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Do Vets Still Declaw Cats? US Laws & 6 Declawing Alternatives

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Declawing cats, also called onychectomy, used to be widely accepted and even routine in the United States. In the last 20 years, declawing surgery has become highly controversial with social activists aggressively trying to persuade vets to stop. So, do vets still declaw cats in the U.S.? Is it even legal?

Cat Declawing Is Illegal in Some Parts of the U.S.

Declawing cats is LEGAL in most parts of the United States. Only a few cities and the state of New York have banned the procedure. Everywhere else it’s legal. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find a vet willing to do it!

Although some vets still declaw cats in most places in the United States, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find them. In 2020, VCA, Banfield and Blue Pearl veterinary hospitals announced they would no longer offer “convenience” declawing in their clinics. Since these Mars Inc.-owned brands comprise over 2,000 vet clinics in the U.S., it’s kind of a big deal! 

As of January 2022, aesthetic/convenience declawing is illegal in: 

  • Entire state of New York 
  • California cities: Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Hollywood
  • City of Denver, Colorado
  • City of St. Louis, Missouri (8)
  • St. Louis County, Missouri
  • City of Austin, Texas (9)
  • City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • City of Madison, Wisconsin

Numerous other U.S. cities and states have legislation to ban declawing cats pending. (7) I’ve created a database detailing the state of declawing legislation in all 50 U.S. states as of January 2022. 

Do Vets Still Declaw Cats in Your City or State?

StateLegal to Declaw Cats?Exceptions/Notes
AlabamaYes
AlaskaYes
ArizonaYesAnti-declaw law being considered (HB 2224).
ArkansasYes
CaliforniaYes (with exceptions)Declawing exotic or native wild cat species has been illegal since 2004 (AB 1857). Anti-declaw law being considered for domestic cats (SB 585). 8 CA cities have outlawed declawing cats: Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Hollywood.
ColoradoYes (with exceptions)Declawing outlawed in city of Denver October 2017: legislative file 17-0709.
ConnecticutYesAnti-declaw legislation failed in Jan. 2021.
DelawareYes
FloridaYesAnti-declaw legislation stalled March 2020 (SB 48).
GeorgiaYes
HawaiiYesAnti-declaw legislation failed Dec. 2015 (HB 466).
IdahoYes
IllinoisYes
IndianaYes
IowaYes
KansasYes
KentuckyYes
LouisianaYes
MaineYes
MarylandYesAnti-declaw law being considered as of Jan. 2022 (MD SB67).
MassachusettsYesAnti-declaw law being considered as of Nov. 2021 (Bill S.222)
MichiganYesAnti-declaw legislation failed Feb. 2020 (HB 5508).
MinnesotaYesAnti-declaw legislation failed Feb. 2020 (HB 3733).
MississippiYes
MissouriYes (with exceptions)Illegal except when medically necessary in city of St. Louis as of 2019, illegal in St. Louis County as of 2021 (Bill 69).
MontanaYes
NebraskaYes
NevadaYesAnti-declaw law failed to pass in May 2021.
New HampshireYesAnti-declaw law stalled in Feb. 2020 (HB1387).
New JerseyYesAnti-declaw legislation stalled Feb. 2020 (Bill S920).
New MexicoYes
New YorkNoLaw passed in 2019 making cat declawing illegal: Senate Bill S5532B
North CarolinaYes
North DakotaYes
OhioYes
OklahomaYes
OregonYesAnti-declaw legislation failed Jul. 2015 (HB 3494)
PennsylvaniaYes (with exceptions)Anti-declaw law being considered (HB 1624). Illegal in city of Pittsburgh since Sept. 2021: legislative file 2021-1877.
Rhode IslandYesAnti-declaw legislation stalled Mar. 2021 (H5616)
South CarolinaYes
South DakotaYes
TennesseeYes
TexasYes (with exceptions)Illegal in the city of Austin since March 2021: legislative file 21-1109.
UtahYes
VermontYes
VirginiaYes
WashingtonYes
West VirginiaYesAnti-declaw legislation stalled Jan. 2020 (HB 2119).
WisconsinYes (with exceptions)Illegal in the city of Madison since Dec. 2021, file number 67344.
WyomingYes

Why Is Declawing So Controversial?

There are generally two schools of thought amongst U.S. veterinarians. One believes declawing for aesthetic/convenience purposes is never acceptable. The other believes whether or not to declaw a cat should be a decision made between a veterinarian and a cat owner. 

Some people believe declawing cats makes them more acceptable indoor pets by preventing them from destroying property or scratching humans with their nails. This group of people theorizes that more cats will be euthanized or relinquished to animal shelters if they cannot be declawed. However, a recent study found that cat relinquishment did not increase in a Canadian province that banned declawing. (2)

People who oppose cat declawing believe that scratching and using their claws is part of a cat’s natural behavior and should not be altered surgically. This group has concerns about long-term physical problems that result from declawing including pain in the feet and back.

They also point out that declawed cats may be more likely to bite humans. They may also be more likely to urinate outside a litter box.

3 kitties looking out window
3 kitties enjoying some environmental enrichment

U.S. Vets Are Changing Their Position on Declawing Cats

When I started as a vet assistant in a clinic way back in the early ‘90s, declawing was an everyday event. The four-doctor clinic I worked in did at least one or two declaw surgeries daily. 

Times have changed 30 years later. Now, many newly minted vets never do even one declaw surgery. And every year, more vets stop offering the service mostly based on ethical concerns as well as concerns over long-term physical pain.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has an official statement “discouraging” declawing cats. But they stop short of condemning the practice. That’s probably because there is a sense of not limiting the ability of vets to make medical decisions.

On the other hand, the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ official position on declawing is to strongly oppose the practice. They state that elective declawing of cats is unethical and not medically necessary. 

The American Animal Hospital Association changed its position statement in 2015 to “strongly oppose” declawing when it’s done as an elective procedure. 

Negative Consequences of Declawing a Cat

The negative consequences of elective declawing range from short-term pain to long-term unwanted behavior changes. It’s hard to draw conclusions with 100% confidence since research has been lacking over the past few decades. Newer studies have found the following negative consequences following declawing:

  • Pain, swelling, infection and bleeding of surgical sites (toes)
  • Chronic foot pain and lameness
  • Increased house soiling (3)
  • Increased back pain (4)
  • Increased aggression (4)

Are There Situations Where Declawing Should Be Allowed?

Even in cities that have banned aesthetic/convenience declawing, it is still legal to surgically remove one or more of a cat’s claws for a legitimate medical purpose. 

Medical reasons to surgically remove the third phalanx and claw of a cat include:

  • Chronic bacterial or fungal infection
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Severe injury

In these cases, claw removal is done to prevent the progression of the disease and chronic pain. Medically necessary removal of claws is often limited to one or a few toes. 

Some people argue that it is acceptable to declaw a cat who lives with an immunocompromised human to prevent the human from being scratched. But it’s interesting to note that most expert organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not mention declawing cats as a necessity for people with cancer, hemophilia, or immune-mediated diseases.  

6 Alternatives to Declawing a Cat

Your cat needs to scratch something to maintain their claw health. Scratching is also a means of marking where they’ve been. The trick is to guide a cat to mark surfaces dedicated to this purpose instead of scratching your furniture. Here are some tips:

Frequent Nail Trimming

This is not difficult to do at home for most cats. If you can do it at home rather than having to travel to the vet clinic every time, you’ll do it more often. You’ll probably need to repeat it every 3-4 weeks to keep nail tips blunt.

Use a sharp trimmer (I like to use small “scissors” style clippers) and just remove the very end of the nail. I’ve also used human nail clippers on many cats with success. As long as they’re sharp and you only cut the nail tip, they work great. Watch this video on how to trim your cat’s nails.

Scratching Post Training

Train your cat to use a scratching post or pad. Try different surfaces like rope, wood and cardboard scratchers. Try putting the scratching post/pad right up against the furniture or surface where the cat is destructively scratching.

Use catnip or Feliway on the scratch post/pad to attract the kitty to it. Try demonstrating scratching the post and also gently place your cat’s front paws on the post. Reward with favorite treats when the kitty uses the desired scratcher.

Make sure you provide lots of other environmental for your cat, too! This site has some good resources on how to do that: Indoor Cat Project.

Furniture Barrier Coverings

Use aluminum foil or plastic shields over the furniture surface.

Use Cat Deterrents on Furniture

Use sticky tape over furniture surfaces.

Use Ssscat compressed air that has a motion sensor so it hisses when a cat approaches the off-limits area.

Place a “Sofa Scram” mat on furniture. It detects motion when your cat jumps on the furniture and emits a loud sound to scare them away.

Place an “X-mat” on furniture. This is a plastic mat with pointy nubs to make it unpleasant for your cat to stand or sit on the furniture.

Apply Nail Caps to Claws

Apply blunt plastic nail caps like Soft Claws. They need to be reapplied every 4-6 weeks. These work great for some cats but I’ve seen some kitties who hated them and chewed them off right away. 

Safe Outdoors Time

Let your cat go outside on a leash or in a secure enclosure like the one shown below. Provide several different scratching surfaces in the enclosure or let your leashed cat scratch a tree stump. 

This Vet’s Advice on “Should I Declaw My Cat?” 

I have not performed medically unnecessary declawing of a cat in many years and don’t plan to ever do it again. While I hope none of my clients ever gets their cat declawed, the reality is that as long as it’s legal some people will still have it done to their cats. Here’s what I tell my clients:

  • Don’t do it! It’s a major surgery for human convenience that causes short-term pain and possibly long-term pain and behavior problems.
  • Try every tip available to redirect problem scratching behavior. See my list above and also check out this resource from American Association of Feline Practitioners: Living with a Clawed Cat.
  • Declawing all four feet is even more inadvisable than declawing just the front feet.
  • Declawing a cat over one year of age is even more inadvisable than declawing a kitten.

I don’t recommend declawing your cat, but I know some people will still do it. My advice: don’t just choose the first vet clinic that will agree to declaw your cat. Ask a lot of questions! 

A careful surgeon and good pain control make a big difference in a cat’s outcome after surgery. Researchers have found that cats who were declawed using a laser rather than a scalpel blade or Resco nail trimmers had less pain in the immediate period after surgery. (6)

Find a veterinarian who takes the procedure seriously, has good experience with doing it and is able to outline a very specific pain management plan. And make sure that vet is accessible for rechecks in case your kitty has any problems after the surgery.

And be prepared to pay a premium price for declawing. The last time I checked in my major metropolitan area, the cost to declaw a cat was $400 to 500 and laser declaw surgery was running $800 for the front feet only.

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References

  1. AVMA. Welfare implications of declawing of Domestic Cats. American Veterinary Medical Association. (2019, July 23). Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/literature-reviews/welfare-implications-declawing-domestic-cats
  2. Ellis, A., van Haaften, K., Protopopova, A., & Gordon, E. (2021). Effect of a provincial feline onychectomy ban on cat intake and euthanasia in a British Columbia animal shelter system. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 1098612X211043820.
  3. Gerard, A. F., Larson, M., Baldwin, C. J., & Petersen, C. (2016). Telephone survey to investigate relationships between onychectomy or onychectomy technique and house soiling in cats, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 249(6), 638-643. Retrieved Jan 14, 2022, from https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/249/6/javma.249.6.638.xml
  4. Martell-Moran, N. K., Solano, M., & Townsend, H. G. (2018). Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 20(4), 280-288.
  5. Patronek, G. J. (2001). Assessment of claims of short-and long-term complications associated with onychectomy in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 219(7), 932-937.
  6. Robinson, D. A., Romans, C. W., Gordon-Evans, W. J., Evans, R. B., & Conzemius, M. G. (2007). Evaluation of short-term limb function following unilateral carbon dioxide laser or scalpel onychectomy in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 230(3), 353-358. Retrieved Jan 14, 2022, from https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/230/3/javma.230.3.353.xml
  7. The Paw Project. (n.d.). Legislative milestones. The Paw Project. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://pawproject.org/news/legislative-milestones/ 
  8. Veterinary Practice News. (2019, December 16). Declawing Banned in St. Louis. Veterinary Practice News. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/declawing-banned-in-st-louis/ 
  9. Weber, A. (2021, March 6). Laws on paws: New ordinance prohibits declawing cats in Austin. KUT Radio, Austin’s NPR Station. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.kut.org/austin/2021-03-04/laws-on-claws-new-ordinance-prohibits-declawing-cats-in-austin

Last update on 2022-01-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API