Onychectomy, or elective declawing, is the amputation of the claw and bone at the last knuckle on a cat’s paw. Recent research has linked this procedure to chronic pain and unwanted behaviors (such as urination outside the litter box & biting) in cats. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association no longer recommend declawing, instead promoting humane alternatives. The CDC also does not recommend the declawing of cats, even in homes with immunocompromised individuals. For these reasons, South Austin Cat Hospital does not perform elective declawing.
Scratching is a normal behavior that cats engage in to maintain the health of their claws, stretch their muscles, and leave both visual and scent markers behind. While scratching behavior cannot be completely eliminated, most cats can be trained to use appropriate scratching surfaces. At South Austin Cat Hospital, we will help you find an alternative to declawing that works for your cat.
To prevent your cat from scratching your furniture you must provide your cat with appropriate alternative scratching surfaces. The following tips will help you identify the best scratching post for your cat and ensure she uses it instead of your furniture!
- Pay attention to whether your cat prefers vertical or horizontal scratching surfaces. If your cat likes to reach up to scratch the side of the couch, then a sturdy vertical scratching post is best. Be sure to choose one that will not tip over and is tall enough for your cat to stretch completely. Conversely, if your cat digs at the carpet, look for a horizontal scratcher that lays flat on the floor.
- Find scratching posts made of the right material. Scratching posts come in a wide variety of materials, including cardboard, carpet, sisal rope, and wood. Some cats have strong preferences for certain materials. We generally recommend trying out a variety of scratching posts until you have determined your cat’s preferences.
- Position the scratching posts appropriately. To prevent your cat from scratching your furniture, you will need to provide an appropriate scratching surface near any piece of furniture you would like to protect. Remember that one of the reasons cats scratch is to mark their territory, so there must be appropriate scratching surfaces in socially significant areas of your home.
- For every “no” surface, provide a “yes” surface. This will likely mean you will need more than one scratching post!
- Entice your cat to use the scratching post. Applying catnip to appropriate scratching surfaces can make them more attractive to your cat and help redirect your cat away from your furniture.
- Reward your cat when she scratches appropriate surfaces. Giving your cat treats, praise, and love when she scratches on the right objects in your home will help her learn through positive reinforcement where to scratch.
Protecting Your Furniture
Now that your home is equipped with appropriate alternative scratching surfaces, it is time to teach your cat to avoid clawing the furniture! NEVER yell at, hit, or spray water at your cat if she makes a mistake! These forms of punishment are NOT effective ways to teach your cat not to claw the furniture, and only serve to damage your relationship with your cat. Instead, cats need a consistent message that the furniture is not desirable to scratch on. Try these alternatives:
- Double sided sticky tape. Cover several cardboard pieces with double sided sticky tape, and then place the tape covered cardboard sticky side up on the surface you want to protect. Because cats hate the way the sticky tape feels on their paws, they will learn quickly that the protected furniture is not a good surface to scratch. You can easily remove the cardboard when the furniture is in use, when guests are expected, or once your cat is fully trained.
- Aluminum Foil. Placing aluminum foil on surfaces you would like to protect works similarly to double sided sticky tape.
- Feliway Spray. Because one of the reasons cats scratch is to leave their scent behind, spraying furniture with Feliway Spray can indicate to the cat that the furniture is already marked as theirs, eliminating the need to mark it again. Furniture must be sprayed at least once daily to refresh the scent. Always test the spray on an unseen portion of the furniture to ensure the spray does not cause any discoloration.
Regular nail trimming can help keep your cat’s claws healthy and reduce the amount of damage done if your cat does scratch something she shouldn’t. A good pair of nail clippers can be purchased inexpensively through most pet stores or on Amazon.com. At South Austin Cat Hospital, we offer free nail trim demonstrations at the time of any examination. We also offer inexpensive nail trims by technician appointment; please call us if you would like to schedule a nail trim for your cat!
Soft Paws are vinyl nail caps that can be applied to your cat’s claws to prevent damage from scratching. Most cats tolerate wearing Soft Paws very well. They are safe, easy to apply, and come in a variety of colors. Soft Paws can be purchased inexpensively at most pet stores or on Amazon.com. At South Austin Cat Hospital, we can also apply Soft Paws for you, for a small fee.
This downloadable brochure from the American Association of Feline Practitioners has more information about alternatives to declawing.
Jackson Galaxy provides more information about declawing.
The Paw Project is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that strives to increase public awareness about the harmful effects of elective declawing. You can view The Paw Project documentary and join the movement to make declawing cats illegal.