Of Course Declawing Cats Should Be Illegal. Do It, New York!

cat clawsA Washington Post article about a proposed bill in the New York legislator to make declawing cats illegal is headlined “Is Declawing Cruel To Cats?” A similar headline would be, “Is Pulling Their Teeth Out Cruel To Dogs?” Of course it’s cruel. Not only is the practice often painful for the animal, it takes away a cat’s primary means of self-defense. In some cases this literally drives cats crazy, making a secure, happy animal neurotic, fearful, and nasty.

Assembly Bill 1297 is the creation of New York state assembly member Linda Rosenthal (D), the same legislator who pushed through a law last year banning the tattooing or piercing of pets. She gets the ethical principle here: surgically altering animals for the owner’s amusement and convenience is wrong. “People often use their animals in very selfish ways,” she says. “This is mostly done because people care more about their furniture than about their cats.”

Exactly. If you don’t like cats, don’t get a cat. Declawing a cat is de-catting it. Maybe taking away a dog’s ability to bark is a better comparison.

To anticipate the inevitable questions: “Does this principle apply to neutering as well? ” and “Should it?” my answer today is “I have to think about it.”

Declawing, however, is an easy call.

Pass the law, New York.

42 thoughts on “Of Course Declawing Cats Should Be Illegal. Do It, New York!

  1. I have to disagree here.

    I made the decision to de-claw a cat adopted from my aunt four years ago – it wasn’t easy, but ultimately I felt I had to do that. She’s been very healthy and happy since then – and has suffered a lot less emotional trauma from having me rattle a bottle of pills near her ear, or having her owner yell at her.

    I think in this case, a lot depends on the animal and the owner. In some cases it may not be the right call.., in others, it might be necessary.

    The AVMA position (https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Declawing-of-Domestic-Cats.aspx) might be worth reading on this.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’d trust the AVMA on declawing over a bunch of politicans.

      • I know what declawing is, Alexandria. I am not stupid, and I did not make that decision lightly. It is probably the second-toughest decision I have made or will make with regards to my cat. I’m hoping the hardest decision I doesn’t come for another decade at the very least.

        Believe me, before having my cat undergo the procedure, I talked it over with the vet, and thought it through very carefully.

    • I suggest you read your own link:

      “Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. The decision to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian. Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).”

      There was NOTHING in there that encourages the practise, it gave several alternatives to the practise specifically because it cited dangers inherent in the surgery.

      I would suggest that you’re in the thrall of confirmation bias, where you’ve done a thing, maybe deep down you know it wasn’t the right thing to do, but you know you aren’t a bad person, so you’ll defend the behavior. There are very few situations where surgeries on animals are ethical, and declawing, along with tail cocking, dew claw removal, and ear nipping are at the end of the spectrum that are hardest to defend.

      As an aside, I’m interested on Jack’s take on spaying/neutering, it hits me as a utilitarian problem.

        • This post and the comments to it have caused me to think about and examine that– whether there is a substantial ethical difference between neutering a cat and declawing them. I would never declaw my cats, but I haven’t had an issue neutering them, until now. So, I am with HT on wondering what your take is.

          • Spay and neuter isn’t for human benefit though – unlike declawing! How many cats and dogs are killed each year due to overpopulation? Millions!!! No one denies that spay/neuter is not painful, it initially is, like any surgery. But it is a soft tissue surgery done for the benefit of the animal (prevents cancer in those organs that are removed, and other things I am not sure of but know there are other benefits TO the animal), and they don’t walk on that part of their body (if you are comparing it to walking on stumps after amputating (declawing) your cats toes. Spay/neuter helps lower the already bursting pet population to prevent even more unwanted animals who then have to be euthanized. Spay and neuter needs to remain a necessary surgery.

    • I’m pretty well brainwashed on this issue. My wife, a cat lover who had a wonderful, very sharp clawed Siamese for 20 years whose marks are still on my hand, has always argued that declawing was wrong just by observing the amount of enjoyment that her cat had using them, stretch them, clawing at things, hunting, climbing trees. The cat also was an outdoors cat, and obviously used those little knives for self-preservation. Then we had the experience of watch my in-laws cat transform literally overnight from a sweet, friendly young cat to a terror that bit anyone—especially me–who came close to it after a declawing procedure.

      The pets tattooed also were happy, I assume. Dogs and cats—especially dogs—are easy to please. I’m not sure that’s a complete defense. One could make the same argument about a mentally challenged child.

      • Jack: “The cat also was an outdoors cat, and obviously used those little knives for self-preservation.”

        That is another problem. I de-clawed my cats and always will. If they live with me, I become their primary means of self-defense. And, no, they are not outdoor cats because they do not have claws.

        On the flip-side, I would say that letting your cat out is far more cruel. The exposure to death, injury, and disease is much greater for outdoor cats. Add to that the fact that my cat is now 11 years old; after 11 years indoors he has become agoraphobic and gets very anxious when he gets outside.


        • Our last cat was sort of a rescue cat (we started feeding him and eventually he became a full-time pet). He got temperamental if he wasn’t allowed to go outside occasionally, so we left the claw question alone, reasoning that if he was going to go out he might need to climb a tree to escape danger or give an aggressor a swipe across the nose. It took about a year to completely stop biting and scratching, but if you adopt a cat who was previously a street thug, that’s kind of part of the deal.

        • That’s a tough argument to make: it is less cruel to keep a cat confined? Cats are animals, animals like to be free. Is it even less cruel to keep them in a cage? A teenaged male is safer locked up too. It’s safer, but mere longevity is not the objective of any life.

          Cats are hunters by nature. Our cat roamed the whole neighborhood and came home exhausted and exhilarated. (He was very careful crossing streets.) He was also badly mauled when he was 18 by two dogs illegally off leashes. After that, we didn’t let him out, but he made it clear that he resented the confinement as only Siamese cats can.

          • I got my cats as kittens (and have a largish house), so they were not “confined,” even though their world was limited. Had they started out as outdoor cats, it would have been much more difficult to restrict them to indoor life, when they were not used to that; similarly, it would be unkind to let them outdoors now, when they have never been accustomed to that.

          • Oh, but part of my point was that they are safer inside. That was partially in response to your argument that they need their claws for defense. They don’t need their claws for defense if I keep them inside and I keep them safe. And, no, longevity is not the main goal. My cats were litter mates; one died just shy of 10 years; the other one, who must be part Siamese, now expects me to pay attention to him. Longevity is no longer my primary desire for him.

            • I don’t like this argument, and maybe this is my own bias at work, but I think that if we start restricting freedoms because it’s safer, then eventually we’ll all live in 10×10 cells with a treadmill and a TV. Safety cannot trump liberty for people, and I have a hard time not carrying that over to animals. Even worse is the argument that if we deprive something liberty from birth, they never know what they’re missing. It might even be true… But from an ethics standpoint, that hits me as pretty bankrupt.

              • Humble Talent,
                With respect, you and I may have a fundamental difference regarding the relative values of humans and animals. I fixed my cats, too. I would find such a practice regarding humans abhorrent.

                Freedom for humans is necessary; feral cats are a menace.

                People are moral agents; animals are not. Our duties toward them are different than our duties toward each other. I owe you a moral duty because YOU are a moral agent. Any duty I have to animals is because I am a moral agent.


                • No, we’re already discussing that above…. Spaying and Neutering appear to have similarities to declawing, but there’s a utilitarian question to answer here because unchecked breeding would be a problem, and that makes the question more complicated. You have to weigh the ethics of causing pain and suffering against the alternative pain and suffering the act prevents.

                  And ethics still apply to animals. Specist. 😉

  2. Animals can behave unpredictably and for a cat, their most destructive feature is their front claws. Whether they are being playful or they get startled, they can do a lot of damage to an owner or child. I would never declaw a cat’s hind legs, but I’ve always considered declawing the front as a necessity unless the cat is going to be an outdoor roaming cat. For my part, I’ve always had indoor cats, so the need to defend themselves from birds, foxes and racoons has been non-existent.

    Yes, it’s a major surgery, but the cat gets the good drugs and a skilled practitioner. We’re not talking about pulling them one by one each time they make a mistake. They have a little pain, but they recover. I wouldn’t do it to an older cat that’s established the existence of claws.

    Would the human equivalent be circumcision on newborns?

      • Indoor cats don’t need to protect themselves. For that reduced risk, they still have back claws.

        Most parents circumsize their boys for the convenience of not having to clean as well, avoiding possible infection. I think I’ve heard many times from uncircumsized men that the foreskin protects their “sensitivity”. So yes, it has a purpose that most people never have the option to make.

              • Oh dear… it was a touchy subject in our house for a while before we had our child (I’m British and my husband is American) but I did eventually change my mind about that. It did get heated on a few occasions!

                We took in a cat about 4 years ago who was declawed by her previous owner. I had never even heard of such a thing until I moved to the States and the idea of an ‘indoor cat’ was entirely new to me as well. As far as I know only extremely pampered or old and sick cats stay indoors all the time where I’m from. They mostly come and go as they please. I looked up whether it was a bad idea to let her outdoors without her claws and it was pretty much a resounding no from every corner of the web so – with a heavy heart – I kept her inside our tiny apartment for almost a year. She eventually escaped and enjoyed her taste of freedom so much she has meowed incessantly to be let back out ever since so she’s an outdoor cat (i.e. normal cat) these days and just comes in to eat and sleep. Touch wood she hasn’t been injured by any other animals in the three years she’s been allowed out but even so it is a worry. A lot of people online and reputable US pet care websites advise not to ever let a cat outside regardless of if it has claws or not. It boggles my mind that so many people think it’s better to confine an animal just to extend its life by a few years. What kind of life is that? It is nice that I don’t have to worry about our furniture being scratched but what are the benefits to my cat? None. I would never ever declaw a cat and I’m glad it’s being discouraged.

                • Ha ha. I can open every single window and door of my house and there is a 0% chance that my gray cat would leave it.

                  As for “enjoyment” factor — my kids would enjoy eating candy and ice cream with every meal, but I don’t let them do that either. I’m probably extending their life by a few years by doing it.

                  I lived on a farm with all of our cats being outside cats — horrible accidents happened to many of them — animal attacks, cars, one drowning, mean kids. Now that I live in a suburb, all of my cats are indoors and they are quite happy. I have an enclosed deck where my one tortie cat sits to watch the birds.

                  • It’s one thing if your cat is just indoorsy by nature and prefers to be inside most of the time, quite another for someone to choose to keep them captive their whole lives and make it significantly more dangerous for them to go outside by disabling them. I never knew of one who had no interest in going out at all until I moved here – my in laws have two fat cats that are declawed and have never been allowed out and haven’t bothered trying to escape since they were very young… I assume that is conditioning and they just don’t know what they’re missing. They are also the most unpleasant cats I’ve ever met though I can’t say for sure if it’s related. I’m willing to accept that there are cats who despite having a choice never have any desire to roam outdoors but they would be a deviation from the norm. I don’t think letting a cat outside to play is equivalent to feeding your child sweets for every meal… it’s the equivalent of letting your child out to play. It’s wrong to deprive children of outdoor activity and it’s wrong to deprive cats and dogs.

      • Yes. I pull mine over my head and assume the fetal position in the presence of danger, like one of those rolly-bugs.

    • Weirdly… Two topics I know something about.

      When you declaw a cat, it’s the equivalent of cutting your fingers off at the first knuckle, and the reason most vets won’t do it once a cat gets to about 6 months is that there’s a window where the cartilage between the claw and the rest of the paw aren’t fused, and so the vet doesn’t have to break bone. Once that window closes, the surgery becomes much more serious, and takes much longer to heal. If there’s an argument for humane removal of claws, it ends utterly at the point that window closes, because you basically force your cat to walk on stumps while grinding broken bones against some of the most concentrated nerve endings in their body.

      Circumcision is perhaps less invasive, but there are fewer arguments for the benefits of it. The science is being hotly debated, but even if you took the pro-circumcision information at face value (and full disclosure: I don’t), there is no other situation where we recommend body altering surgery to newborns for medical reasons, even though the likelihood (and severity) of other conditions are higher. If we followed the logic of a medically necessary circumcision, we should also logically be removing appendixes and mammary glands at birth. We don’t. Worse, it has serious parallels to female genital mutilation… And cultures that perform FGM also have medical journals that extol the benefits of FGM…. But for some reason we realized that one was unacceptable while the other continued. Circumcision is religious hooey that has tenuous connections to science that has carried it into the 21st century and it needs to stop.

        • So do I. Why not let the boy grow to be an adult then he can decide for himself on whether or not he wants to be circumcised.
          As for declawing, this is the first that I have heard of it. It seems to be rarely done here in New Zealand.

      • Brief and final comments from me on a topic that for reasons I won’t disclose is especially traumatic for me the think about, much less discuss:

        1. Circumcision is unnecessary and should be forbidden by medical ethics.

        2. Yes, there is cancer of the foreskin, but that logic would justify cutting off little toes.

        3. The harm to the patient is far, far less than female circumcision or declawing cats. Negligible, in fact. Doesn’t make it right.

        4. It is most similar, in the pet world, to docking ears and tails of dogs. That’s unethical too. More and more Great Danes, for example, are being allowed to keep their naturally floppy ears. They look great.

        5. In rare cases, not being circumcised can lead to serious problems that require the procedure in adulthood, which is SO HORRIBLE, PAINFUL and HUMILIATING that avoiding the slim possibility of having to endure it is almost sufficient justification for infant circumcision…or so I’ve heard.

        6. One word: smegma

        Let us never speak of this again.

      • When you declaw a cat, it’s the equivalent of cutting your fingers off at the first knuckle, and the reason most vets won’t do it once a cat gets to about 6 months is that there’s a window where the cartilage between the claw and the rest of the paw aren’t fused, and so the vet doesn’t have to break bone. Once that window closes, the surgery becomes much more serious, and takes much longer to heal. If there’s an argument for humane removal of claws, it ends utterly at the point that window closes, because you basically force your cat to walk on stumps while grinding broken bones against some of the most concentrated nerve endings in their body.
        Exactly right.
        I’ve had cats all of my life and none of them were declawed.
        Right now I have three cats, one a tamed feral.
        I also have leather furniture, vintage wood work, rugs and even rattan and none of it gets scratched.

        Cats have to scratch.
        Your job isn’t to stop the cat from scratching, your job is to provide the cat with something he wants to scratch more than your furniture.
        This takes a bit of training and it requires you to keep the interesting things coming so the cat doesn’t get bored.
        Also, you can trim your cat’s claws with a nail clipper just as you trim your own nails.
        This cuts off the razor sharp hook on the end of the claw and greatly reduces the amount of accidental scratching to you and your other cats.
        I also trim the back claws so my cats can’t scratch the furniture launching themselves with their back paws.

        Declawing is absolutely cruel and unnecessary and I beg those of you who think otherwise to look into the subject further.

  3. From an article in the University of Oxford’s publication “Practical Ethics”:
    “. . . bringing in the heavy hand of the law to stamp out morally questionable practices is not always the best idea. It is a long road indeed from getting one’s ethical principles in order, to determining which social and legal changes might most sensibly and effectively bring about the outcome one hopes for, with minimal collateral damage incurred along the way. Until enough hearts and minds are shifted on this issue, any strong-armed ban would be a mistake.

    • SamePenn, your discernment deserves recognition. I agree that people should not de-claw cats, and I doubt making it illegal is the appropriate solution. (If our only tool is the hammer of the law, does every problem look like a cat’s finger nail?)

      Of course, I’m just simple country folk. The inclination of city folk to keep critters locked indoors eludes me, especially when they arrange for their critters to defecate and urinate in their homes. I share Jack’s opinion that it’s better to not have a cat than to have one and try to make it un-cat by removing its claws (and keeping it indoors, and dressing it in clothing, and training it to defecate in a box, and filming it for YouTube, and…).

      In any case, legislators have more important issues with which to concern themselves. Cats and their paws should be very low on their priority list – so low they never get to it. I suspect the constituents of New York’s legislators would be much better off if those legislators spent their time tending to issues such as inner-city violence, public school failures, joblessness, government corruption, and crumbling infrastructure. Perhaps the most unethical behavior here is legislators distracting themselves with cats when these other issues exist.

      • I don’t understand the “You have more important things to worry about” argument, and I’m considering adding it to the rationalizations list. There are always more important things than something. Would any animal abuse fall into this category?

        • There is an “opportunity cost” to everything. Each of us has a limited amount of time within which to engage in ethical behavior. This time is limited to twenty-four hours per day for as many days as we happen to live. When we decide to use an hour of that time for one activity, we forego the ability to engage in all other activities during that hour. This is a cost associated with the activity in which we chose to engage. If the benefit of a foregone activity exceeds the benefit derived from the activity chosen, the result is a net loss (i.e., costs exceed benefit). I suspect there are many things New York’s lawmakers could be doing that entail less opportunity cost than the time spent discussing cat claws.
          SamePenn’s post suggests that the law, in Bentham’s words, is likely to be “unprofitable”. The costs (bad things) associated with enactment, enforcement, avoidance, punishment, underground de-clawing operations, and importation of de-clawed cats is likely to be greater than the benefits (good things) resulting from the law. How many cats do they expect will be affected? By how much will all of those cats benefit? (Some folks might include the costs of damaged furniture, carpet, and clothing, but this simply seems petty to me. As you said above, if you don’t want a cat that does what cats do, don’t get a cat.) I suspect the costs associated with the law far outweigh the benefits of the law, thereby making it unprofitable.
          “More important” means that any or both of these principles may apply. It would be more important to use our limited time to do those things that produce the most net benefit.
          To answer your last question, avoiding animal abuse, preventing animal abuse, and voicing disapproval of animal abuse are important. While opportunity cost and profitability apply, the costs involved are minimal, and the benefits likely far outweigh the costs. When we go beyond avoiding, preventing, and voicing disapproval of animal abuse by passing laws, the costs increase. Depending upon the law, the animal in question, the definition of abuse, and the enforcement/punishment involved, making the abuse illegal may add more cost than benefit.
          (There may also be an issue of honesty involved, which is always excessively costly. I may be incorrect, but I doubt Linda Rosenthal campaigned on the promise to keep cats clawed. It is more likely that she promised to do things her prospective constituents thought were more important.)

  4. The subtitle of the article (by one Brian D. Earp) is On the ethics of non-therapeutic de-cla… uh … circumcision of minors, with a pre-script on the law

  5. Those of us living in Florida have the advantage that a screened porch provides.
    My cats go out there and they enjoy it.
    They also ask to come in if the weather is less than perfect or if they see or hear strangers.

  6. Our attitudes towards animal are very strange. Pets in one place are meat in another. Sometimes an animal can go from pet to meat in short order, or pet to pest. People who object to hunting, wherein an animal lives free and presumably happy right up until the moment he’s humanely dispatched, happily eat birds, cows, and pigs raised and killed in conditions that make Auschwitz look like summer camp. I can go on and on, but the ones that really ought to be locked in porta – pottys and set on fire: the Lorax-blowing neohippies who rant and rave about animal rights and the inherent wrongness of capital punishment, and don’t see the twisted misapplication of logic that allows them to be pro-abortion at the same time. We’d better hope that there isn’t other intelligent life out there due to pay us a visit. If they have evolved to the point that they can travel vast distances at will, they’re likely to nuke us from orbit for the good of the rest of the universe.

  7. Comparing spay/neutering to declawing is absurd!! One mutilates, tortures and often costs the cat its life in a kill shelter or death by predator when dumped outdoors. The other saves lives and keeps down the kill rate of abandoned cats in kill shelters and in the streets due overpopulation.
    Just compare the sequelae of each operation…and life for the cat thereafter. That will give you your answer!!

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