New Jersey could become the first in the nation to make it illegal to declaw cats, with exceptions for medical purposes. A bill passed by an Assembly Committee this week would make the procedure an animal cruelty crime, with possible fines and jail time for veterinarians and pet owners.

Cats at Monmouth County SPCA (Monmouth County SPCA)

Middletown Animal Hospital's Dr. Mike Yurkus, with the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association, said a survey of its 1,600 members on the issue found overwhelming sentiment that "veterinarians don't want to have the ability to declaw a cat taken away from them by the government."

Veterinary practices in New Jersey only perform about nine declaws per year, according to Yurkus, a small number compared to the thousands and thousands of cats they treat.

"We are not pro-declaw, but sometimes it becomes the only alternative, the last resort," Yurkus said. "We try to suggest every other alternative first, but if it comes down to the animal being euthanized or surrendered to a shelter, where it most likely will be euthanized, we'd like to be able to still do that to same the animal's life."

The proposal includes exceptions for medical purposes, but Yurkus pointed out that's misleading.

"There is no medical situation that would require you to have to take out all ten claws of a cat," he said. An infection or one or two nails could happen, but in his 16 years as a vet, Yurkus said there has never been a case for a full medical declaw.

"It does not exist," he said.

Yurkus respects the argument from many animal welfare organizations that declawing is inhumane, and reiterated it's done as a last-ditch alternative to the cat being surrendered in the event the pet owner is put on blood thinners or is medically compromised in a way that a cat scratch could be dangerous to their life. Some assisted-living facilities only allow declawed cats.

Yurkus noted veterinary medicine has come a long way in 30 years.

"When a declaw is done properly, either with scalpel disarticulation or a laser, there's no cutting of the bone, there's no cutting of the muscle, there's no cutting of the paw pad," said Yurkus.

Yurkus also noted pain medicine that they use now didn't exist years ago.

"These animals are given pain killers before the surgery, they are given nerve blocks during the surgery, and they are given pain medicine afterwards," he said. Yurkus compared it to being no more uncomfortable than neutering a male cat.

The most common reason people want their cat declawed is to prevent property damage or they're furniture from getting scratched, according to Yurkus.

"In a case like that we really will try to go over options with the people." said Yurkus. Some of those include scratching posts or soft paws, which are little plastic nails that cover the cat's claws to prevent scratching, sprays, and capes to make furniture look unattractive to cats.

Yurkus encourages cat owners to discuss declawing with their veterinarian.

"We want this decision to be between the veterinarian and the client," said Yurkus. "We really don't want the government telling us what we can and can't do. They've trusted us with a license to practice in New Jersey. We want that to be between our clients and us."

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at

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