New Brunswick

New Brunswick veterinarians vote to ban cat declawing

The declawing of cats will be banned in the province effective July 1, 2019. It brings New Brunswick in line with the other Atlantic provinces.

New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association voted to ban practice at special meeting Saturday

As of July 1, declawing of cats will be banned in New Brunswick. (Angela Bosse/CBC)

The New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association has voted to ban cat declawing in the province.

The decision was made at a special meeting on Saturday.

The ban will go into effect on July 1, meaning the practice will no longer be available in Atlantic Canada.

Dr. Mary-Ellen Themens, the chair of the association's animal welfare committee, said the trend across the province has been to move away from declawing.

"It's not just cutting a claw, Themens said. "You are actually doing an amputation of the first digit."

Of the 212 veterinarians in the province, Themens said more than 35 attended the meeting. Many more sent proxy votes.

The New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association voted to ban cat declawing, which they said feels like an "amputation times 10." 0:34

She said vets who focus on livestock, rather than companion animals, would have been less interested in the vote, accounting for the seemingly low turnout.

Themens said as more studies revealed that declawing wasn't as benign as previously thought, fewer vets in New Brunswick have offered the procedure.

"No veterinarian who did declaws actually believed at the time that they were doing anything — painful yes — but not necessarily cruel."

Mary-Ellen Themens, chair of the animal welfare committee for the New Brunswick Veterinary Medical Association, said the trend has been to move away from declawing. (Mary-Ellen Themens/submitted)

She said the decision wasn't one the association took lightly.

"It was seen that the procedure was just not in [alignment] with what we swore to uphold and, ethically, wasn't supportable."

Nova Scotia was the first province to ban the practice in 2017. Since then other Atlantic provinces, as well as British Columbia and Alberta have banned declawing.

The NBVMA's bylaw only prohibits the routine surgery of declawing. If a claw needs to be removed because of a medical necessity, like an infection, tumour or ingrown nail, it will be allowed.

The declawing procedure removes the nail and first knuckle of a cat's claw (CBC News)

New Brunswick also joins Newfoundland and Labradour as the second province to have a clause that allows for declawing in rare circumstances.

Themens said the request would have to go to a panel of veterinarians who would decide if an exemption would be made on a case-by-case basis. A request would require extensive documentation, she said.

Alternatives to declawing

Themens said there are many reasons declawing cats became the norm decades ago, including protecting furniture from damage and owners from getting scratched. Alternative solutions like regular trimming of nails, scratch posts and nail caps are not expensive.

"For every reason [to do it] you could counter it with a reason not to do it."

Dr. Hugh Chisholm, a retired veterinarian and Atlantic Canada director of the animal advocacy group Paw Project, agrees.

"If you absolutely can't have your sofa scratched by a cat then maybe you shouldn't have a cat," he said.

Chisholm said he was very excited to have the practice banned in all Atlantic provinces.

"I'm over the moon, I'm hugely excited for the cats of New Brunswick."

He said declawing is one of the more painful surgeries in veterinary medicine. It can lead to health and behavioural changes for the cat.

Retired veterinarian Hugh Chisholm works with the Paw Project, an animal advocacy group against declawing. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"Now sometimes people don't notice changes because cats are experts at hiding pain," he said.

"A cat might be curled up sleeping and people think that's a contented cat, whereas the cat is sleeping because that's the way it escapes the pain."

Chisholm also said arguments for declawing in the name of human health for owners with hemophilia or vulnerable immune systems are outdated.

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