Scratching is a necessary and beneficial behavior for cats—but, when your new leather sofa becomes their designated scratching post, stopping this natural feline pastime can be a challenge. Through the years, frustrated cat owners have resorted to declaw surgery to resolve their cat’s shredding sprees, but this procedure is not without its own consequences, and can lead to a lifetime of pain, stress, and behavior disorders.

Reaching beyond the feline declaw

Fortunately, our understanding of feline behavior and medicine has improved, and we now know better—and more humane—ways to help cats satisfy their natural desires, without wrecking their homes or the cat-owner relationship.

WesVet Animal Hospital strongly encourages cat owners to schedule an appointment to discuss their cat’s inappropriate behavior, and to try the following possible solutions before considering a declaw procedure.

A closer look at the feline declaw

Owners generally believe the declaw is as simple as it sounds—a removal of the claws or nails. However, the cat’s toenail is uniquely structured, with a retractable nature that means the nail can be ensheathed in the digit, requiring removal of not only the nail, but also the bone.

Therefore, the declaw is technically an amputation of the nail and the third phalanx (P3), which is the equivalent of removing your finger at the last joint. Surgical complications can occur if the amputation is incomplete, or a P2 portion is removed. Inflammation and infection are common, and can lead to debilitating arthritis, behavior problems, and chronic nerve pain. 

Why cats need to scratch

Scratching is a purposeful behavior that satisfies several cat needs, including:

  • Nail maintenance — Cat nails shed their outermost nail layer often, using rough surfaces to speed removal and keep nail tips sharp for climbing and grasping.
  • Stretching — Vertical stretching allows a cat to extend their spine and maintain flexibility.
  • Territory marking and communication — Cat paws have scent glands that leave chemical messages for other cats when they scratch. Discarded nail sheaths are considered to send a confident statement to other felines in the area. 
  • Stress relief — Cats may resort to scratching if emotional or physical needs, such as social attention or physical activity, are not satisfied.

Declaw alternatives for cats

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) strongly opposes the feline declaw procedure and recommends cat owners try safer, more appropriate solutions for redirecting scratching behavior, including:

  • Trimming your cat’s nails regularly — Frequent nail maintenance can keep claws short, so they’re less likely to damage belongings or skin. If you’re learning how to trim your cat’s nails, start with only one or two nails at a time, and use small cat trimmers for better control. For additional help, call us, or check out this helpful online resource.
  • Try cat nail caps — If your cat is the cooperative type, they may be a candidate for nail caps. These small, flexible plastic covers fit over the nail and are affixed with adhesive. Nail caps prevent painful and destructive scratching, but must be replaced every few weeks, because they are designed to fall off as the nail grows.
  • Provide appropriate scratching areas — Give your cat plenty of scratch-friendly zones, so they can satisfy their instincts without sacrificing your decor. Most cats prefer vertical scratching posts, but senior felines may feel more comfortable using a ramp or mat. Scratching objects come in a variety of textures, including sisal rope, carpet, and cardboard, and you may need to try different options, to find your cat’s preference. 

Ensure you have at least one scratching post per cat to prevent stress and competition. Posts should be tall and stable enough for your cat to have a good stretch without the post tipping or wobbling. Place scratching stations near where your cat is inappropriately scratching, as well as near their litter box, play area, or favorite nap spot.

  • Use feline pheromones to start a new conversation — Send your own cat-friendly messages with synthetic feline pheromones, such as Feliway. Pheromones trigger happy and calm responses, and reduce stress and anxiety, thereby decreasing many unwanted cat behaviors. Apply Feliway spray to the area or object where your cat scratches inappropriately, or use a room diffuser to send a consistent message.
  • Use a cat attractant to increase scratching-post appeal Feliscratch by Feliway is an exciting product that safely and effectively uses territory messages telling your cat where to scratch. Feliscratch must be applied to the desired scratching object consistently for one month to establish correct habits.

  • Engage your cat’s curiosity with enrichment — Bored cats are mischievous cats, so ensure your cat gets enough affection and exercise. Try introducing food puzzles, foraging toys, and motion-activated toys that activate your cat’s prey drive. Spend dedicated time with your cat every day, to help them feel safe, secure, and satisfied.

Scratching is an ingrained behavior that never completely goes away—declawed cats will continue to go through the motions of scratching. However, this sometimes destructive behavior can be successfully redirected and managed with a combination of non-invasive, cat-friendly methods.

If you have questions or concerns about your cat’s behavior, we want to help—contact the team at WesVet Animal Hospital.