat. The Paw Project maintains a list of veterinarians who do not declaw; “using no-declaw veterinarians is an effective way to tell the community you do not approve of declawing.” Dr. Conrad added at her talk that the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) affiliated-clinics across North America, comprised of over 4,700 doctors at more than 750 clinics in 43 states and 5 Canadian provinces, will no longer recommend declawing to their clients. VCA is a Mars company; Mars holdings include Mars Petcare, Mars Symbioscience, Mars Chocolate, Wrigley, and numerous food and beverage brands.
Dr. Conrad also said that standard teaching practices in veterinary schools need to change so that declawing is not considered a normalized and profitable practice.
Contact your representatives and add your support for declawing bans. Resources are available through The Paw Project.