Should I declaw my cat or kitten?

Read on to learn all about the topic!

In the past many people have chosen to declaw indoor cats in order to protect their couches, carpets, and curtains. While declawing may be a quick fix to prevent your cat from tearing up your house, there can be serious medical and behavioral side effects, and many humane alternatives are available to help you and your cat peacefully coexist. 

During a declaw procedure, called onchyectomy, the very tip of your cat's toes will be completely removed, equivalent to removing the tip of your finger up to the first knuckle. Ouch! 

 
Thanks to The Paw Project for this image!

Thanks to The Paw Project for this image!

 

 

Along with the pain of the actual declaw procedure, recent research has shown us that the medical and behavioral effects of declawing cats can be quite serious. Check out this study to learn about the incidence of pain and aggression in declawed cats

So what can be done instead? Listen to this quick podcast with Dr. Bonnie Beaver and keep reading to learn about humane alternatives to declawing. 

Scratching is a natural feline behavior! It is part of what makes your cat who they are and it serves many purposes including claw conditioning, scent and visual marking, and body stretching. So how can you allow your cat to practice this normal behavior while sparing your beautiful new couch?

1. Provide appropriate scratching posts for your cats. These should be tall enough for your cat to completely stretch out their body and can be vertical or horizontal, depending on your cat's preference. The material should be soft enough for your cat to sink their claws into such as wood, cardboard, fabric, scrap carpet, or rope. You also need to ensure that the posts are secured properly so that they do not move when your cat attempts to use them.  You can easily make DIY scratching posts by attaching rope around a post or stapling carpet scraps to a wooden shelf. You should have multiple scratching areas throughout the house so that your cat never feels the need to scratch something off limits. A good rule is one in each room and at least one more than the number of cats you have. 

 
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When my cats wanted to try out my couch as a scratching post, I quickly added these two alternatives. While these scratching posts are not ideal (not very secure and not tall enough to allow them to stretch their entire bodies) they provided an alternative that my cats found acceptable. Eventually I was able to move these to other areas of the house that were less in the way and the couch scratching behavior has not returned. 

 

2. Entice your cat to use your preferred scratching posts by placing catnip on them. You can also use a Feliway pheromone diffuser in rooms of your house where you want to discourage scratching. This may decrease your cat's desire to scent mark the area by scratching. 

3. Place sticky adhesive strips or tin foil on the areas that you want to prevent your cat from scratching. This will make scratching the area unappealing and deter her from doing it. Place an appropriate scratching post nearby so that your cat has a safe and enjoyable alternative. 

4. Trim your cat's nails every 1-2 weeks. It is best to help your kitten learn that having her feet touched and squeezed is nothing to be afraid of by pairing toe handling with tasty treats or tuna juice. The process of helping your cat learn to allow a nail trim can take longer for adult cats. Click here to learn more about the process

5. Train your cat to "come" or "touch" so that you can call her away from the couch or curtains if you see her thinking about scratching. Using positive reinforcement (rewarding her with attention, treats, play for desirable behaviors) will help you keep her away from furniture while you are supervising her. You should avoid yelling "NO" or spraying her with a water bottle. This will hurt the bond you share with your cat and instead of telling her what she should do, it only teaches her to fear you.

6. Block visual access to windows that might be causing your cat to become too excited or upset. Using a non-adhesive window cling will do the trick. Instead set-up a window with a scratching post in the sill and a less stimulating view. For example, place window cling on the window to the front yard (where neighbor cats might walk by regularly) and set up a scratching and lounging area by a window viewing the back yard.  You can set up a bird feeder in view from the window if this does not cause your cat to become overly excited. 

7. Use nail caps. These can be placed on your cats nails and last for several weeks. They prevent your cat from damaging your home even if she continues to scratch with the addition of the above techniques. 

8. Set up a kitty sanctuary room with only furniture and decorations that you don't care as much about. If your cat does scratch anything in this room, it shouldn't matter. This sanctuary room should have food and water (separate from one another and both very distant from the litter box), toys, at least one litter box, multiple resting spaces and vertical perches, and of course several vertical and horizontal scratching posts/boards. Keep your cat in this room unless she is directly supervised. 

If you have tried all of these options and still have concerns, please contact me and we will come up with a humane and practical solution for you and your cat!