MONTREAL -- Cat declawing: it's a practice widely condemned by veterinarians and animal welfare groups alike.

In fact, surgically removing a cat's claws has been banned in most Canadian provinces, as well as in numerous American states.

The procedure is known to cause health and behavioural problems in cats that can last a lifetime.

Despite calls for change, the practice is still legal in Quebec -- though the province says it is rewriting its regulations around pets, which could mean a ban is on the way. 

It's been happening for far too long, says Montreal animal health technician Alexandra Yaksich. After a decade in the field, she says, she still sees declawed cats come through the door on a regular basis.

"Sometimes they're even declawed before they're spayed or neutered," she said in an interview with CTV News.

Witnessing the suffering endured by her feline patients, Yaksich decided to petition the government in hopes of ending the practice for good in Quebec.

"I couldn't look away," she said. "It felt like I had to do something."

The petition, which was made public on Monday, has been backed by the SPCA, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and other similar groups.

"Quebec is one of the last provinces in Canada to still allow the declawing of cats,” reads a statement from Sophie Gaillard, Director of Animal Advocacy and Legal Affairs at the Montreal SPCA.

“This review represents a vital opportunity for our provincial government to ban the practice in Quebec without further delay.”

THE DEAL WITH DECLAWING

At first glance, declawing a cat's "murder mittens" might seem as simple as removing its nails.

But Yaksich says it's much more complicated than that.

"It's actually an amputation of the last bone on their hands, and the tendon is amputated as well," she explained.

This forces cats to redistribute their weight onto a different bone in their paws, which can lead to infections and back issues.

In other words, it might feel like cutting your toes off at the knuckle and then walking around in pointe shoes all day.

"The problem is, you can't really treat that, aside from putting them on pain medication for the rest of their life," said Yaksich, adding that symptoms often get worse over time.

And this chronic pain can lead to aggression issues and increased stress levels, even causing litterbox issues.

According to Yaksich, cats may be more likely to be relinquished to animal shelters as a result.

The petition also calls for the eradication of numerous other "non-therapeutic" surgeries for companion animals, such as tail docking and ear cropping for cosmetic purposes.

These practices consist of trimming an animal's tail or ears to meet breed standards.

While less common, non-essential devocalization was also included in the petition, which refers to the removal of a dog's vocal cords to inhibit barking.

A MISUNDERSTOOD PRACTICE

In Yaksich's view, horror stories of declawed cats aren't always linked to neglectful owners. Oftentimes, well-meaning cat parents are unaware of the procedure's dangers.

"We really want to avoid shaming anybody, that's not what this is about. A lot of people just simply don't know," she said. "So I think the most important tool is education."

This sentiment was echoed in a statement from Francis Rousseau, president of Quebec's association for animal health technicians (ATSAQ), one of the group's in support of Yaksich's mission.

"After so many years of raising people's awareness about the consequences of these surgeries and educating them about better alternatives, I am convinced the population is ready to officially choose to cease this old practice for good," he said.

Beyond signing the petition, Yaksich says those who want to ban the practice should write to their local MNAs to help widen its reach.

In a statement to CTV News, the province said it is, in fact, looking at creating such a ban.

It already urges people not to declaw cats, though doesn't legally stop them, said Marie-Noëlle Charlebois, a spokesperson for the ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food.

"The Ministry recommends, like the Order of Veterinary Doctors of Quebec, the use of alternative solutions to cosmetic surgery," she wrote.

"For example, regular claw trimming and the use of a scratching post are alternatives to declawing."

The department is in the process of drafting a new bill to regulate "welfare standards for companion animals," she said, which could include a declawing ban.

"A qualified team of veterinarians is currently carrying out this work, which includes consideration of whether or not to prohibit certain surgical procedures by regulation."

She said the public will have the opportunity to give feedback when the draft law is published in the province's official gazette.