Alternatives to Declawing Your Cat

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Oct. 24, 2016

Declawing is a misnomer. Yes, a correctly performed declaw surgery does remove a cat’s claws, but it doesn’t stop there. To prevent the claws from regrowing, the bony top of each digit (finger or toe) must also be amputated. It’s not too surprising then that declawing has fallen out of favor with many pet parents. And many cities and states have made declawing cats illegal.

But that doesn’t mean problems associated with cat claws have disappeared. Thankfully there are far better ways to deal with cat scratching than declawing.

The first thing we have to accept is that cats are going to scratch at things. It is a perfectly normal feline behavior. Our goal is not to stop the scratching but to direct it toward appropriate surfaces and to reduce the damage that might occur if a cat strays from those surfaces. Here are five alternatives to declawing that actually work.

1. Invest in Scratching Posts… Lots of Scratching Posts

Cats need to scratch, but they can be rather finicky about what they deem worthy of their attention. Some cats prefer scratching on carpet, others like the feel of corrugated cardboard, wood, or rope. Some cats want to scratch vertically and others favor horizontal surfaces. Buy several different types of scratching posts and scatter them around your home near the areas where your cat spends the most time scratching. As you get a feel for your cat’s preferences, you can switch entirely to the types of posts that are getting the most use.

Also, your cat should never have to make much of an effort to reach an appropriate surface on which to scratch. Keep a scratching post in every room where your cat spends significant amounts of time.

2. Keep Your Cat Away from the Old Favorites

Prevent access to the areas where your cat has been scratching inappropriately. Keep doors shut to these rooms whenever possible. Two baby gates stacked on top of each other can do the trick in a pinch. Electronic pads that deliver a harmless zap when stepped on (e.g., ScatMat) are another good option. Place the pad directly in front of the problem area so your cat can no longer stand or sit where he usually does to scratch. You can also make the old scratching surfaces unattractive to your cat. For example, cover the corner of your sofa with double sided tape or aluminum foil.

3. Trim Your Cat’s Nails

Learn how to trim your cat’s nails, and do so at least once a week. Using a nail trimmer with sharp blades will make the process more comfortable for your cat. Make sure you praise and reward her when she cooperates. When you bring home a new kitten, start trimming nails immediately so the process becomes routine.

4. Use Nail Covers

Rubbery nail covers (e.g., Soft Paws) can be a good option for some cats. You can either learn how to apply them yourself (you do have to trim the cat's nails before every application) or make an appointment with your veterinarian. Nail covers generally last between four and six weeks before they have to be replaced.

5. Train Your Cat

If you catch your cat in the act of scratching somewhere he shouldn’t, you can loudly tell him “no” or make another startling sound to stop the behavior, but do not physically reprimand him in any way. Positive reinforcement is always better than punishment, so when you observe your cat scratching on his post, don’t miss the opportunity to praise him or give him a little treat for doing the right thing.


How to Trim Cat Nails

How to Keep a Cat from Scratching the Furniture

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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