During feline declawing surgery (i.e., onychectomy), a bone segment attached to your cat’s claw is severed from their toe. Cats’ claws are integrated into their toes, and removing them is the equivalent of cutting off a human’s fingers at the top knuckle—ouch! Cat declawing is illegal in many countries and in some U.S. cities and states, and many veterinary organizations, including the American Association of Feline Practitioners, endorse ending this surgery. Scratching is a cat’s natural and necessary behavior, and you can prevent your feline friend from tearing your furniture to shreds—while keeping their paws intact—by learning about our Premier Pet Hospital team’s five humane declawing alternatives.
Why your cat needs to scratch
Before giving your cat the cold shoulder for shredding your drapes to ribbons, consider why they need to scratch. Cats scratch by stropping—digging their front claws into a horizontal or vertical surface and dragging them downward. While this action can damage the item your cat is scratching, the behavior serves many important functions that support your feline friend’s health and wellbeing:
- Nail maintenance — Cats’ claws grow in layers, and scratching loosens and removes the outer layer to expose new growth. Scratching is a grooming behavior that keeps your cat’s nails sharp and at an optimal length.
- Stretching — Consider your cat’s scratching as their daily yoga practice. Cats stretch their muscles by rising on their hind feet, arching their back, extending their legs, and extruding their claws. Cats extend their spine and maintain flexibility through whole-body stretching.
- Communication — Scratching is a form of feline communication. The sweat glands on your cat’s paws produce a scented chemical message for other cats. Using their claws to mark their territory helps reassure your cat that they are in a safe area.
- Play — At times, your cat’s scratching is simply a bid for attention, and a sign that they want to play.
Cats’ scratching behavior is inherent. Onychectomy is a painful procedure whose end result interferes with your cat’s ability to perform an action that is necessary to their health and wellbeing. By following our team’s five humane declawing alternatives, you ensure your cat can continue to practice their instinctive behaviors.
#1: Provide your cat with suitable scratching posts
Redirect your cat’s scratching to a target more appropriate than your furniture by providing scratching surfaces that are more tempting and satisfying. Scratching posts come in a wide size range—from a basic single structure to an elaborate floor-to-ceiling unit that provides various scratching surfaces and includes multiple levels where your cat can play, exercise, and rest. Posts should be tall and stable enough to offer your cat a good stretch without tipping or wobbling. Scratching post surface materials are available in sisal, rope, carpet, cardboard, and wood. Introduce your cat to various materials, and determine the surfaces they like to scratch best. Place scratching posts near the item your cat is inappropriately scratching, and near their litter box, play area, or favorite napping spot.
#2: Fool your feline with cat-friendly pheromones
Another strategy to discourage your cat’s destructive behavior is to spray pheromones on the area or object your cat is inappropriately scratching. Feliway is a synthetic facial pheromone that cats use to mark their territory as being safe and secure. When your cat smells Feliway, they believe they have already safely marked the area or object, and do not need to mark the item again by scratching. By applying pheromones, you reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety, encouraging them to find a more appropriate place to scratch.
#3: Decrease damage by applying nail caps to your cat’s claws
Adhesive nail caps are a safe, nontoxic way to minimize the damage your cat’s sharp claws might inflict. These tiny plastic nail covers are inexpensive, can be applied at home, and remain on your cat’s nails for four to six weeks. Nail caps come in various colors, so you can get creative with your cat’s nails.
#4: Trim your cat’s talon-like nails
Trim your cat’s nails regularly to reduce their scratching frequency and intensity. Our veterinary team can advise you and demonstrate an effective nail-trimming technique, which you can master through practice and patience. However, if you remain hesitant about trimming your cat’s nails at home, you can always have one of our veterinary professionals perform the task.
#5: Keep your cat entertained with environmental enrichment
Essential to your cat’s wellbeing, physical and mental enrichment help deter problem behavior such as inappropriate scratching. Cats often scratch destructively because their needs have not been fully met. Encourage your cat to engage in instinctive behavior—such as hunting and stalking prey—by providing food puzzles, and foraging and motion-activated toys. In addition, stimulate your cat’s mind and inspire physical activity by ensuring they have the proper resources (e.g., scratching posts, climbing towers) to act on their natural behaviors.
Before scheduling a painful declawing surgery for your cat who inappropriately scratches your furniture and drapes, try our five declawing alternatives. However, if you continue to struggle to redirect your cat’s inappropriate scratching, contact our Premier Pet Hospital team so we can recommend other declawing alternatives.