Opinion

Cat declawing should be banned in Canada. Nova Scotia could lead the way

It ethically unjustifiable to amputate an animal's body parts simply to protect humans or furniture from being scratched. Canada is past due in joining other jurisdictions in banning this cruel and unwarranted practice.

'Declawing" is actually a misnomer. The procedure involves amputating part of the animal's bone

Canada is past due in joining other jurisdictions in banning this cruel and unwarranted practice. (Radio-Canada)

Back in November, the city council in Denver, Colo. unanimously voted to ban the cruel and unnecessary practice of cat declawing.

The decision put the city onside other jurisdictions that have prohibited the procedure, including much of California, Australia, Brazil, Israel, the UK and much of Europe. New York City and the state of New Jersey are also currently considering a ban.

Across Canada, though, cat declawing remains perfectly legal. But with vets in Nova Scotia now voting on the matter, there is much hope among animal advocates that a ban starting in the east could get the rest of the country on board to prohibit this archaic and barbaric practice.

Amputating bone

The term "declawing" is actually a misnomer, which suggests that the procedure simply removes a cat's claws. In fact, it requires an amputation of the end bones of the animal's toes, and is typically used as a lazy solution for destructive and/or aggressive behaviour. That's right: in Canada, a cat can be legally subjected to amputation for scratching up furniture or swiping at humans, which are common cat behavioural issues that can and should be remedied by basic or professional training.

Last March, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) issued a statement expressing their opposition to "elective and non-therapeutic Partial Digital Amputation (PDA), commonly known as declawing or onychectomy, of domestic cats."

Dr. David Lister of P.E.I.'s Veterinary Medical Association talks about pros and cons of cat de-clawing. 1:25

The statement explained that the procedure causes needless suffering and offers no advantage to the animal, and added that advanced research in animal behaviour now allows vets "to help clients modify unwanted scratching behaviour without the completion of an Onychectomy." But even with the CVMA deeming the procedure ethically unacceptable, legislation has yet to be written banning cat declawing in Canada.

And so, it keeps happening. One Ontario veterinary assistant who spoke on condition of anonymity says he sees roughly two procedures per week at the clinic where he is employed. About the trauma he sees in cats after declawing, he said: "I see cats stressed, consistent licking in the paw area, behaviour change in some cases, looking sad, depressed."

Phantom pain

Dr. Judith Weissmann, veterinarian and owner of Clinique Vétérinaire Plateau Mont Royal in Montreal, says her practice has never performed a declawing surgery. "The surgery is not only painful and unnecessary from a medical perspective, but it can also result in phantom pain if not done properly, or if pain management is not handled adequately," she says.

Dr. Weissmann tells of one middle-aged cat who was recently brought into her clinic with signs of chronic limping. "When we performed x-rays we could see many bone fragments that remained from an incomplete or improperly performed declawing procedure from many years ago at another clinic." Dr. Weissmann says the procedure is notoriously performed with varying degrees of quality.

Similar medically unnecessary veterinary surgeries, such as ear-cropping and tail-docking of dogs and cats, are also still legal under federal law in Canada. However, they have been banned by provincial law or regulatory bylaws in eight provinces; ear-cropping has been prohibited in B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan, while both ear-cropping and tail-docking have been banned in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and most recently, in Quebec. Vets in these jurisdictions who perform the procedures can face disciplinary actions and possible charges.

But while federal animal welfare laws remain infamously lax, the widespread prohibition on cosmetic ear-cropping and tail-docking in Canada demonstrates the capability not only of provincial veterinary regulating bodies, but also of compassionate city councillors to effect change when it comes to medically unnecessary surgical procedures on animals. And it's obvious that cat declawing should be next on the list.

It is ethically unjustifiable to amputate an animal's body parts simply to protect humans or furniture from being scratched. Canada is past due in joining other jurisdictions in banning this cruel and unwarranted practice. We animal advocates hope the vote in Nova Scotia will finally set this change in motion.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Jessica Scott-Reid

Jessica Scott-Reid is a freelance animal welfare writer and animal advocate.

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