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St. Louis banned declawing. Missouri lawmakers want to make it legal again

Cat receives medication to induce sleep prior to a teeth cleaning procedure
Erica Crossen
Dr. Jared Piper, a veterinarian at the Scott Air Force Base Veterinary Treatment Facility, and Army Staff Sgt. Justin Crocker, animal care noncommissioned officer, give a cat medication to induce sleep prior to a teeth cleaning procedure.

While the practice of declawing cats is currently outlawed in the St. Louis and St. Louis County, the Missouri legislature is considering a proposal to nullify these ordinances to make the practice available statewide.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved a measure to prohibit declawing in 2019, the same year that New York became the first state to ban a procedure that inflicts “acute pain, infection, nerve trauma,” according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners. St. Louis County followed in 2021 with its own ordinance.

Dr. Amanda Gruber
Emily Woodbury
Dr. Amanda Gruber is the medical director of the St. Louis Cat Clinic.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Justin Brown, R-Rolla, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that local jurisdictions shouldn’t be allowed to “obstruct” the practice of veterinary medicine, adding that local ordinances banning the procedure interfere “with the patient-client relationship with the practitioner.”

Dr. Amanda Gruber, medical director and practicing veterinarian at the St. Louis Cat Clinic, has never performed the procedure — and she said she never will, even if it becomes legal in St. Louis again.

“I do not believe it is a morally acceptable procedure,” she said.

Cats' nails grow from their bones — they are not separate entities. Removing a claw means removing an outgrowth from their distal phalangeal bones in their paws. “It's actually a full amputation between that third bone and that second bone,” Gruber said.

When a third of a cat’s digit is removed, she added, it shifts the way they are able to walk.

“And ultimately, it's going to change the way that all their joints carry weight,” she said. “All of these cats, as they get older, are going to develop arthritis in those joints, their feet, their elbows, and sometimes in their back because of the way that their weight has changed.”

The American Association of Feline Practitioners strongly opposes declawing due to the risks and complications. In addition to the immediate damage from the procedure, the group notes there can be “long-term complications like lameness, behavioral problems and chronic neuropathic pain.”

Mary Coffindaffer witnessed these symptoms firsthand after her cat received the procedure. “She's visibly affected by it to this day,” Coffindaffer shared with St. Louis Public Radio, adding that she would never order the procedure again.

Some pet owners report that their declawed cats developed an aversion to their litter box and became more aggressive.

“I've fostered declawed kitties when their ‘person’ no longer wants to deal with them,” wrote Chera Chapin on St. Louis Public Radio’s Facebook page. “Declawed kitties have to use other means of communication, such as biting, and people very seldom realize this.”

While veterinarians like Gruber refuse to perform the procedure, she said she understands why some veterinarians balked when declawing was outlawed in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

“The idea that people not in the veterinary industry are making rules and laws dictating how we can and cannot practice … I think that's a very hard pill for a lot of veterinarians to swallow. And that's valid,” she said. “Ideally, our organizations [and] our veterinary groups would help us to come to those conclusions of, ‘This is what the science says, this is why this procedure is not good for the animals, this is why we shouldn't be doing it.’ That would be ideal, but so far, that hasn't happened.”

Gruber discussed the practice of declawing cats on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air. Hear the conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.

Dr. Amanda Gruber talks about declawing and alternatives to the procedure

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.