Alternatives to Declawing your Cat
Occasionally we will have people ask us about declawing their cat when they come in for their first kitten wellness exams, before we get too far into that conversation, we like inform our clients what declawing is and offer alternatives instead. It is important to know what the procedure entails and why we would prefer a cat to not be declawed. There are many alternatives to declawing that people may not realize are available, as well as not knowing how painful the procedure itself may be.
First, we’d like to discus what it really means to declaw your cat. Unlike humans, where our nail sits on top of our finger and grows out of our cuticles, cat and dog nails are actually attached to their last finger or toe bone. So in order to remove the nail on a cat, we have to amputate the tip of each finger or toe. This would be basically the same as having the tip of our fingers amputated at our first knuckle, which would be pretty painful.
It’s also important to know that it is a natural and normal behavior for cats to scratch. Cat scratching helps a cat maintain the motions used in hunting and climbing, it grooms the claws shedding layers of the nail and leaving markers of the cat’s presence. Of course we don’t want all that presence being left on our furniture or other parts of our home, this is where many alternatives come into play.
Using scratching posts or pads allows cats to perform their normal scratching behaviors in a way that is not destructive to the home or furniture. There are many different types sold in pet stores to offer different styles and textures incase different cats have different preferences. Making sure the scratching areas are stable and tall enough for your cat to fully stretch and extend will help encourage their use, as well as having it in a prominent living area. Providing proper environmental enrichment can help prevent destructive scratching and helps teach them to scratch on appropriate objects.
Regularly trimming your cats nails can help prevent injury or damage to household items. This is easiest to get your cat accustomed to when they are a kitten. Handling your cats paws/nails when they are a kitten while they are laying on your lap or anywhere close by will get them familiar to touch on their paws, and extending their nails can get them accustomed to the motion used while trimming nails. Then when you are actually trimming nails, it’s nothing out of the ordinary for them. If you are unsure on how to trim nails, if you call your veterinarian, a technician would be happy to show and explain how to perform them.
Nail caps are another alternative, but don’t seem as popular as some. These caps are glued over the cats nails which creates a dull plastic covering. This covering prevents injury or damage to household items as well, but need to be replaced about every 4-6 weeks. They also come in many different colors! The unpopular part is just the difficulty of gluing a plastic claw over each individual cat claw. This is another instance where having a cat familiar with paw touching is helpful.
Going along with environmental enrichment somewhat, synthetic pheromones can also help. Cats naturally release a facial pheromone when they rub their cheek against an object. This pheromone helps mark things and lets them know that an object is safe and helps them feel more at ease. Some scratching may be related to stress, anxiety, attention seeking, or lack or perceived security in their environment. This anxiety may be intensified by punishment, in turn increasing the unwanted behavior in the same or other location. Synthetic pheromone sprays or diffusers mimic the cats natural pheromones that help decrease their anxiety or stress, helping them feel safe which may decrease destructive behaviors.
If your cat is still wanting to scratch after all these you can try using a double sided tape to deter them scratching on specific items or areas in a home. The cat will feel the stickiness each time they go to scratch in that spot and will learn not to touch that area. They have some designed specifically for cats scratching furniture available online and at pet stores. Placing toys or catnip in areas where you would prefer the scratching to happen can help encourage scratching area use and distract them from furniture or other household item destruction.
Hopefully these help you and your cat live a long happy life together. Having the knowledge about declawing and having the alternatives available help us keep our cats the way nature intended. We may even share a closer human animal bond with them, by fully enjoying them for all that they are. Not much makes us happier than strengthening that bond either. So keep calm and keep claws.