Province takes aim at cat declawing with proposed law

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

The rights of cats to scratch and dogs to bark to their heart’s content will soon be protected by law in Quebec.

On March 16, the Canadian Press revealed that agriculture minister André Lamontagne, whose ministry also oversees animal welfare, intends to table a change to existing legislation that would “forbid, except when recommended by a veterinarian, the devocalization (mutilation of the vocal cords), caudectomy (tail docking) and onyxectomy (declawing) of any dog or cat, as well as the ear cutting of any dog.” The regulatory change is expected to come into force this summer.

The Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec has discouraged cat owners from having cats declawed since at least 2019. Animal welfare activists and the SPCA have been calling for the practice to be outlawed for several years, most recently through an online petition submitted to the National Assembly in January which received more than 21,000 signatures.

Valérie Forest is a vet at the Animavet veterinary clinic in Bromont. She says she’s in favour of a law against declawing.

She explains that declawing, a once-routine procedure, is not the feline equivalent of a person getting their fingernails clipped. Rather, it’s more like getting their fingertips lopped off.

“When you remove the claw, you remove the cat’s last finger bone,” says Forest matter-of-factly. “It’s an amputation. A cat will experience phantom pain and mutilate themselves because they’re in so much pain.” She says declawing also changes the way a cat walks, putting stress on its tendons and creating a permanent limp. They’re also no longer able to scratch their backs or stretch naturally, which are “physical and emotional needs.”

She advises cat owners to make sure their cats have access to a sturdy, visible scratching post. When cats’ claws get too long, they can be clipped, either at home or by a groomer.

“People declaw their cats because they don’t want to be attacked, but declawed cats are more aggressive – when we touch their paws, we get bitten,” Forest adds. “From an infection standpoint, a bite is more dangerous than a scratch.”

She says all of the procedures that would be banned by the new law, including devocalization and aesthetic ear and tail cutting, are in decline as cat and dog owners become more knowledgeable about how animals communicate and feel pain.

“I’ve never been asked to do devocalization; that’s very rare,” she says. “We do get requests for ear and tail [docking] from breeders, although no breed of dog needs their ears cut. Dogs use their ears and tails to communicate; if they don’t have them, they can’t [use] body language. There can also be pain, anxiety, a risk of infection…fortunately, standards are changing.”

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