Why is Declawing Illegal in the UK?

It is useful to specify the exact reason why it is illegal to declaw a cat in the United Kingdom. This is because it informs us that it would be extremely easy to make it illegal in the United States from a legislative standpoint. It is not complicated. The obstacle in making declawing illegal in the United States is that the people of North America don’t want it to be illegal (the opposite is the case in Great Britain). Cat owner’s and veterinarian’s want to keep it. Vets consistently resist change and attempts to ban declawing. They lobby politicians, the law makers, to encourage them to maintain the status quo. There is a surprising difference in attitude between American and British veterinarians. It makes me wonder where that difference comes from.

In the United Kingdom we have a brilliant piece of statutory legislation. It is the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It sets the standard for animal care and specifies what is criminal behaviour in relation to a person’s treatment of an animal either directly, in directing someone else or allowing it to happen when responsible for an animal.

cat studying law!

Picture above: this lovely ginger tabby lives in the UK and he is concerned for his USA brothers and sisters.

The part of the Act that covers the operation of declawing is section 5 (1) (a) and (b) and section 5 (3). I have highlighted the text in red below based on a cat’s owner instructing a vet to declaw their cat; the classic example of how declawing happens in the USA.

The Act does not say, ‘declawing cats is illegal and a crime’. The language is less specific – but specific enough – in order that it can cover other procedures that might take place in the future or unforeseen events.

Here is the wording of the section 5:

5 Mutilation

(1) A person commits an offence if

(a) he carries out a prohibited procedure on a protected animal;

(b) he causes such a procedure to be carried out on such an animal.

(2) A person commits an offence if—

(a) he is responsible for an animal,

(b) another person carries out a prohibited procedure on the animal, and

(c) he permitted that to happen or failed to take such steps (whether by way of supervising the other person or otherwise) as were reasonable in all the circumstances to prevent that happening.

(3) References in this section to the carrying out of a prohibited procedure on an animal are to the carrying out of a procedure which involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal, otherwise than for the purpose of its medical treatment.

(4) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply in such circumstances as the appropriate national authority may specify by regulations.

(5) Before making regulations under subsection (4), the appropriate national authority shall consult such persons appearing to the authority to represent any interests concerned as the authority considers appropriate.

(6) Nothing in this section applies to the removal of the whole or any part of a dog’s tail.

What the wording in red says is that if a person asks a veterinarian to declaw their cat and he acts on the request it is an offence (a crime) because declawing is a prohibited procedure as it involves interfering with ‘sensitive tissues or bone structure of the animal for non-therapeutic purposes ( i.e not for the animal’s medical treatment). Also the vet commits a crime as he carries out the prohibited procedure (section 5 (1)(a)). The vet is also in breach of his guidelines and code of practice.

There are specific exceptions to the prohibition on mutilations by a veterinarian but none apply to the cat. There is one general exception; that a mutilation can take place in an emergency. As this would never apply to a request to declaw by the cat’s ‘owner’, declawing for the convenience of the owner is absolutely barred.

The entire Act is quite short and written in plain language. What is interesting is that the Act was not required to stop declawing because it was not happening. It is not and never has been ‘on the radar’. Vets in the UK consider it an act of animal cruelty. Although there must have been the odd instance of it taking place.

The veterinarian’s guide also prohibits declawing (see below selected part):

Guide to Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons 1C.

Your responsibilities to your patients

h. a veterinary surgeon must not cause any patient to suffer

i. by carrying out any unnecessary mutilation

1G. Your responsibilities under the law

1. Veterinary Surgeons should be sufficiently familiar with and comply with relevant legislation including: b. the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Note: Wikipedia quote a section of the Vet’s Guide but I can’t see it on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon’s website so I have not included it here.

The crime of unnecessary mutilation carries a maximum of 51 weeks in jail on conviction and/or a max. fine of £20,000.

Picture by raider of gin on Flickr

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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14 Responses

  1. Ray says:

    There is an answer for Cat’s claws. Do not get a cat if you don’t want the Claws. It’s really easy. Cats have claws and Dogs have tails. If you cant live with the whole animal then don’t get one.

  2. Mp3 says:

    I don’t know guys. I got my 2 cats declawed, because we were going to be living in an apartment in Korea, and we were using government owned furniture (brand new mind you) that we would have to replace if damaged. They are fine, still knead, still can climb, walk normally, and no personality changes. We just took in a stray that we found out has FIV, so has to be an indoors cat anyway, and though we haven’t declawed him yet, we are considering it. And, yes, we understand he could transmit the disease to the other cats, but love him and can’t give him up. We were told he would likely be put down at an animal shelter and most people wouldn’t keep an FIV cat. We want to give him a long happy life, and being forced to live indoors, he really has no reason to have his claws to protect himself. And declawed cats can still hunt, my other cats are proof!

    • Michael Broad says:

      I understand your argument. And I sympathise. However, ultimately, at the end of the day, declawing is mass amputation (ten digits partially amputated) for the convenience of the person and it is therefore immoral. That is my view. I don’t expect you to agree but thanks for visiting and sharing.

    • Rob says:

      This is absolutely disgusting. You obviously hate your cats! You mean you moved to Korea and instead of leaving your babies here with someone who cares about them, you took them to Korea and had them declawed just to save Kim Jong-un’s sofa? And now you’ve got a another cat WITH claws AND FIV putting yours at further risk while the cat with FIV can still scratch Kim Jong-un’s sofa? You’re about as disgusting as they come. You don’t deserve to share your life with any animal, let alone that as majestic as a cat. Declawing is a sickening mutilation that should include prison time. Rob, the crazy cat man.

  3. Mandy says:

    Declawing cats has been illegal in Australia all my life. Both cat owner and veterinarians can receive fines for declawing a cat for reasons other than medical or trauma.

    • Michael says:

      Great. Now the Australians should learn to deal with the feral cat, that they created, more humanely. Please stop shooting at the feral cat.

      • Mark Lammas says:

        I kept a feral cat, in Scotland. It came with the cottage I rented. it was a calico, and was named such by me. At first, Calico was truly feral; she fed herself, slept outdoors, and only came in the cottage occasionally if I left the door open. After a year or so, I noticed she was getting thin and plainly was no longer up to chasing her own food due to some illness. I started to supplement her diet by offering her some cat food when she was indoors, which was gratefully accepted. Her health immediately improved, along with her hunting skills. From then on, she was my constant companion. She was the best mouser I ever witnessed. She loved me madly, and would climb up my trousers, or jump on me every time I ever sat down, to put her nose two inches from mine whilst sat on my chest. She ruined every pair of trousers and every shirt I ever possessed, and left hairs on all my furniture, but never would I have even dreamed of having her declawed, even if it WERE legal in the UK. A horrendously cruel option. It must be banned worldwide.

        • Michael Broad says:

          Thanks Mark for a beautiful comment. Great story too. I love the gradual transformation. She was unable to fend for herself and you stepped in and she was very grateful. Lovely relationship. I am pleased that you hate declawing as much as I do. God I hate it. It makes me angry. I’d like to do violence against those engaged in it.

  4. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    Many true cat lovers in the USA and Canada who are anti declaw are jealous of our Animal Welfare Bill because if the same bill was passed in their countries, declawing would have to stop immediately.
    The people who say they are cat lovers and against declawing but don’t want another law passed as they have too many laws already are very selfish because it’s the only way it will be stopped. If they truly did love cats then they would agree to anything to end the mutilation of them.
    How do those declaw vets live with their conscience? They knowingly break their oath to cause no animal to suffer and justify it with the ridiculous excuse (and untruth) that it keeps cats in their homes, that they don’t declaw to make money.
    I don’t know of any vet who would ever have declawed a cat here in the UK before it was illegal to do so, it is disgraceful that a law to stop it happening in the USA and Canada should be necessary, vets are supposed to be there to help animals, not to please clients, nor to make money.
    Well they don’t like it that we true cat lovers from all countries campaign for a ban and spread the truth and save as many cats claws as we can, but tough, we will go on dong that for as long as it takes to get that cruelty banned.

  5. Barbara says:

    There isn’t a lot to be proud of in the UK at the moment as far as I can see, except for our Animal Welfare Bill!!!!!

  6. I find that the best way to get things done in the states is a Facebook/Twitter/Cat-Blog/(I’ll add Pinterest, since it’s going to be the next Twitter)campaign. I marvel at how quickly the raw food craze took root. It was a matter of a few months and now it’s considered uncouth to do anything but in some circle (for both cats and dogs). I guess I better get started. 🙂

    • Michael says:

      Get started Dan! What would give me the greatest pleasure in a very long time is a change in the Aniamal Welfare laws of the USA to make declawing illegal. At the same time it would raise the image of the USA in the eyes of animal lovers worldwide.

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