Is Declawing Cats Illegal?

A cat reaching up with their paw

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You may have heard that declawing a cat is a controversial subject. In some countries, towns, and cities, the practice of declawing cats is illegal. However, many cat owners still want to declaw cats to prevent the destruction of furniture and home decor.

What Is Declawing?

The technical term for declaw surgery is onychectomy. This procedure involves the surgical amputation of the bones from where the claws grow. Despite the term "declaw," it is important to understand that this surgery involves more than claw removal. The last bone of the digit must be amputated to make sure the claw does not grow back.

During a declaw surgery, the cat is first put under general anesthesia. This is usually induced with an injection and followed up with inhalant gas anesthesia. Some veterinarians will inject a nerve block into the paws before starting surgery. This can allow for lighter, safer anesthesia and help the patient wake up with less pain. 

A tourniquet is placed on each leg to reduce bleeding. To amputate the bones at the end of the digits, the veterinarian may use a scalpel, electrosurgery /laser surgery, surgical scissors, or even a sterile pair of sharp nail trimmers. It is essential that the veterinarian sever the bone at the last joint to avoid nail regrowth and other complications. The ends of the toes are then closed with suture or special surgical glue, and the paws are bandaged.

After surgery, most cats will need to stay in the hospital for about two days. Their paws usually must remain bandaged during this time to prevent bleeding and infection. The cat can go home after bandages are removed, and the vet feels the paws are beginning to heal well. Cats must use paper litter for about two weeks after the surgery to keep litter from getting stuck on the toes. Many vets recommend a brand called Yesterday's News. Not all cats will use the paper litter.

Why Is Declawing Controversial? 

The main reason one would choose to declaw a cat is to prevent destruction caused by scratching. However, scratching is a normal, healthy activity for cats. 

Opponents of declawing generally believe that the surgery causes unnecessary pain and irreversible trauma that leads to behavioral issues. They consider declawing to be an act of animal cruelty.

Supporters of declawing often think the surgery is routine and that cats are unchanged by the procedure. They also feel it is better to allow declawing than to have people abandoning their cats because of destructive scratching.

Some veterinary professionals oppose anti-declaw laws because it takes the decision outside the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. This relationship is the basis of veterinary care. Veterinary professionals recognize that there may be times declaw surgery is the only remaining option to keep a cat in its current home. They often feel that decisions about a pet's best interest must only be made within the confines of this relationship.

In reality, declawing is major surgery. There are many valid reasons to avoid putting your cat through a declaw surgery. If you are considering having your cat declawed, please have a serious conversation with your veterinarian about the risks and alternatives. Regular nail trims and well-placed scratching posts/furniture can go a long way in preventing damage to your property. Nail caps like Soft Paws can be very effective for cats who are extreme scratchers.

Where Is it Illegal to Declaw a Cat?

Many countries ban declaw surgery in cats. Declawing is outlawed in the United Kingdom, much of the European Union, Australia, and at least ten other countries around the world. It is still legal to declaw a cat in most of the United States. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association does not oppose declawing in cats. However, they do urge veterinarians to educate pet owners about the risks and alternatives.

Has Declawing Been Banned Anywhere in the U.S.?

No U.S. states ban the practice of declawing. However, there are cities and towns throughout the country that have passed legislation banning declaw surgery. There have been several attempts to pass anti-declawing legislation in various states throughout the U.S.

Nearly every state has had petitions and movements started by its citizens to get legislators to develop anti-declaw legislation. Some state lawmakers have introduced bills to ban declawing, but none have passed and been made into law.

  • California: The state does not ban declaw surgery, but several municipalities do. West Hollywood's ban on cat declawing prompted the development and passing of SB 762 in 2009. This made it unlawful for a city or county to prohibit a healing arts licensee (such as a veterinarian) from performing a procedure that falls within the professional's recognized scope of practice. Declaws are considered part of a vet's scope of practice. Any ordinances adopted before the effective date of 1/1/2010 remain in effect. To beat the deadline, the municipalities of Berkley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Monica all adopted declaw bans before 2010. California SB 1229 prohibits landlords from requiring declawing surgery for tenants' pets (if pets are allowed under current rules). 
  • Colorado: State legislation has been proposed but not passed. However, the Denver City Council unanimously passed an ordinance in 2017 that prohibits the practice of declawing cats unless it is deemed medically necessary by a veterinarian.
  • New Jersey: The state Assembly voted in support of anti-declaw legislation in 2017. The bill must survive the state Senate to become law. This has yet to occur as of March 2018.
  • New York: An anti-declaw bill was proposed in 2015, but it did not survive committee.
  • Rhode Island: In 2013, Rhode Island adopted H 5426/S 177, making it illegal for landlords to require tenants' cats to be declawed.

How to Get Involved With Declaw Legislation

No matter which side of the issue you support, the best way to get started is on a local level. Check to see if your city, town, or state already has proposed legislature. Look for local groups of like-minded people or search for petitions online. If there are no movements in your area, consider starting your own. Use social media and online petitions to get the word out, then submit them to your local lawmakers.

Sites like change.org and Care2 make it easy to start a petition. To start a letter-writing campaign, consider a site like The Action Network, where people can enter their address to reach their legislators.