Scratching is a natural behavior for cats that is important to their physical and mental wellbeing. Photo from iStock.com
Cat stealing – the practice of surgically removing a cat’s claws – is a gruesome procedure that can be compared to amputating the last bone of each of your toes. It’s unnecessary because there are more humane ways to keep cats from scratching furniture. And for the animal, the consequences are lifelong, including behavioral and health problems.
Fortunately, more and more lawmakers are trying to make stealing illegal. Yesterday, Austin became the first city in Texas and one of the few cities in the country to prohibit this practice unless it is necessary for the cat’s welfare.
This is great news, and it illustrates the changing attitudes of Americans and their lawmakers towards exposing companion animals to procedures that are usually done for purely cosmetic or practical reasons. New York became the first state in the nation to ban elective cat debridement surgery in 2019, and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, and St. Louis have all enacted similar bans in recent years. More than 20 countries, including England, Germany, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, have also long banned the practice.
Bills to steal cats have been introduced and are currently under review in several states, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. We also hope that similar bills will be introduced this year or next in Nevada, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Illinois, among others.
Cat owners often mistakenly believe that stealing their cats is a harmless “quick fix” to unwanted scratching. But for a cat, stealing is not a trip to the spa. After surgery, cats that walk on their toes (as opposed to people who walk on the soles of our feet) can have serious problems. Austin veterinarian Katrina Breitreiter, who was at the forefront of the ban in her town, says stealing can lead to long-term complications, including persistent post-operative pain, back pain, phantom pain, limping, infection, arthritis, overgast, toe pad calluses. Bone fragments, claw growth under the skin, and tendon contracture. “One in five cats has long-term complications from dehumidification surgery and 50% have complications immediately after the operation.
A third of the scratched cats develop behavior problems after they have been stolen.
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats that is important to their physical and mental wellbeing. It removes dead pods from their claws, helps them mark territory, and it helps stretch their muscles. Unfortunately, this natural behavior is viewed as wrongdoing by humans, especially when furniture or other household items are damaged in the process. But as Dr. Barbara Hodges of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association points out, there are a number of humane alternatives that do not endanger the health and welfare of cats. This includes routine nail cuts, exercise, scratching posts, and nail caps.
The stealing began with no scientific investigation or pain assessment, or no understanding of the long-term effects of multiple amputations. When domestic cats moved into our homes shortly after the invention of the kitty litter, a 1952 letter from a Chicago practitioner to an American veterinary journal described the solution to a crude procedure using guillotine scissors to amputate cats’ toes to cure the damage caused by cat’s claws Furniture. Unfortunately, veterinary medicine practice has normalized.
Thanks to advances in this area, we now know so much more about the negative effects of stealing, and it is increasingly clear to the veterinary community that it must end. The veterinarian-led Paw Project has pushed reform in this area, and organizations like the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Animal Hospital Association, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, and HSVMA are all against deciphering. The largest U.S. veterinary hospital systems – VCA, Banfield, and Blue Pearl – do not perform elective decryption processes on cats. And the American Association of Feline Practitioners banned the stealing of their certified “cat-friendly practices” earlier this year.
This shift in the veterinary profession needs to be cemented in politics. HSUS is working closely with the Paw Project to pass anti-theft laws in cities and states across the country. As Dr. Jennifer Conrad, founder and director of the Paw Project, said, “stealing, better described as knuckling, has no place in ethical veterinary care.”
We applaud the Austin Councilors for making the right decision about cats in their city, and we urge lawmakers in the United States to work swiftly to end this harmful and unnecessary practice.
Pets, public order (legal / legislative)