A woman kisses her cat before a medical examination in the Anclivepa-SP veterinarian hospital, financed by Sao Paulo's municipal government, which opened two months ago offering free health care for the pets of low-income residents, in Sao Paulo Aug. 22, 2012. Reuters

A New Jersey Assembly approved a bill Monday that could make it the first state to outlaw veterinarians from declawing cats. Animal activists said the procedure is just as painful for felines as someone cutting off the top part of their finger.

If the bill is eventually signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie, the much-maligned practice would be join a list of criminal animal cruelty offenses. Special health reasons like the removal of tumors or gangrene would be exempted under the proposed declawing law, according to a local report.

Nicole Feddersen, medical director for the Monmouth County Society for The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said that declawing is an "invasive surgery," which puts felines "at risk for pain and lameness. A cat still has urge to scratch but cannot." In most cases, the procedure is performed to prevent cats from clawing at and shredding household furniture.

Numerous other animal welfare activists oppose the practice, saying that cats experience personality changes after the surgery and discomfort using their litter boxes. More than 20 other countries in the world have already banned onychetomy — the medical term for declawing — due to it being considered animal cruelty.

"Declawing is a barbaric practice that more often than not is done for the sake of convenience rather than necessity," according to a statement issued after the hearing from Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton, who sponsored the bill. "Many countries worldwide acknowledge the inhumane nature of declawing, which causes extreme pain to cats. It's time for New Jersey to join them."

Veterinarians who are caught declawing a cat along with the people inquiring them to do so would face a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail, according to the bill. Perpetrators would also face a civil penalty of $500 to $2,000.

Republican Assemblyman Parker Space voted against the bill, citing that his own cat caused $600 worth of damage to his family’s home.

"It was either getting declawed or going back to the shelter (where it would likely be euthanized),” Space told local reporters.