HB2224 is currently going through the Arizona State Legislature process and would prohibit the declawing of cats by making it illegal for veterinarians to perform the procedure. At face value, the issue of banning cat declaws sounds like a humane step for society to take. However, like most issues, this topic is a bit more complex than the current bill provides for.

The bill does include a provision for performing a declaw procedure, or onychectomy, for therapeutic reasons like removing nail bed tumors. However, there are concerns that the bill lacks a provision for behavioral reasons to declaw. Jacqueline Fournier, an Operations Manager for AZ Pet Vet, weighed in on the issue from the perspective of the veterinary community.

Fournier has been working in the veterinary industry with AZ Pet Vet, a collective of 22 Phoenix-area animal hospitals, for almost 14 years. When asked what the veterinary community’s reaction to the bill was, she detailed several concerns about the bill excluding legal declaw procedures for behavioral reasons.

“Primarily we see behavior issues that can lead to injuries with either other animals in the household or people in the household that, without declawing the cat, there are very limited options to resolve,” said Fournier. This is a sentiment echoed among veterinarians outside of the Arizona community as well. Dr. Lindsay Laird, a veterinarian in Maryland, wrote on her office blog that although she urges clients to exhaust all other options before electing to declaw for behavioral reasons, some owners chose to do so because the cat is scratching members of the household.  

Cat scratches, commonly known as cat scratch fever, can easily become infected. Although these infections don’t typically cause issues for healthy people, they could potentially be an issue for children or family members with weak immune systems.

If families can’t turn to declawing as a last resort option when behavioral issues are affecting their households, it could lead to an increase in cats being surrendered to shelters. As a result, Fournier points out “shelters, fosters and other human organizations may not be able to take in pets, especially at an exceeding rate of surrendering, so euthanasia would probably increase as well.”

The reality is if we’re not doing what we can to keep pets from becoming homeless or euthanized, are we truly advocating for these animals?

Jacqueline Fournier, Operations Manager at AZ Pet Vet

This issue can also impact shelter pets. While many think that that a no-kill shelter is one that won’t euthanize surrendered or abandoned pets, that’s not actually the case. In reality, the no-kill policy in these shelters only refer to animals that are adoptable, or can be adoptable after prescribed medical and/or behavioral rehabilitation is successfully completed. When asked if this policy will result in an increase in feline shelter euthanasia for behavioral reasons, Fournier stated “declaws can definitely save lives.”

Some animal advocates are vehemently against declawing as a practice. There is an ethical question about declawing a pet where there isn’t a legitimate reason to do so. However, in the majority of safe surgical declaw cases the procedure isn’t something that does long term damage to pets according to Fournier. To be sure, all options should be exhausted before considering declawing. One option, for example, is Soft Paws; caps that go over a pet’s claws to protect from scratching.

While these are a legitimate option that work for some people, they don’t work in all cases.  While Fournier agrees that Soft Paws are a viable solution for some pet owners, she points out “it may not be effective in cats who have never had it before. It’s easy for them to rip them off if they don’t like it. If the nails aren’t taken care of and trimmed regularly, then the nail and the Soft Paw padding can get imbedded into the pet’s paw which can be dangerous.”

“The fight that we’re fighting,” Fournier concludes, “is a very concentrated view on one medical procedure. The reality is if we’re not doing what we can to keep pets from becoming homeless or euthanized, are we truly advocating for these animals?”