November 14, 2019

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Paws off: Manitoba vet association bans cat declawing

It's a good day for cats in Manitoba — no one's ever going to snip off their claws again.

Declawing has been officially banned after a vote by the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association. Any association member found breaking the ban will be subject to a peer review and the likelihood of punitive action.

"Cats derive pleasure from scratching, it's part of their marking behaviour, it's a fundamental part of being cat," said Jonas Watson, a veterinarian at the Tuxedo Animal Hospital and chairman of the MVMA.

"Taking that away from them, all those endorphins, all that fun, exactly what a lion feels when it scratches the trunk of a tree — it's never been right."

"When you're declawed, you don't walk quite the way you did before and, as a result, cats may have an aversion to where they step, including on litter," veterinarian Jonas Watson said. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"When you're declawed, you don't walk quite the way you did before and, as a result, cats may have an aversion to where they step, including on litter," veterinarian Jonas Watson said. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Declawing is about more than a cat's self-esteem, however.

"People don't understand what declawing is. They don't understand that it involves the removal of bone, not just the removal of a nail," Watson said, describing the act as the amputation of the third phalanx, or joint, in a cat's paw.

For years, it was made to seem a benign, even commonplace procedure. "Pet owners would have their cat neutered and at the same time get them declawed, and they never gave it any thought," he said.

'People don't understand what declawing is. They don't understand that it involves the removal of bone, not just the removal of a nail'

— Dr. Jonas Watson

However, recent research shows consequences to declawing, including orthopedic problems such as chronic back pain, and behavioural problems such as aggression and inappropriate voiding (i.e. defecating outside the litter box).

The latter develops because "When you're declawed, you don't walk quite the way you did before and, as a result, cats may have an aversion to where they step, including on litter," Watson said.

Declawing can also cause mechanical changes to a cat's gait.

The movement to an enforced ban gained momentum in 2017, when the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association deemed declawing as ethically unacceptable. (Monica Almeida / The New York Times files)

The movement to an enforced ban gained momentum in 2017, when the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association deemed declawing as ethically unacceptable. (Monica Almeida / The New York Times files)

Many vets have already been declining requests to declaw cats, especially younger ones.

"In the past, everyone could do what was right according to their sense of ethics," Watson said, adding now they will be bound by the vote of their peers.

The movement to an enforced ban gained momentum in 2017, when the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association deemed declawing as "ethically unacceptable."

Manitoba becomes the sixth province to adopt such a ban. British Columbia passed a ban last year; the two big holdouts are Ontario and Quebec.

Watson is confident the policy will continue to spread. "The house of cards will fall eventually."

 

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Bill Redekop

Bill Redekop
Rural Reporter

Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues since 2001.

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