Declaw May be Banned in New Jersey


New Jersey is on its way to becoming the first state to ban declaw in cats. A bill that cleared an Assembly committee would add Onychetomy — the medical term for declawing — to the list of criminal animal cruelty offenses. There would be exceptions for medical purposes.  In short, declaw would be criminal in New Jersey.

Pet expert Steve Dale comments on the New Jersey and New York proposed bans on declaw in catsIncreasingly, it appears fewer cat owners seek to have their cats declawed. Increasingly, organized veterinary medicine discourages declaw (Onychectomy), and increasingly some individual veterinarians refuse under any circumstances to declaw. Other veterinarians will only declaw after all behavior alternatives are tried.

There’s no data to absolutely demonstrate, but declaw is likely being done today far less often than even say 20 years ago.

Make no mistake about it, declaw is an amputation. And that’s a fact.Pet expert Steve Dale comments on the New Jersey and New York proposed bans on declaw in cats

A declaw is an irreversible elective surgical procedure. A cat’s toe has three bones. In a declaw, the veterinarian amputates the final section of the last bone (which contains the growth plate and the nail — like cutting off a finger at the knuckle).

Imagine amputating your finger from the knuckle down – and for no particular reason – that is what a declaw is.

Even declawed cats need to go through the motions

Even declawed cats need to go through the motions

I personally feel declaw is barbaric

Veterinarians in New Jersey, if the law is passed, caught declawing a cat and people who seek them out would face a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail. Violators would also face a civil penalty of $500 to $2,000, according to the bill (A3899).

As good as all this sounds, I do have some concerns. First, is the human medical community on board? Right or wrong, there are plenty of doctors who mandate declaw because their patients with cats are immunosuppressed, perhaps undergoing chemotherapy or taking drugs for an illness such as HIV AIDS. Not understanding the intrinsic value of the human/animal bond, some doctors mandate cats with claws are given up. The human medical community requires educations, a process which has been slow.

The result may be more cats being relinquished to shelters. Similarly, even cat owners may give up cats not declawed if a cat scratches a child, or begins to scratch at the sofa. Of course, behavior modification isn’t typically difficult – but then does the public know that?Pet expert Steve Dale comments on the New Jersey and New York proposed bans on declaw in cats

And at a broader level, I personally always consider risk assessment of government mandates, the government in this instance telling veterinarians how to do their jobs. I always think about the ‘slippery slope.’

Of course, entire nations do ban declaw, including Austria, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and others.

While the argument that pain meds for cats are far better today than say even a decade ago is true. What we do know is that human with an amputation often feel so-called phantom paid, which medications don’t help much. No one knows if this is true in declawed cats, but there’s no reason to believe it’s untrue. And why cause pain in the first place? There’s no doubt declaw is an elective surgery in nearly every case.

Clipping nails, easy to teach and cats can learn to accept. For behavior advice, see 'Think Twice Before You Declaw'

Clipping nails, easy to teach and cats can learn to accept. For behavior advice, see ‘Think Twice Before You Declaw’

And while rare, some cats do suffer post surgical issues, either from pain that is difficult to control or the pain meds themselves causing a problem. Again, very rare, some cats have a problem during surgery, perhaps a response to the anesthesia. No matter how rare, if there is no surgery – no problem can occur.

And following surgery some cats are dissuaded from using their litter boxes. It hurts when they scratch in the box and associate the box with the pain, even with pain relief meds. Some also suggest declawed cats – who obviously can’t use their claws – are more likely to bite.

Cat expert Steve Dale writes about the declaw ban in New Jersey and New YorNo doubt, the number one behavior problem, and most common reason for people giving up cats is behavior, and most often cats having accidents outside the box. However, evidence is sketchy to demonstrate that declawed cats are any more likely to not use their boxes compared with cats with nails intact. Similarly, there’s no real evidence to demonstrate that declawed truly bite more often.

So what about veterinarians that still routinely declaw? Well they are happily increasingly few and far between, and in opposition to declaw guidelines of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and American Veterinary Medical Association.  Both organizations discourage declaw. But they don’t say “never.”

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington

The New Jersey bill is sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington. It’s a safe hunch, that if this pill passes there, and is signed by Gov. Chris Christie, other states will follow. Some state veterinary medical associations are strongly opposed. The Paw Project is an organization that is pushing for these laws to continue to be passed.

Simultaneously, New York state Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal has introduced a bill, A.1297/S.5084, that would ban declaw in New York State, as state Senator Joseph A. Griffo (R-Oneida County) introduced the companion bill (S.5084) in the Senate, giving it a majority-party sponsor in the GOP-controlled NY state Senate. The declawing bill would ban the amputation procedure unless it is done to treat a medical condition affecting cats.

Here’s a guide I authored with others a few years back, “Think Twice Before You Declaw.”