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Onychectomy is the surgical term for declawing cats. This procedure was once considered 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?
Declawing a Cat Is Illegal in Some Parts of the U.S.
Declawing cats is still LEGAL in most parts of America. The state of New York, the state of Maryland and a few cities and counties have banned the procedure. Everywhere else it’s legal.
Some vets still perform declaw surgery, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to find them. In 2020, VCA, Banfield and Blue Pearl veterinary clinics announced they would no longer offer cosmetic 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 early 2022, aesthetic/convenience declawing is illegal in:
- State of New York
- State of Maryland
- California cities: Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Hollywood
- City of Denver, Colorado
- Volusia County, Florida
- City of St. Louis, Missouri (8)
- St. Louis County, Missouri
- City of Austin, Texas (9)
- Cities of Allentown and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- City of Madison, Wisconsin
Other U.S. cities and states have introduced legislation to ban declawing cats that has not yet become law. (7) I’ve created a database detailing the state of declawing legislation in all 50 U.S. states.
Do Vets Still Declaw Cats in Your City or State?
U.S. States/Cities Cat Declawing Legality
|Arizona||Yes||Anti-declaw law being considered (HB 2224).|
|California||Yes (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.|
|Colorado||Yes (with exceptions)||Declawing outlawed in city of Denver October 2017: legislative file 17-0709.|
|Connecticut||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation failed in Jan. 2021.|
|Florida||Yes (with exceptions)||Declawing banned in Volusia County (Ordinance 2022-12)|
Anti-declaw legislation stalled March 2020 (SB 48).
|Hawaii||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation failed Dec. 2015 (HB 466).|
|Maryland||No||Anti-declaw law passed April 2022 (MD SB67).|
|Massachusetts||Yes||Anti-declaw law being considered as of Nov. 2021 (Bill S.222)|
|Michigan||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation failed Feb. 2020 (HB 5508).|
|Minnesota||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation failed Feb. 2020 (HB 3733).|
|Missouri||Yes (with exceptions)||Illegal except when medically necessary in city of St. Louis (as of 2019) and St. Louis County as of 2021 (Bill 69).|
|Nevada||Yes||Anti-declaw law failed to pass in May 2021.|
|New Hampshire||Yes||Anti-declaw law stalled in Feb. 2020 (HB1387).|
|New Jersey||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation stalled Feb. 2020 (Bill S920).|
|New York||No||Law passed in 2019 making declawing of cats illegal: Senate Bill S5532B|
|Oregon||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation failed Jul. 2015 (HB 3494)|
|Pennsylvania||Yes||Anti-declaw law being considered (HB 1624). Illegal in the cities of Allentown and Pittsburgh.|
|Rhode Island||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation stalled Mar. 2021 (H5616)|
|Texas||Yes (with exceptions)||Illegal in the city of Austin since March 2021: legislative file 21-1109.|
|West Virginia||Yes||Anti-declaw legislation stalled Jan. 2020 (HB 2119).|
|Wisconsin||Yes (with exceptions)||Illegal in the city of Madison since Dec. 2021, file number 67344.|
Declawing Is Highly Controversial
There are two schools of thought amongst U.S. veterinarians. One group believes declawing for aesthetic/convenience purposes is never acceptable. Others believe the decision to declaw a cat should be made between a veterinarian and a cat owner, not the legislature.
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 asserts that more cats will be euthanized or relinquished to animal shelters if they cannot be declawed. But a recent study called this into question when it found that cat relinquishment did not increase in a Canadian province that banned declawing. (2)
People opposed to cat declawing believe that scratching is a natural cat behavior and should not be altered surgically. This group also voices 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.
U.S. Vets Changing Positions 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 busy clinic I worked in did several declaw surgeries every day.
Times have changed three decades later. Many newly graduated vets never do even one declaw procedure. Every year, fewer vets offer the declaw procedure 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. They stop short of condemning the practice. I believe it’s because the AVMA does not want to limit the ability of vets to make medical decisions.
On the other hand, the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ official position on declawing strongly opposes the practice. AAFP states 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 done as an elective procedure.
Is There Such a Thing as Painless Declawing for Cats?
Feline onychectomy involves amputating both the claw and the bone it’s attached to. Any time you cut into tissue, it causes pain whether you use a scalpel blade, a Resco nail trimmer or a surgical laser.
There are many things that can decrease the amount of pain a cat feels during and right after declawing surgery but there is no way to make it painless. And many cats have a low level of chronic foot pain for years that goes unnoticed by their vet and their owners.
Side Effects of Declawing Cats
There are many negative side effects to declawing cats ranging from short-term pain to long-term behavior changes. Newer studies have found the following 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)
When Should Declawing Be Legal?
Even in cities that have banned aesthetic onychectomy, 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
- Severe injury
Claw removal is done in such cases to prevent the progression of disease and chronic pain. Medically necessary onychectomy is usually limited to one or a few toes.
Some people argue that it’s acceptable to declaw a cat who lives with an immunocompromised human to prevent the person from being scratched. But it’s interesting to note that 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.
Alternatives to Declawing Cats
Your cat needs to scratch something to maintain their claw health. Scratching is a cat’s way 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:
Home Nail Trims
Trimming a cat’s nails at home isn’t a big deal for a pet owner with patience. 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 clip your cat’s nails every 3-4 weeks to keep the tips blunt.
Use a sharp trimmer (I recommend 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 claw tip, they work great. Watch this video on how to trim your cat’s nails.
Train your cat to use a scratching post or pad. Try different surfaces like sisal, wood and cardboard scratchers. Try putting the scratching post next to the furniture or surface where unwanted scratching is occuring.
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. Use positive reinforcement by rewarding your kitty with their favorite treats when they scratch in the right place.
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.
Use aluminum foil or plastic shields over the furniture surface.
- Try placing this special sticky tape over furniture surfaces.
- 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
Cat owners can apply blunt plastic nail caps like Soft Claws themselves or have it done at the vet clinic. 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 Adventures
Try taking your cat outside on a leash a few times a week. Or you can provide a secure outdoor enclosure like this one on Amazon.com. Provide several different scratching surfaces in the enclosure or let your leashed cat scratch a tree stump.
My Advice: “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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- The Paw Project. (n.d.). Legislative milestones. The Paw Project. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://pawproject.org/news/legislative-milestones/
- 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/
- 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