Opinion

Cat declawing off the table

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Nova Scotia recently became the first Canadian province to ban the declawing of cats. This has prompted calls in other provinces, including B.C., to ban the practice also. Declawing is already illegal in the United Kingdom, Australia, and several California cities.

Despite the name, declawing involves substantially more than merely removing the cat’s claws. It is essentially the feline equivalent of amputating the outermost segment of the fingers (and sometimes the toes as well). This procedure can have negative health impacts on cats, who may suffer from arthritis and pain in the limbs and paws, due to changes in how the cat must walk, which eliminates much of the cushioning from multiple joints.

“I see declawing as a mutilation of an animal for no direct benefit to the animal. It’s something that’s done mostly to protect furniture,” said retired veterinarian and anti-declawing advocate Hugh Chisholm, who was quoted by the CBC. Another reason some people have their cats declawed is to reduce aggressive behaviour against people and other animals. However, this may be counter-productive. Vets have pointed to studies that show that declawed cats may become more aggressive and bite more.

In any event, there are other, less-invasive ways to discourage cats from using their claws inappropriately. Cats can be discouraged from scratching furniture with squirt bottles, and by providing them with a scratching post. A good way to keep a cat from scratching during play (based on personal experience) is to immediately stop playing and walk away if the cat scratches. They will soon learn to keep their claws sheathed, although there may be accidents from time to time.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) states that a cat’s claws are necessary for balance, climbing, and self defence. Due to this, and the unnecessary pain caused by the procedure, the CVMA no longer endorses declawing.

However, some have expressed discomfort with a blanket ban. There are occasions where declawing may be medically necessary. One example was a cat that clawed itself to the point of self-mutilation. Cases like these are rare, however, and vets in Nova Scotia will not declaw a cat merely because the owners request it. Even in places where declawing is not yet banned, some veterinarians refuse to perform declawings on principle.

Hopefully, B.C. will follow suit in banning the operation before long. There is already a precedent, in that the cosmetic docking of dogs’ and horses’ tails was banned in B.C. in 2016. Docking and declawing aren’t very different. Both subject an animal to surgery, and in the case of declawing, lasting physical and behavioural problems, for reasons that essentially amount to convenience for the owners.

We should not forget that domestic cats are still animals who have their own needs and wants, and should not be radically modified on a whim. If you cannot accept a creature for what it is, the way it is, then why keep that creature? By taking away such an important part of a cat, you make them less of a cat. The true nature of animals isn’t always pretty, and cats provide ample proof of that, but it is better to find an accommodation with this nature, rather than excising the parts of it we don’t like.

Image: “Øivind”/Flickr

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