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What New York State Declawing Ban Can Teach Us About Veterinary Industry

cat claws
Cats have claws and declawing cats is harmful

On Monday, July 22, 2019, New York became the first state in the USA to ban the routine declawing of cats, joining several local municipalities and many countries that had already done so. The struggle to pass the declawing ban was anything but tame. As it has been in other places where such bans have been debated, the arguments for and against have been heated. In each case, animal advocates are on one side of the debate. On the other side are uninformed cat owners and veterinarians. Such was the case in New York, where the New York State Veterinary Medical Society (NYSVMS) vehemently opposed the ban on the grounds that it infringed on the rights of licensed veterinarians to sell declaw procedures.

NYSVMS position statement
NYSVMS poition on declawing and debarking

The case against declawing cats is strong, which is why many countries in the world consider the procedure an unnecessary form of mutilation. On a typical feline, a front declaw amounts to 10 separate amputations, each of which is comparable to cutting off one of your fingers at the first knuckle. These amputations often result in long-term, chronic complications, including phantom pain, arthritis and a host of other problems, including a variety of behavioral issues, including inappropriate urination, biting and others.

In practice, it could be reasonable to assume that if veterinarians fully informed their clients of the pain, suffering and risks associated with declawing, then the consequences of the surgeries are on the cat owners and not the veterinarians. Unfortunately, we have found veterinarians often do not do so. Even worse, they often market "safer" and "more humane" methods of declawing, like the use of lasers to remove the claws, even though research has shown these alternatives to be as, or even more, problematic than traditional approaches. Furthermore, declaw procedures are frequently sold "fast food style" in many veterinary practices. "Would you like a declaw with your neuter?" clients are frequently asked, with little or no meaningful discussion of the alternatives to protect furniture from cats claws, like training and regular nail trimming.

In spite of these facts, we are unaware of any veterinary association in the USA that has supported proposed bans on cat declawing, which is even more problematic when placed in the broader context of veterinarians selling unnecessary or harmful procedures in general. Take, for example, the fact that it has been widely known, and even reported in the mainstream press, that annual vaccinations are not needed and potentially deadly. Sources like NBC News have reported that fact as early as 2005. Major veterinary organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have known it for much longer. Yet, still today many veterinarian continue pushing annual vaccinations as a regular part of the money-making machine in their practices.

We could write a whole blog series on how the veterinary industry traps young vets into becoming slaves to money. The short version goes like this: The average vet student graduates with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Yet, an entry-level job as a working veterinarian pays only about $50,000. It is almost impossible to make ends meet given that scenario. Another option they have is to open their own practices. But that usually requires assuming much more debt (more than a million dollars or more in facilities and equipment). It also requires business acumen, which is not something taught in veterinary school.

The result of all of that is an industry that is largely driven by a need to generate cash: a predatory system where animal lovers and their pets are at the bottom of the food chain. To understand just how true that is, consider the other 2019 legislative agenda item for NYSVMS: Opposing a ban on debarking dogs, which they have chosen to rebrand "bark softening," because it makes this abhorrent and mutilating procedure sound less reprehensible.

In most places where declawing bans have been proposed, veterinarians have had their ways and the proposed bans have been shot down. The passage of the New York ban should send a loud and clear message to the veterinary industry: You need to mend your ways. Public opinion is not on your side. You damage your credibility when you promote animal mutilation for profit.

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