New Mexico's Pet ResourceSUMMER 2004

AAHA Positions on Animal Welfare Issues

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has released position statements written by its task force on animal welfare and ethics. The new or revised statements deal with animal abuse, convenience euthanasia, declawing, canine devocalization and ear cropping/tail docking.

The statements come in response to requests for guidelines from the association’s membership. The purpose of the AAHA is to assist veterinary practices to provide the best companion animal care possible. The association also evaluates and provides accreditation to individual veterinary practices according to the association’s standards.

The new position statements are on canine devocalization and declawing.

Canine devocalization:

This statement is based on the statement made by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Canine devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.”


The main points of the position are that:

1. Declawing of domestic cats is not medically necessary.

2. Declawing should be considered only after every attempt has been made to prevent destructive clawing behavior or when clawing presents a significant health risk to humans with weakened immune systems.

3. Veterinarians have an obligation to provide cat owners with complete education on what declawing involves prior to the procedure.

4. Declawed cats should always be housed indoors.

5. Scientific studies indicate that cats with destructive clawing behavior are more likely to be euthanized, relinquished, released or abandoned, which contributes to the homeless cat population. If clawing behavior is an issue as to whether a cat remains in a household or not, declawing may be a consideration.

6. If declawing is performed, safe and effective anesthetics must be used as well as safe and effective pain medications following surgery.

The following position statements have been revised.

Animal abuse:

The profession recognizes the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Since veterinarians have a responsibility to the welfare of animals and the public and can be the first to detect animal abuse in a family, they should take an active role in detecting, preventing and reporting animal abuse. The association supports state legislation for mandatory reporting of animal abuse. Veterinary teams need to be educated to recognize, document and report animal abuse.


The association believes that ideally no adoptable animal should be euthanized. Healthy animals should not be euthanized for the convenience of the owner. If euthanasia is necessary it should be pain and anxiety free and carried out with a sense of dignity. There should be written protocols to prevent compassion fatigue among hospital team members. Compassion fatigue is the burnout that occurs among veterinary workers when they are asked to euthanize healthy animals, which is counter to what they are taught and believe. Euthanasia is a decision to be made by the animal owner and the attending veterinarian.

Ear cropping/tail docking:

Ear cropping and/or tail docking in pets for cosmetic reasons are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient. This procedure causes pain and distress and carries the inherent risks of any surgery. Therefore the AAHA opposes both the cropping of ears and the docking of tails done solely for cosmetic reasons. Veterinarians should counsel and educate pet owners that the procedures should not be performed unless medically necessary. The AAHA also encourages the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.

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