‘A barbaric procedure’: Many state veterinarians support legislation to outlaw declawing cats

By Sydney Ko

For the Gazette

Published: 04-30-2023 3:00 PM

Following the lead of New York and Maryland, veterinarians in Massachusetts are gathering support to ban procedures that declaw cats.

A bill introduced by Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, aims to ban the practice, a move veterinarians in Massachusetts believe is much-needed regulation to protect cats. They are urging the state Veterinary Medical Association to support the bill.

“The declawing of cats is a barbaric procedure, and for me it’s fundamentally wrong because it removes a part that belongs to the cat with no therapeutic benefit to the cat,” said Dr. Martha Smith-Blackmore, president of Forensic Veterinary Investigations LLC.

Declawing is the surgical amputation of the last joints of a cat’s toes, similar to the human fingertips below the last knuckle. This causes pain and permanent damage for the cats as it severs the bones, tendons, nerves and ligaments in each paw.

At least 42 countries have made declawing cats illegal. The practice is banned in two states and over a dozen municipalities.

“It’s an elective procedure, meaning an owner can choose to have it done to their pets,” Smith-Blackmore said. “I really feel like it shouldn’t be allowed to be performed because it has no benefit to the cat.”

There are more humane alternatives for dealing with cats that scratch people or furniture, according to local experts.

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Jessica Dias, a veterinarian at Northampton Veterinary Clinic, said owners could use nail caps to prevent damage from scratching behavior or have groomers trim the claws regularly.

“[Declawing cats] has been reserved [for] situations where there really are no other options for the clients or patients, whether that be health concerns of an owner on anti-coagulant medications at risk of severe complications from a scratch, or a patient at risk of being abandoned,” Dias said.

Dias added that a veterinarian is more likely to help try to find a new home for a cat than agree to perform declawing.

Having worked at a clinic for more than 21 years, Nancy Long, office manager at the Hampshire Veterinary Hospital in Amherst, said the hospital has not declawed any cats in over a decade for ethical and medical reasons.

Long added that she hasn’t heard owners make any requests for declawing throughout her time there, either.

“You have to think and do the right thing … pets are like children,” she said.

Currently, the bill does allow for declawing for therapeutic reasons, such as removing a cancerous growth from a cat’s toe. Penalties for violating the law would amount to a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense, $1,500 for the second offense and $2,500 for a third or subsequent offense.

Smith-Blackmore, who graduated from veterinary school in 1987, said the procedure is no longer being taught and it continues to decline in popular practice. She said not many veterinarians that she knows still perform it or work for clinics that offer declawing as a service.

“In my opinion, if somebody said they can’t keep a cat unless they can maim it, they probably shouldn’t have a cat. Cats come with total claws — that’s part of what cats are,” she said.

Aside from developing chronic pains, when cats are declawed it also damages their mental and physical health and can cause behavioral problems. When cats are declawed, their toes can form neuromas and this can later cause reluctance to use the litter box.

Smith-Blackmore added that cats are often surrendered to the animal shelter for having litter box problems.

A study showed that 33% of cats suffer at least one behavioral problem after declawing or tendonectomy surgery, 17.9% of declawed cats show an increase in biting, and 15.4% of cats would stop using a litter box.

Sydney Ko writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program.]]>