Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association to ban declawing

Nova Scotia has become the first Canadian province to ban medically unnecessary cat declawing.

Association calls partial digital amputation 'ethically unacceptable,' elective procedures to end in March

Advocates have said declawing a cat is like amputating a human's fingers down to the last knuckle joint. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Declawing domestic cats will soon be a thing of the past in Nova Scotia, according to the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association.

The association issued a statement after a meeting of its council on Tuesday saying it views the practice of elective and non-therapeutic declawing as "ethically unacceptable."

"A three-month education period will take effect immediately and this change in the code of ethics will come into effect on March 15, 2018," reads the statement.

NSVMA registrar Dr. Frank Richardson said the decision follows years of discussion by veterinarians, surveys, public input, and a recent statement from the national association.

"It's on everybody's radar," he said, noting there are fewer veterinarians willing to do the procedure every year. "I think if we did nothing, it would die off on its own."

'It shows a lot of courage'

Dr. Hugh Chisholm, a retired veterinarian and Atlantic Canada director for the Paw Project — an animal advocacy group that's been working to eliminate the practice — said he's thrilled about the ban on declawing.

"I think it shows a lot of courage for the NSVMA to be the first in North America. … I think it's long overdue and I think there will be many more that will be doing it in the very near future," said Chisholm, who has five cats and two dogs.

Retired veterinarian Hugh Chisholm with his cat Earl Grey. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

"They did it here in Nova Scotia a few years ago with the tail docking and ear cropping in dogs so this is one more of those kinds of unnecessary surgeries we're doing away with."

Animal welfare organizations in Nova Scotia, including the SCPA, have been calling for the association to end the elective and non-therapeutic practice of partial digital amputation (PDA), or onychectomy, of domestic cats for years.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association strengthened its stance on declawing earlier this year, saying the practice causes unnecessary and avoidable pain.

'A huge, huge deal'

Chisholm has equated the procedure with amputating a human's fingers down to the last knuckle joint. He said recent studies show the procedure creates orthopedic and back problems in cats as they age.

"We don't walk on our hands so it's even more devastating for a cat because they carry 60 per cent of their body weight on their front paws," said Chisholm. "If we walked around like a ballerina on our tippy toes, that would be what cats are looking at when they have those claws removed."

Chisholm said he thinks it will be easier for other jurisdictions to ban declawing now that Nova Scotia has made that first step.

"It's a huge, huge deal. Nova Scotians should be proud of Nova Scotia, proud of Nova Scotia veterinarians. We're going to be seen as leaders in this change," he said.

The NSVMA said it will allow declawing to continue in specific situations when it would be necessary, like for a biopsy or to treat issues with the nail bed like an infection or abnormal formation.

The practice is already banned in the U.K., Europe, Australia and several California cities. Last month, city council in Denver unanimously voted to ban the practice.

With files from The Canadian Press