Declawing cats: Ontario vets moving away from 'amputation'

Calling the procedure an “amputation,” a growing number of Ontario veterinarians are becoming reluctant to declaw cats.

'It's a major procedure for them, you're taking off the last digit of every toe'

Bella, a cat at the Windsor Humane Society is one of many cats that will not be declawed by the shelter. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Calling the procedure an "amputation," a growing number of Ontario veterinarians are becoming reluctant to declaw cats. 

Dr. Kimberly Quinn, a veterinarian in Windsor, Ont., is the latest in a growing number of vets across the province who are turning away from the surgery. Instead, they are encouraging pet owners to look at other options, like acrylic claw coverings and scratching poles.

"It's a major procedure for them. You're taking off the last digit of every toe," she said. "Whenever you have an amputation in a digit there's always a risk of lasting pain, because amputations are major surgeries.  

Though Quinn is still performing declawing in special circumstances, she still sees about one case a month, far fewer than several years ago, when people would ask for the procedure nearly every day.

She said she'll declaw a cat for owners who have compromised immune systems because, to them, a cat scratch could be dangerous. Otherwise, she wants to make sure owners know all the options before getting the procedure for their pets.

"In the past, people thought it was a normal thing. You got a cat, you got it declawed," she said. "It was a way to protect your furniture or protect yourself."

Dr. Kimberly Quinn is part of a growing number of Ontario vets who are reluctant to declaw cats. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Now, if a pet owner wants to get a cat declawed, Quinn talks to them to find out if a scratching pole, or trimmed nails, might work better.

The Windsor-Essex Humane Society is also against declawing cats. Executive director Melanie Coulter compares the surgery to a human removing their fingertips up to the knuckles.

"If you think about amputating the ends of all your fingers, that's a pretty invasive surgery," Coulter said. "It's something you wouldn't want to do without really thinking of the consequences. It's not something we provide and really discourage."

"There are a lot of horror stories from complications from the procedures, but setting that aside, when you're declawing a cat, you're taking away a primary defence for them," Coulter explained. "If you set up a good system for your cat, you likely won't need to declaw them."

These are only two animal-welfare organizations moving away from declawing. Earlier this year, a Toronto vet announced it would also no longer be declawing patients. And a rescue agency in Norfolk County said it would not adopt its cats to owners looking to declaw their pets.

The Ontario Veterinary Medical Association does not have an outright ban on the practice, nor does it have specific numbers how many vets have forgone the practice. But a spokeswoman said anecdotal evidence suggests the trend is growing.

If you have a cat and are worried about scratching, here are a couple options:

  • A scratching post

  • Frequent nail trims

  • Soft Paws, a product described as "press-on nails for cats." Applied with glue, the soft plastic tips go over the cat's nails, making clawing impossible.