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7 Alternatives to Declawing

Declawing cats has been a controversial topic for quite some time. More recently, a large push to end this practice has been brought forward by many veterinary organizations, including the American Association of Feline Practitioners. We have decided to side with these organizations by no longer offering onychectomy surgery services at City Way Animal Clinics. We believe in putting the needs and health of your pet first.

What is onychectomy surgery or declawing?

Declawing is a surgical amputation of the last toe bone. The human equivalent to losing the tip of your finger from the last knuckle bone. We have a great, in-depth article Dr. VanDeLeest wrote last year – Check it out! Declawing may result in permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications. Paw Project has more information on the permanent damages declawing can cause.

Why do people choose to declaw their cats?

Some of the common reasons people get their cats declawed can easily be remedied with training, adjustments to the cat’s environment, or regular trimming of your cat’s nails. Common reasons people choose to declaw:

To protect furniture and belongings from scratching damage
– When properly trained, cats can learn not to scratch items such as furniture or parts of the house. Providing ample environmental resources, like scratching surfaces, makes this less likely to be an issue.

To protect young children or elderly family members from cat scratches
– Knowing how to properly handle a cat, avoiding rough play, and trimming the cats’ nails regularly can prevent most cat scratches to humans. Children should be taught to treat the cat with respect and to use an interactive toy to play with the cat.

To protect other cats in the house that have already been declawed
– Existing declawed cats are not at a major disadvantage in the presence of clawed cats. Addressing any resource management or inter-cat issues as they arise is the best way to maintain harmony. Fights between cats should always be of concern, regardless of whether cats are declawed.

Why do cats scratch?

Scratching is a natural behavior that serves several purposes for your cat. Cats scratch to remove the dead outer layers of their claws; leave their scent and mark their territory; relieve stress and express other emotions; or to stretch their bodies and feet. It’s important to remember that if you don’t give your cat appropriate scratching surfaces, they’re likely to find a few inappropriate surfaces to scratch like furniture, drapes, carpets, and anything else they can get their claws into.

It’s important to be proactive in teaching your cat to scratch in the places you want them to, so scratching in places you don’t want them to doesn’t ruin your home or your relationship with your cat.

So, what can you do to stop your cat from scratching?

Block access to surfaces you don’t want your cat scratching (temporarily, at least.)

By making the surface your cat likes to scratch unattractive, your cat should stop scratching that surface. Double-sided tape, Sticky Paws, or aluminum foil are all popular choices to deter cats from scratching inappropriate items. Citrus is another great deterrent – fill a spray bottle with water and lemon juice then spray items that are off limits a couple times a day (be sure to spray a small test area for staining first). Draping larger furniture items with plastic sheeting or thick blankets can also help discourage scratching.

While all of these deterrents are great temporary solutions, you should provide your cat with acceptable scratching alternatives.

Provide multiple areas for appropriate scratching with different textures and surface types.

Pay attention to when, where, and what types of materials your cat tends to scratch—it will give you important information about his or her preferences.

  • Are there certain parts of the house where your cat likes to spend time or does most of their scratching? These are areas where scratching materials should be placed! Place an appropriate scratching surface next to the surface you don’t want your cat scratching as an alternative. If you have more than one cat, provide at least one scratching post or pad for each.
  • Corrugated cardboard, sisal, and wood are great scratching materials.
  • Every cat is different, some prefer to scratch vertically, horizontally, at an angle, or a combination of all three. When choosing a scratching post, make sure it is tall enough for your cat to stretch to their full height (at least 28-36 inches). Also ensure that it has a wide, heavy base so it won’t tip over when your cat tries to scratch. If the post wobbles or falls over when your cat uses it, your cat will likely seek out a more stable option… and it probably won’t be an option you approve of!

Use an attractant like Feliscratch or Catnip.

Many cats go nuts for catnip, so use that to your advantage! Sprinkle dried catnip or spray catnip oil on your cat’s scratching posts and pads. Another great option is Feliscratch, a synthetic derivative of the pheromone that cats release naturally from between their toes when they scratch. It can be applied to surfaces you want your cat to scratch and has been scientifically shown to increase the chances of them doing so.

Provide appropriate training through positive reinforcement.

Give your cat praise, pets, and treats when you see them scratching their posts and pads. Cats (and dogs) learn best from positive reinforcement. What if you catch your cat scratching surfaces they shouldn’t be? Don’t yell, scream, swat, or squirt them with water – that may only scare, scar, and ruin your relationship with your cat. Instead, calmly move them from the undesirable location and put them by or on the surface you want them scratching. Once they start scratching there, praise and reward them.

Regular nail trims or nail caps

Regularly trimming your cat’s nails can prevent injury and damage to household items or family members. How often you trim your cat’s nails depends on your cat’s lifestyle. Indoor cats, kittens, and older cats will need more regular nail trims, whereas outdoor cats may naturally wear down their nails requiring less frequent trimming. If possible, start trimming as kittens so they become comfortable with the process early on.

If you or your cat are new to nail trims, start slow and offer breaks. Trim nails in a calm environment and provide positive reinforcement. You should use trimmers specifically made for felines to prevent splintering the claws. If you’d rather not tackle the task yourself, our team would be happy to help or give Furr: Pet Spa’s cat groomer a call!

Nail caps or claw covers, such as Soft Paws, can be a great and immediate way to protect your surfaces while you’re working with your cat to redirect any undesirable scratching behavior. The nail caps can be applied by you, your veterinarian, or a cat groomer, just place adhesive inside the nail cap and slide it on. The caps and glue are nontoxic to cats and come off naturally as your cat’s nails grow. Once your cat is exhibiting normal scratching behavior on the proper surfaces, you can stop using nail caps.

Provide environmental enrichment to alleviate boredom.

Destructive scratching can occur in cats because their needs have not been fully met. Cats need the proper resources to perform their natural behaviors and have control over their social interactions.

Your cat’s basic needs:
Food – predictable meal times and individual food bowls for each cat in your household
Water – clean, fresh water in a location that’s appealing to your cat
Litterbox – convenient, clean, and private
Safe place to sleep
Familiar territory – Face-rubbing and scratching surfaces leaves your cat’s scent, and marks the territory with a personal touch

Consult with an animal behaviorist!

If you’ve tried all of the above without success, you may want to consider hiring an animal behaviorist. Behaviorists can assess your cat’s history, temperament, environment, and reaction to various situations to help understand what is needed to manage or correct your cat’s behavior. Check out one of these great resources to find a behaviorist near you: International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants,
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, or American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

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