Nova Scotia has become the first province in Canada to ban cat declawing, as a new Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association code of ethics goes into effect.

The vet association announced last December it would prohibit vets from removing cats’ claws as of March 15, 2018, following a three-month “education period” on the new rules.

Though vets in the province can no longer perform elective declawing, they can still remove claws that have become diseased or infected.

Last year, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association expressed its opposition to elective declawing, which it calls “non-therapeutic Partial Digital Amputation.”

It said the procedure causes unnecessary pain to animals, and runs the risk of infections of other surgical complications. It also said that scratching is a normal behaviour that lets cats mark their territory visually and with scent.

Many cat owners who declaw their cats do so to stop the cat from scratching people and furniture. But the CVMA says removing the portion of the cat’s paw bones that contain its claws interferes with the cat’s balance and causes unnecessary pain.

“The CVMA views non-therapeutic PDA as ethically unacceptable when performed without comprehensive client education including a thorough review of available alternatives, as the surgery has the potential to cause unnecessary and avoidable pain, and alternatives to PDA are available,” it said.

Veterinarians have always had the right to refuse to declaw cats, but only provincial veterinarian regulators can ban the practice.

With reports from The Canadian Press