To declaw or not to declaw? That is no longer a question.

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In 2017, declawing is only a touchy issue among veterinarians (and, of course, the cats who have been mutilated). Unlike other issues like pit bull terriers (which remains somewhat controversial even though it shouldn’t) and Trap-Neuter-Return (also an issue that should no longer be “edgy”), essentially no one in the animal advocacy world supports declawing.

So I was pretty surprised to see an article announcing that the New Canaan Housing Authority in Connecticut will no longer require tenants to declaw their cats. Technically, this is great but it was still surprising that there will still be government housing programs mandating declawing in 2017. Beyond animal protection, the rule didn’t make any sense from a logistical standpoint. Were there that many cats scratching apartment building walls? If so, I’d like to meet these wall climbing Connecticut cats. Unless the housing authority was renting out furniture, it’s unclear to me what damage the rule hoped to prevent.

In any case, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The veterinary lobby, both national and state associations, is working hard to stop activists from making declawing against the law. The reason is simple. Some veterinarians make significant money from performing these procedures (often for ignorant clients who don’t realize the ramifications of declawing). These pro-declawing veterinarians are quick to claim that they are actually protecting cats, arguing that declawing keeps cats in homes by preventing destructive behavior.

Cat lovers have long known this is false. Since declawing means that cats can no longer use their claws, some cats resort to biting because they’ve been stripped of their primary defense mechanism. Documented effects of declawing also include interference with litterbox use. Declawing fundamentally changes a cat’s natural instincts to use their claws to stretch, scratch, and mark territory. Learn more on our website.

And now we have a brand-new peer-reviewed study to back this up. Hot off the presses, the study, “Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats” by Nicole K. Martell-Moran, Mauricio Solano, and Hugh G.G. Townsend, was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery on May 23, 2017. The purpose of the study was to assess the impact of declawing on back pain and “unwanted behavior” in cats.

The results were sobering. The study “found that declaw surgery in cats was associated with a significant increase in the odds of developing adverse behaviors, including biting, barbering, aggression, and inappropriate elimination, as well as signs of back pain.” In other words, declawing is linked to negative behavior meaning veterinary associations’ arguments that declawing keeps cats in homes is worthless. What was always commonsense and backed by anecdotal evidence is now backed by science.

One of the authors, Nicole Martell-Moran, a veterinary practitioner at an all-cat clinic in Houston, Texas noted, “’The result of this research reinforces my opinion that declawed cats with unwanted behaviors may not be “bad cats”, they may simply need pain management. We now have scientific evidence that declawing is more detrimental to our feline patients than we originally thought and I hope this study becomes one of many that will lead veterinarians to reconsider declawing cats.’”

We hope so, too.

Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Holtz is For All Animals’ director of legislative affairs. She is an animal rights attorney and lifelong animal advocate. Liz manages For All Animals’ coalition efforts to pass state laws that protect animals—like strengthening anti-cruelty laws—and defeating laws that harm animals—like ag-gag laws. She also oversees For All Animals’ Attorney at Paw program, which provides assistance to advocates interested in passing laws and ordinances that protect animals on a local level.