Some pet owners believe that declawing their cat is a harmless solution for unwanted scratching—but this could not be further from the truth. Declawing can not only cause your cat long-term pain and lasting health problems, but also can lead to new behavioral problems. For example, some declawed cats are less likely to use the litter box and more likely to act aggressively. Fortunately, many humane and effective alternatives to declawing are available. Our team at Wales Animal Clinic shares tips to help curb your cat’s inappropriate scratching without harming your favorite feline friend. 

Declawing a cat is more than a nail trim

The American Association of Feline Practitioners strongly opposes declawing as an elective procedure. Until recently, declawing was viewed as a simple surgery that removed a cat’s nails, similar to a nail trim. However, declawing surgery is more an amputation than a nail trim. Declawing involves removing the last bone of each toe—for a person, that would be the same as cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. You can prevent your cat from scratching furniture without subjecting them to this painful surgery. 

Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is a natural and beneficial feline behavior, so you should not attempt to eliminate scratching entirely, but rather to redirect the activity to more appropriate places. Scratching objects in their environment is normal for cats for many reasons:

  • Grooming — Cats’ nails shed their outermost nail layer frequently, and scratching removes this dead outer layer and keeps their nails sharp for climbing and grasping.
  • Marking territory — Cats scratch to mark their territory, both visibly, with claw marks, and invisibly, by leaving the scent from the glands on their foot pads.
  • Stretching — Cats stretch their muscles when they rise on their hind feet, arch their back, extend their legs, and extrude their claws, extending their spine to maintain flexibility.
  • Relieving stress — Scratching can relieve a cat’s stress when they feel anxious, excited, or need to release excess energy. 

For all these reasons, redirecting your cat’s inappropriate scratching and maintaining a balance that keeps your pet comfortable and your furniture intact is possible. 

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed

Regular nail trimming can reduce your cat’s scratching frequency and intensity. Trimming will likely require practice, and perhaps a demonstration by your veterinarian, but if you can master this skill and keep your cat’s claws short, they’re less likely to do damage. 

  • Use feline nail trimmers — Use small cat-specific trimmers for better control, and to avoid splintering the nail. 
  • Find a calm environment — Help reduce your cat’s stress by trimming their nails in a calm, quiet place with no distractions. 
  • Start slowly —  When you are learning to trim your cat’s nails, start with only one or two nails.
  • Use positive reinforcement — Make nail trimming a positive experience for your cat by rewarding them with a high-value treat and praise. 

Provide your cat with a variety of scratching posts

If you don’t want your cat scratching your furniture and drapes, you need to provide enticing alternatives, such as scratching posts with different textures and configurations. Most cats prefer to scratch vertically, so provide scratching posts that are taller than their body length. Strategically place the scratching posts where your cat frequents, such as near their food and water bowls, litter box, and favorite resting places, which will encourage their use. 

Use an attractant like Feliscratch to encourage appropriate scratching

Feliscratch is a synthetic derivative of the pheromone that cats release naturally from between their toes when they scratch, so applying the product can entice your cat to scratch appropriate surfaces. 

Ensure your cat has environmental enrichment

A bored cat is far more likely to engage in inappropriate scratching, so ensure you provide adequate mental and physical stimulation, socialization, and affection. Introduce food puzzles, and foraging and motion-activated toys to activate their prey drive. Most importantly, spend some quality time with your cat every day. 

If your cat is a scratch-a-holic, and you need support to deter their inappropriate scratching, contact our Wales Animal Clinic for recommendations on humane alternatives to declawing.