A Real-World Conversation About Declaw


Maryland just became the second state to ban veterinarians amputating cat paws, commonly called a declaw or scientifically called onychectomy. That’s right, the procedure isn’t as benign as some would like to think, it’s equivalent to cutting off the tips of all your fingers from the last joint. Maryland’s passage of bill HB0022 signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan has that state becoming the second in America to ban declaw, following New York State doing the same in 2019.

Just after Gov. Hogan signed the state-wide ban into law, I coincidentally spoke at the FETCH Veterinary conference in Charlotte, NC about declaw and how veterinarians can respond to clients who continue to demand “declaw my cat.”

As I walked about of my talk, the real world hit me. A very nice older woman, named Brenda stopped me. Brenda works for a company hired to scan badges of attendees at conferences as they enter talks for confirmation of continuing education credit.

Brenda was waiting for me at the door after my talk and told me that for decades she has been declawing her cats without a problem and she added, “I don’t know about all cats but mine have been just fine.”

I replied, “No they have not been just fine.”

I asked, “Do you love your cat?” She said, “Of course, I would do anything for her; she has a very good life, and let me tell you, I spoil her.”

I added, “That may be – but you have needlessly amputated, like I would chop off all your fingers right here (as I showed her). You call it declaw but really it’s an amputation.”

She responded, “I know that.”

“Really?” I said. “Let’s talk about phantom pain which humans suffer if even one finger is amputated and take medication for as a result. Cats neuro-pathways are identical to ours. I can’t assure you with absolute certainty that this is what your cat is feeling but I can say it’s likely.”

To the casual observer, this cat may not appear lame or suffering but osteoarthritis is apparent to veterinary professionals as a result of declaw many years prior

My cat doesn’t act in pain. “Maybe not, as your cat can’t tell you and cats don’t want to tell you – as cats are hard-wired to mask pain.”

I added, “Over time most declawed cats – especially older cats are nearly guaranteed to suffer from arthritis. And their gaits become altered.”

Brenda replied, “My cat is old so I’m not surprised.”

“You may be surprised by the added pain this change in gait might have caused, potentially chronic pain your cat has been in for  years. I cited many many studies in the talk about how we now KNOW declawed cats are more likely to suffer chronic pain which can be associated with various behavior problems, like urinating and/or defecating outside the litter box or more likely to bite – if this has never occurred with any of your cats, you’re lucky or your cats have been in pain and no one has identified the source of the problem.”

She added, “But we’ve always done it.”

“How does that make it right?” I asked. “To be honest over 20 years ago I used a chain link collar or “choke collar” to train our dogs. It was wrong but I didn’t know it back then, no one did. Today, we know why not to use these collars. I adjusted my thinking and would never consider a “choke collar” today. I hope if you get another cat you consider this. If you could ask your kitten – especially if you happen to get a kitten because they learn so easily where to scratch – would you want all your claws to be amputated just for your convenience?”

I added, “Just think about your cat’s welfare, your cat you love. I can’t blame you for what you didn’t know – now you know. And you have to live with yourself.”

She looked horrified as I walked away.

In the U.S., Los Angeles, San Francisco, West Hollywood are among the seven cities in California to ban declaw, as does Austin, TX; St. Louis, MO; Pittsburgh, PA and Madison, WI. More cities and states are likely to follow.