ALBANY, N.Y. — For many decades, declawing cats has been a routine veterinary procedure, but this is no simple pedicure. There’s anesthesia, pain medication and the amputation of the cat’s toes back to the first knuckle.

New York’s first-in-the-nation legislative proposal to ban the declawing of cats has sparked a heated debate among veterinarians and cat lovers alike, with some insisting it’s inhumane and others saying it should be allowed as a last resort for felines that won’t stop scratching furniture, carpets and their owners.

“None of us love the procedure,” said Richard Goldstein, a veterinarian at New York City’s Animal Medical Center and a former faculty member at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “But when the alternative is condemning the cat to a shelter or to death? That’s why we do it.”

The state and national veterinary organizations that say they oppose a ban on declawing do so because it’s often the only way for cats with behavioral problems to keep from being abandoned or euthanized, they say. Such medical decisions should be left to the professionals and cat owners, not lawmakers, they add.

The debate comes as Americans’ feelings about their four-legged friends continue to evolve. Another bill in New York’s Legislature would remove sales taxes on pet food, and lawmakers here voted last year to allow dogs to join their human companions on the patios of restaurants. Several states have now banned surgeries which remove a dog’s vocal cords. And all 50 states now have statutes making severe animal cruelty a felony.

“There’s a rising tide of social concern about animal welfare,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “We’ve proven that the American public is deeply concerned about the welfare of animals, the ones that live with them and the ones used for food production.”

Estimates are that about a quarter of all household cats will be declawed in their lifetimes – though some vets that spoke to the AP say it’s becoming less common.