Don't Declaw Your Cat

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If you get a cat—and, you should, cats are fine—you should be prepared for them to scratch on everything in your home (except, confoundingly, the scratching post). You can and should combat this by keeping their claws clipped to a safe and sanitary length, just as you do your own nails, or by purchasing acrylic nail caps, and by continuing to supply scratching posts even in the face of diminishing returns. You should not attempt to forestall this by having your cat declawed. And not just because if you live in New York State, it could soon become illegal for you to do so.

Assembly Bill 1297, which was initially proposed last year by New York state assembly member Linda Rosenthal (D) and would make it crime for anyone to declaw a cat or other kind of animal, is back in the news today as vets and a spokescat named Rubio descended on the state capitol to lobby in its favor. It’s not an unprecedented ban—declawing cats is illegal in most European countries and some cities in California—but New York would be the first state to take an official stance.


And it’s a good one! Declawing your cat is not just a matter of personal preference, despite the fact that some 55 percent of cat owners think it’s just fine, according to a 2011 AP poll. I’m going to give those owners the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn’t fully understand the procedure when they cast their vote. So let me educate them: “To declaw a cat, you amputate each toe at the first knuckle, taking off bone along with tendons and the claw,” says a Washington Post article from last year about the proposed ban.

There are a couple of ways to declaw a cat. Many veterinarians use shears to lop off the toes. A scalpel works too. More recently, some places do the job with lasers.


Even if New York doesn’t pass the ban (and even if it does, other states where it’s legal will still only be a drive away), if you’re willing to do this for the sake of your drapes, don’t get a cat.

[S]ome veterinarians argue that declawing should be still allowed as a last resort. People with weak immune systems could be infected from cat scratch wounds. Scratches are also threatening to those who bleed easily, like hemophiliacs or people on blood thinners.

But having a pet is a not an inalienable right, it’s a privilege, a perk, and, above all, a responsibility. Trimming a cat’s nails has roughly the same effect as getting him or her declawed—only it requires more maintenance. But the maintenance of owning a pet is pet ownership. That’s what separates owning a pet from just going to the zoo.

Don’t be fooled by New York’s Veterinary Medical Society’s opposition to the ban. Their ostensible reasoning—that declawing cats prevents shitty owners from giving their pets back to the shelter when they prove to have normal pet-like tendencies—is not a good defense. And their real reasoning is likely just simple financial concern for lost surgery bills.


Look, I have two cats with a lot of claws between them which means the value of all my furniture drops to zero dollars the day I bring it home. So, I get it, those scratchy claws are the worst part of cat ownership. I just happen to think cost-benefit analysis still favors my moderately affectionate felines.

This doesn’t mean you have to put up with cat claws—but you do if you want to have a cat. Don’t like it? Get a fish.