Vet vs. vet on the declaw front

Patty Khuly, DVM
By Patty Khuly, DVM on Oct. 11, 2009
Vet vs. vet on the declaw front

The declaw debate is heating up yet again in California, where the city of San Francisco is considering an outright ban on this contentious feline medical procedure.

The declaw debate is heating up yet again in California, where the city of San Francisco is considering an outright ban on this contentious feline medical procedure.

Back in 2003, the California city of West Hollywood became the first city in the nation to ban declaws. Since then, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has installed a law prohibiting the ban of specific medical procedures in individual municipalities when state law allows them. Consequently, San Fran declaw opponents are moving fast to get their ban passed before the governor’s law takes effect on January 1, 2010. 

If you want some idea of the tenor and tone of the debate, here's an ad in favor of the ban:

cat declaw ban


But how do veterinarians feel about declaws? 

It’s clear that fewer vets are willing to perform declaws than ever before. With each new graduating class and annual spate of retirements, the ground shifts: young veterinarians are far more likely to refuse to undertake a procedure they increasingly view as cruel and unnecessary.

Still, there are plenty of veterinarians who remain willing. But even among these, the "declaw with your spay or neuter" party line is rapidly going the way of the dodo. Most of us will no longer recommend a declaw. In fact, we’ll actively try and talk an owner out of it. 

Problem is, most of these declaw-reluctant veterinarians don’t want to be told by our governments which procedures we can and cannot do. That’s a slippery slope on which we’d rather not lose our footing. 

Why pass laws against a procedure that’s already losing ground? 

"Keep it legal, keep it rare," says one veterinarian in a recent Veterinary Information Network News Service article. As long as every other avenue has been exhausted by which the cat can keep its claws, as long as modern procedures and aggressive pain relief are practiced, and as long as owners are first dissuaded and understand the risks, it is better than relinquishment of the cat to a shelter or a life out of doors. 

But that’s not good enough, say veterinarians like Dr. Jennifer Conrad, a wildlife veterinarian and founder of The Paw Project (responsible for the ad above). She lobbied heavily for West Hollywood's ban, and according to the same VIN News Service article, Conrad said that "the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) guidelines on declawing cats say they should be done only after everything else is tried ... but yet, if you look, declawing is part of (veterinarians’) kitten packages, as if it's the right thing to do. Veterinarians are not regulating themselves; they're not following their own guidelines, and that's why the cities have to step in."

She’s not wrong. Some veterinarians still tack on the declaw as if it's no big deal. And while I despise this approach, I don't believe it's representative of veterinary medicine's take on declaws. Not by a mile.

Ultimately, I'd rather not have the government police me when most veterinarians I know are moving rapidly in the right direction. Sure, declaws need to go. But I’ll not be on the list of those who believe an outright legal ban will solve this social ill. Not when the standard operating procedure is already going the way it needs to ... into oblivion.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Patty Khuly, DVM


Patty Khuly, DVM


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