BC’s 2018 Ban on Declawing Cats Was Good News for Cats, Study Shows

After the ban, fewer cats were surrendered to shelters, and those that were found a new home faster.

Portrait of a relaxed cat, stretched out with her paws and claws pointing towards the camera
Photo: Joey Thebeau/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Declawing cats was banned in BC in 2018. New research by Dr. Alexandre Ellis (Shelter Outreach Consultation Services) in conjunction with the BC SPCA and UBC looks at shelter statistics for three years before and after the ban. The research is published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery and shows that the effects on cat surrenders that some people feared did not come to pass; in fact, surrenders went down. 

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Dr. Emilia Gordon (BC SPCA), one of the co-authors of the study, says, 

“We wanted to perform a formal, peer-reviewed analysis so we could answer the question that has been asked so many times: does a declaw ban cause more cats to end up in shelters or be euthanized? And 74,587 cats in BC have spoken: it does not.”

The term declawing is really a misnomer because it makes it sound like it’s just clipping their nails when in fact it is an amputation. The official name is onychectomy, and it involves amputating the last bone (the third phalanx) of every digit. Cats' claws aren't like our fingernails; they can't be removed without also removing some bone.

If this sounds painful, it’s because it is. One study found that declawed cats are at increased risk of back pain and often have parts of bone left behind by the surgery (Martell-Moran et al 2018). They are more likely to soil in the house (likely because using the cat litter is now painful for them), more likely to bite, and more likely to overgroom. Declawed cats can also no longer use their front paws (and claws) to defend themselves.

So a ban on declawing in BC was good news, but some people who were against a ban on declaw surgeries were concerned that it would lead to an increase in people surrendering their cats to shelters. 

The new research looks at a wide range of shelter data from the BC SPCA, which has shelters throughout the province and last year found new homes for more than 10,000 animals.  

The results show that:

  • There was a decrease in cat surrenders in the three years after the ban compared to the three years before
  • Very few cats are surrendered for scratching issues, and this did not change either side of the ban (a total of 50 cats in six years out of the over 74,000 cats in the study; 90% of these cats were adopted).
  • The number of kittens or cats surrendered because the guardian wanted them to be euthanized significantly decreased after the ban. (Some of these cats were identified as adoptable and/or treatable if they had a medical condition, so not all were euthanized).
  • The live release rate increased and the length of stay before a new home was found decreased after the ban compared to before. Although pet acquisition during the pandemic has contributed to this, it is part of a wider trend that has been going on for some years, and changes in shelter practices aimed at improving these numbers seem to have made a difference.


Because the results are correlational, we cannot say that the ban itself caused fewer surrenders to shelters. Issues related to people (such as housing, illness, job loss, etc.) are a common reason for surrender, and more research on how to help cats stay in their homes would be useful.

Scratching is a normal behaviour for cats and helps them to keep their claws in tip-top condition, so it is important to provide cats with good places they can scratch. Previous research shows that providing a good quality scratching post and rewarding the cat for using it (e.g. with treats) is linked to cats being much less likely to scratch in places their human doesn’t like. (See: What kind of scratching post do cats prefer?).   

As well, having opportunities to engage in normal feline behaviours is a central tenet of good animal welfare, which is another reason for cat guardians to provide good, sturdy scratching posts. (See: What are the five freedoms and what do they mean to you;  and the five domains model aims to help animals thrive for more on animal welfare).  

In addition to BC, declawing is currently banned or illegal in most Canadian provinces. It is also banned in some American municipalities and last year, three large vet chains (Banfield Pet Hospitals, VCA, and Blue Pearl Pet Hospitals) said they will refuse to do it. Declawing has been banned in the UK for many years, and is also banned in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Israel, and many European countries.  

Hopefully, more places will now ban this procedure. 

A kitten licks her paws. Text reads "Cat paws need their claws" - The Paw Project.

As The Paw Project, a group that campaigns against declawing, says, “Cat paws need their claws.”  

Dr. Gordon says, 

“We hope this data can be used by veterinarians, veterinary regulators, animal shelters, and community members to support bans against unnecessary and painful cosmetic surgeries and to begin discussions about how we address the systemic issues in our society that separate families from their pets.”

The new research shows that the ban on declawing cats in BC did not lead to adverse outcomes at shelters, and that scratching issues are a very rare reason for surrender. 

Is declawing banned where you live?


P. S. Sign up to get my free guide, Seven Secrets to a Happy Cat and learn how to have a better relationship with your pet.

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And you can read the paper via the link below.



Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, winner of the Maxwell Medallion for best book (behaviour, health or general care) from the Dog Writers Association of America. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, and also writes a column for Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats.

Useful links:

References

Ellis, A., van Haaften, K., Protopopova, A., & Gordon, E. (2021). Effect of a provincial feline onychectomy ban on cat intake and euthanasia in a British Columbia animal shelter system. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X211043820

Martell-Moran, N. K., Solano, M., & Townsend, H. G. (2018). Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 20(4), 280-288. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098612X17705044 



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