Nova Scotia veterinarians have voted not to ban declawing cats, a procedure that keeps pets from scratching people and furniture.

Declawing was a routine procedure as little as 15 years ago, but it has become increasingly controversial in recent years, due to the pain during recovery and psychological harm to cats.

Some veterinarians see it as a cruel and unnecessary operation and refuse to do it at all.

However, some do the operation out of fear the animals would otherwise be euthanized or abandoned by their owners.

Dr. Lesley Steele, a veterinarian at a pet clinic in Eastern Passage, says there is an extensive consultation period with the owner before any declawing is done.

“If, in the end, we decide that it could mean that the owner is no longer able to keep the cat, if we’re not able to help them with what they need, which is declawing the cat, then we will do it,” says Steele.

Only two cats have been declawed at the clinic in the last nine months.

Staff members at the Burnside Animal Shelter for the SPCA won’t adopt out a cat to anyone who plans to have it declawed.

“The process of declawing a cat involves the removal of the first joint of the cat’s toe, so if you were to equate it with a human, it would be like amputating the first joint on your finger,” says Sandra Fillman, director or animal care.

Fillman says it makes for a long, painful recovery and can result in behavioural changes in the animal.

“It will spray or urinate around the house because it doesn’t like to use the litter box anymore because the process of scratching the litter box is painful,” says Fillman.

Veterinarians say there alternatives to declawing that are less expensive for the owner and less painful for the cat. For example, catnip can be used to encourage a pet to use a scratching post.

Another alternative is a product called Soft Paws – plastic caps that are glued onto claws.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ron Shaw