Declawing Controversy: New Jersey Could Be First State With Ban

PetMD Editorial
Published: February 13, 2017
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In what could be a landmark move, an assembly panel approved of Bill A3899/S2410, which would make declawing cats illegal in the state of New Jersey. The ban, however, would not include declawing in the case of medical purposes. 

According to, the ban (which was set forward by New Jersey Assemblyman Troy Singleton) would consider the procedure an act of animal cruelty and veterinarians who declaw cats could face thousands of dollars in penalties or even jail time. This would make New Jersey the first state in the U.S. to have this kind of ban, and it's already being met with varying, passionate opinions. 

The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association believes the ban is actually a step in the wrong direction may cause other problems for New Jersey cats. In a statement, NJVMA said: "Although most veterinarians view declawing as a last option for owners, after providing them with advice on training their cats, there are owners who are unwilling or unable to change their cat's behavior (scratching people in the household or furniture) and are likely to abandon or euthanize their cats if declawing is not an option. The NJVMA believes that declawing is preferable to abandonment or euthanasia." 

The NJVMA also argues that advances in modern veterinary medicine have provided "improved pain management" during and following declawing procedures and that "laser surgery has improved both the outcome and recovery time for declawed cats." NJVMA believes the decision about declawing should be left to veterinarians. 

One of those vets, Nancy Dunkle, DVM, of the Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital in Medford, New Jersey, tells petMD, "I am very much against the ban. Not because I am 'pro-declawing,' but because I am 'pro-saving-cats-lives.'" Dunkle says that she worries that the ban will lead to more cats being abandoned if a pet parent can't deal with the physical aspect of scratches, or because the cat is tearing up furniture.    

"No bone is cut. The last section of the cat’s 'finger' is the claw and that is all that is removed," says Dunkle of the controversial procedure. "The cat still has his 'finger pad' and the part of the finger/toe that he walks on. Only the claw is removed."

The anti-declawing contingent, however, has a very different outlook on the impact this has on cats, both physically and emotionally. Jennifer Conrad, DVM—the Founder and Director of The Paw Project, a non-profit organization working towards anti-declawing efforts—says that "there's no good reason" to ever declaw cats. "It never helps the cat and most of the time it doesn't help save the furniture," she says.

Rather than looking at declawing as the last resort, Conrad urges pet parents to train their cats and recognize what the feline is scratching on and help him or her adapt. For instance, if a cat likes scratching on wood, find them an appropriate post to suit that preference.     

Conrad notes that declawed cats may start to display marking behavior (if they can no longer mark by scratching, they may do it with urine) and stop using their litter box as a result. Additionally, if a declawed cat feels pain or discomfort when using a litter box, they may associate that pain with going in the box and decide to go elsewhere. 

Brian Hackett, the New Jersey state director of the Humane Society of the United States, explains that surrendered cats are more likely to be turned into shelters due to litter box issues over clawing or scratching problems. Hackett also points out that national health organizations, such as the CDC and NIH "advise against declawing a cat because when a cat is declawed there tends to be highter risk for biting incidents, and biting is far more dangerous." 

Hackett, like other opponents, says that even if the procedure is more advanced, "it's still one of the most unnatural things that can be done to a cat." 

"A cat is supposed to naturally have their claws, for a number of different reasons," he says. "Even if its not painful, it can be uncomfortable and cause stress because you've prohibited their natural instincts." 

A similar bill was introduced in the state of New York in 2016, but stalled and did not make it through the legislative process. 

Image via Shutterstock