Alternatives to Declawing
We get calls almost every day about declawing in cats, so we thought it would be a good topic to delve into with our readers. As of early 2019, we are no longer performing this surgical procedure at our animal hospital.
Declawing is a surgical procedure where the first toenail and bone of each finger is removed from each digit. Similar to amputating up to the first joint on your own finger. The most common reason for this procedure would be to reduce scratching of people and objects in the house. People who are immunocompromised (do not have a functioning immune system) may need the procedure performed on their cat to reduce the chances of their own illness from a cat scratch. Over time there is been a great shift towards not declawing cats, because of the pain and discomfort involved with the surgery. Many countries in Europe have also banned the practice, unless it is for Veterinary medical reasons, or for the benefit of the animal.
This is not a procedure to undergo lightly. It is performed under general anesthesia with sufficient pain management needed throughout the recovery period. Overall, it can take days to weeks for the feet to heal and allow the cat to perform normal behaviours such as kneading and scratching comfortably. They also need to be kept on a dust-free litter until the surgical sites are healed.
Cats have scent glands in their paws, and subsequently, scratching items is a normal behaviour, leaving behind chemical proof for all to “see”. When cats are outdoors, it is easy to scratch a tree, marking it with the “kitty was here” stamp. The most common areas for scratching in the house tend to be items which are very visible, in rooms where the family spends a lot of time. In order to make an appropriate decision on whether or not to declaw your cat, you must be aware of all the available options. Some alternatives to declawing include: training your cat to love their scratching post, soft paws, and of course frequent nail trims.
How to Train Your Cat to Love their Scratching Post
Train your cat to scratch in more appropriate locations by making your furniture less convenient, and making their scratching post more fun. First thing, you must find out what your cat likes to scratch best. There are many types of scratching posts available, some your cat will like, some they won’t. Some cats prefer carpet, some cardboard, sisal rope, or even fake leather (if your cat likes the real leather couches, this may be your best bet!).
Location, location, location. The cats “I was here” stamp will have the most impact if it is in a high traffic area. The scratching post needs to be in a place the cat likes to be, ideally in the most used room of the house. Think of the most common locations you see your cat spending time, then ensure the scratching post is out in the open in that room. If it is hidden behind a couch or chair, it won’t likely be an attractive spot for the cat. Long term, you will be able to slowly move this to a more inconspicuous location little by little.
Making the scratching post seem more attractive by adding catnip or toys near or on the post will help attract your cat to the area more often. When your cat uses the post, give them a treat to reinforce the behaviour. You can use a technique called clicker training to help consistently reinforce using the scratching post. Use the click with the correct behaviour paired with a treat each time, and your cat will be more likely to keep using the post in the future!
Make the old spots less attractive, cover them in plastic, contact paper, or aluminum foil to prevent the cat from using that area initially. With time, they will learn it is better to use areas where you get a treat, than the tin foil covered couch. Just be aware of your cats behaviour with these coverings, there have been cats known to like to eat plastic or tinfoil!
A very useful product, soft paws are soft nail caps which are glued onto the nail. Thus, if your cat scratches an object, it is much less likely to damage the furniture. The nails first need to be cut, then glued on with the glue provided in the package. They need to be replaced every 4-8 weeks as they will fall off as the nails grow. I once took a rescue cat to my house to see if she was a good fit with our family. A perfect cat in every way, but she loved to scratch our faux leather ottoman. This is the product which I used on her, and I absolutely adored how well the soft paws worked. No more tears in the ottoman for us!
And most important of all, ensure to have your cat’s nails trimmed every 2-4 weeks. One of the other important reasons for scratching is to sharpen those nails. Keeping them trimmed short reduces that physical need for scratching, and reduces the likelihood they will cause damage.
If you ever have questions about your pet, please give your veterinarian a call!
Dr Kim Quinn
- Dr. Sophia Yin. 2011. “June is Adopt a Cat Month: Training Your New Cat to Stop Scratching Furniture” (http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/june-is-adopt-a-cat-month-training-your-new-cat-not-to-scratch-furniture)
- Dr. Horwitz, Dr. Landsberg. 2013. “Cat Behaviour Problems- Scratching Behaviour and Declawing.” (https://www.lifelearn-cliented.com/page.php?id=19&rid=205)