The Debate on Declaw Laws

© 2003 Laurie D. Goldstein,

According to Dr. Christianne Schelling (, "The U.S. and Canada are the only countries where declawing is commonplace. In many countries declawing is illegal or is considered inhumane, and you would be hard-pressed to find a veterinarian who would agree to do the operation. In the U.S., it's quite easy to declaw preemptively, i.e., even in the absence of any scratching problem. We've turned medically unnecessary amputation, done for the convenience of the human, into something routine."

It requires just a few minutes of research to determine that the "declawing" procedure is inhumane. Even the position of the American Veterinary Medical Association is that onychectomy (the amputation of the claw and related bone and muscle tissue) should be considered as a last resort, and the alternative, tendonectomy (severing the tendon so the cat can't use the claw), should not even be considered. There are instances where medical conditions could warrant the procedure, but for just about any other reason it appears to us at that "declawing" is cruel, plain and simple.

We are not alone. In January 2003, the West Hollywood, California City Council members condemned the practice of animal declawing and directed the city attorney to investigate the legality of prohibiting veterinarians from performing onychectomies and tendonectomies on cats. On April 7, 2003, the West Hollywood, California City Council voted unanimously for a measure banning cat declawing. This is the first city in the country to prohibit the surgical procedure.

Following in West Hollywood's footsteps, the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare voted unanimously to recommend that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors ban declawing in San Francisco on September 11, 2003. The Commission is an advisory group, and it will be up the local legislators to pass the ordinance. The Commission also recommended a resolution condemning declawing and supporting the Koretz Anti-Declawing Bill, AB 395.

The Koretz Anti-Declawing Bill, AB 395, was introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (whose district includes West Hollywood). It is a bill at the State level in California that would amend the state veterinary practice act to prohibit onychectomies and tendonectomies from being performed on domestic cats, as well as on large and exotic cats.

The California Veterinary Medical Association (VMA) and Cat Fanciers' Association do not want the procedures prohibited by law. The VMA objection is that "the choice to have the procedure is a private matter between a client and veterinarian." And while the stated position of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is that "it is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with complete education with regard to feline onychectomy," the reality is that many vets continue to practice claw amputation simply at the request of cat owners fed up with scratched furniture, or it is routinely presented (by many vets) as a standard procedure done at the same time as spay/neuter operations.

The basic position of the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) is that the "CFA perceives the declawing of cats (onychectomy) and the severing of digital tendons (tendonectomy) to be elective surgical procedures that are without benefit to the cat. Because of the discomfort associated with any surgery and potential future behavioral or physical effects, CFA disapproves of routine declawing or tendonectomy surgery in lieu of alternative solutions to prevent household damage. In certain situations, including high risk of injury or disease transmission to owners with bleeding disorders or compromised immune systems, declawing may be justified in order to maintain the cat-human bond." Despite this position, the CFA continues to support maintaining the veterinarian-client relationship and the ability of individual owners to make medical decisions regarding their cats. Our concerns? 1) As noted above, many vets routinely present declawing as a "standard" procedure done at the same time as spay/neuter operations, and 2) With proper training, claw amputation simply is not necessary and is NOT, in most instances, a medical decision based on the HEALTH of the cat. Declaw bans would continue to allow claw amputation in situations where it is required for the health of the cat or when clawing presents a zoonotic risk for its owner.

An additional argument against declaw amputation prohibition laws is that cats will be abandoned or euthanized by persons unable to control their cats' scratching behavior. However, this problem already occurs. Further, many cats develop behavior problems after the surgery that result in their unnecessary euthanization or their abandonment anyway. The AVMA position states, "There is no scientific evidence that declawing leads to behavioral abnormalities when the behavior of declawed cats is compared with that of cats in control groups." Whether declawing causes other behavioral problems is a highly controversial subject, but shelter workers and humane organizations overwhelmingly claim that cats that have had their claws amputated have a higher incidence of litter box avoidance and biting than cats that have not had this procedure. Though the AVMA and other veterinary organizations deny this is the case, the fact remains that "Seventy percent (70%) of cats turned into pounds and shelters for behavioral problems are declawed cats," ( "Clawed for Life," © 1997-2003, and a survey of one national rescue database indicates that approximately 6% of the cats in shelters are declawed. Were these cats declawed for medical reasons? Or were they declawed for behavioral reasons, and did the claw amputation result in subsequent behavioral problems that resulted in the cats' arrival in the shelters anyway?

The debate continues. But if our country's declawed cats are turning up in shelters, then why declaw them in the first place? (Again, unless for medical reasons benefiting the health of the cat). Because the task of effective education at the individuation level is both a costly and extremely daunting project, and the procedure is inhumane and in most instances unnecessary, perhaps legislation to protect those who cannot speak for themselves is the best and most appropriate choice.

The articles and links below pertain to legislation on declaw bans, or proposed legislation REQUIRING education of the cat owner by the vet prior to declaw surgery.

Articles and Links - updated Feb 2010

Declaw Information Links by - Feb 2010

Legislation Banning Declawing. - Feb 2010. Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood, CA) introduced legislation that will prohibit veterinarians from declawing cats in the State of California. "The legislation, Assembly Bill 395, inserts a ban into the state's veterinary medical practice act that will prohibit the declawing surgical procedures known as onychectomy and flexor tendonectomy. Onychectomy is a surgical procedure where the animals toes or part of the paw are amputated at the last joint in order to remove the animal's claws. Bone and tendons are also severed. Flexor tendonectomy is an alternative procedure in which the tendon's to an animal's toes are cut so that the claws cannot be extended.

"'Most Californians who have declawed their cat have no idea what they put their pet through,' said Assemblyman Koretz. "Declawing literally involves amputating part of the cat's paws and causes pain and discomfort. It is a cruel and inhumane procedure that is absolutely unnecessary. Instead, veterinarians should work to educate cat owners about the various alternatives that are available," said Koretz.

"The practice of animal declawing is viewed by many veterinarians and animal experts as an act of cruelty. The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) has stated that "declawing is generally unacceptable because the suffering and disfigurement it causes is not offset by any benefits to the cat. Declawing is done strictly to provide convenience for people."

If you have trouble with any of the above links, please copy and paste this web address directly into your browser:

Declawing: Disclose and Wait: A five part piece on proposed legislation. © 2003 About, Inc. "As long as there are still uneducated people, there is no perfect solution to the problem of casual declawing in the U.S. For years, animal advocates have been trying to educate the public to the unhumaneness of declawing, with somewhat limited results. Perhaps it's time for mandatory education, at the dawn of a new Century. Ideally, the procedure would be banned, as it is in many other countries, but the members of AVMA might not support such a proposal." If you have trouble with the above link, please copy and paste this web address directly into your browser: - Feb 2010

The Paw Project advocates animal welfare, promotes public awareness about the painful and crippling effects of feline declawing, rehabilitates declawed cats through paw repair surgery, and supports measures to end the unnecessary practice of onychectomy (declaw surgery). If you have trouble with the above link, please copy and paste this web address directly into your browser: - Feb 2010