Nova Scotia

Veterinarians in Nova Scotia vote against ban on declawing

Nova Scotia veterinarians voted against a ban on declawing Wednesday night on a motion that could have seen cat declawing banned in the province.

Dr. Hugh Chisholm calls practice 'barbaric mutilation' and 'embarrassment to the profession'

Nova Scotia veterinarians voted against a ban on declawing Wednesday night. (Chris Berube/CBC)

Nova Scotia veterinarians voted against a ban on declawing Wednesday night on a motion that could have seen cat declawing banned in the province. 

Thirty-four veterinarians voted against the ban while eight voted for it.

Members of the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association met Wednesday evening as a follow up from their November annual general meeting. At that time, Dr. Hugh Chisholm put forward a motion that would ban declawing surgery in the province.

After a debate, members voted to form a committee to further study the issue. That committee reported back Wednesday evening before the final vote was held.

Chisholm said banning the surgery is long overdue and says it’s already banned in over 22 countries.

"It's a barbaric mutilation that does nothing to benefit the cat," Dr. Chisholm told CBC's Information Morning. "It's something that should become history. It's an embarrassment to our profession."

Bone must be removed along with the claw

Chisholm describes the procedure as an amputation and equates it to having your fingers cut off through the last knuckle joint. He said bone must be removed along with the claw in order to make it a permanent procedure because the claw grows out of the bone.

Although he performed the surgery early in his career, Chisholm said he stopped in the early 1990s.

One of the main concerns, according to Chisholm, is the pain it causes the animal. He said cats, by instinct, are "experts at hiding pain" so owners often underestimate how much discomfort their pets are in post-surgery.

At his clinic, Chisholm said demand for declawing is down and many owners change their minds when they find out what's involved with the surgery.

"When I explain what a declaw actually is, close to 95 per cent of people actually say, 'Oh my god! I would never do that to my cat,'" he said.

Cricket poses with plastic caps that are glued over a cat's existing nails and fall off when they naturally shed their claws. They are billed as a painless alternative to declawing. (Cassie Williams/CBC)

Despite calling for the motion, Dr. Chisholm suspected Wednesday night's vote would not pass.

"Veterinarians change slowly," he said. "Especially where this is something that's been done for so many years, that to suddenly stop doing something that's been widely accepted as an OK procedure, I think that's a tough pill for people to swallow."

What gives him a glimmer of hope is Dr. Ross Ainslie. For more than 60 years, Ainslie has been a practising veterinarian in the Halifax area and recently announced his clinics will no longer perform the declaw surgery

Chisholm said it gives him hope that change is possible.

According to Chisholm, it's a matter of owners learning to live with the behaviour and explore alternatives to declawing. He said trimming a cat's claws is an easy procedure that can be taught to owners, or done at vet clinics and by groomers.

He suggests another alternative are vinyl caps that can be glued to the claw.