6 Cat-Friendly Alternatives To Declawing

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Fed up with your cat scratching the furniture, or leaving holes in the carpet? Maybe they’re using your legs as a scratching post? We get it. Scratching can be a frustrating problem in cats. You might even be wondering whether declawing could be the answer.

But the truth is, cats need their claws and declawing is a serious surgical procedure that can lead to ongoing pain and significant behavioral problems. Many cat experts consider declawing to be an unnecessary and unethical procedure. In fact, declawing is banned in many countries.

As a cat owner, it is important to understand what actually happens during declawing, and how it could affect your cat long term.  But we also know how frustrating scratching behavior can be to manage!

So, we have compiled a list of alternatives to declawing – because we believe that cats need their claws.

What Is Declawing In Cats?

Declawing in cats (technically called “onychectomy”) is not simply removing your cat’s nails.

Declawing in cats (technically called “onychectomy”) is not simply removing your cat’s nails.

Performed under general anesthetic, declawing actually involves surgically amputating the last joint of each toe. This is the equivalent of removing the end of each of your fingers and toes at the level of your top knuckle.

Recovery from the procedure can be lengthy, and some cats go on to experience lifelong pain. The procedure is also associated with significant behavioral problems, such as aggression and biting.

What Are The Problems With Declawing In Cats?

Declawing Causes Pain

Close up of a kitten's paw with a human finger for contrast

Removing the end of the toe also changes how their paw hits the ground when they walk.

Declawing cats is painful. Whilst cats receive pain relief during and after the surgery, most cats will still be uncomfortable. Up to 50% of cats experience complications such as pain, lameness, infections and behavior changes. Some cats also go on to suffer from chronic pain as a result of declawing. This can be due to complications (such as bony fragments left behind) or arthritis that commonly develops in the amputated joints.

Removing the end of the toe also changes how their paw hits the ground when they walk. This permanently alters their gait, and means pressure is distributed in places of the foot that it shouldn’t be. Which, you guessed it, can lead to more pain.

Also Read: How Often To Trim Cat Nails: A Vet Explains

Declawing Can Lead To Behavior Problems

Grey Scottish Fold Cat with Paws in Foreground

People often to turn to declawing to reduce an undesirable behavior. But many don’t realize it can actually create more!

People often to turn to declawing to reduce an undesirable behavior. But many don’t realize it can actually create more!

As cats who have been declawed often live with chronic pain, they often show significant changes in their behavior. Cats who used to be friendly and sociable can become aggressive. This can lead to behaviors such as hissing and biting.

Also Read: How To Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture

Declawing Can Lead To Chronic Stress And Anxiety

Cats use their claws to express natural behaviors.

Cats use their claws to express natural behaviors. Scratching allows them to stretch their muscles, scent mark their territory and keep their claws in good condition. When they’re unable to express this natural behavior, they can become stressed.

Stress can lead to a range of problems from behavioral issues to health problems such as cystitis or overgrooming.

Also Read: Best Cat Grooming And Deshedding Gloves

Declawing Is An Unnecessary Procedure

In fact, many cat experts consider declawing to be unethical.

We all know that every anesthetic, and every surgical procedure, carries a risk. If the procedure is important for our cat’s health or welfare, that risk is often worth taking.

When the procedure can actually be detrimental to our cat’s health and welfare and has no benefits for them at all – such as with declawing – that risk is not worth taking. In fact, many cat experts consider declawing to be unethical.

Alternatives To Declawing

Once they understand what declawing involves, and the issues it can cause, most cat owners decide against declawing. But don’t worry, there are lots of alternatives that can help protect your furniture – without putting your cat through an unnecessary surgery.

1. Nail Caps

White cat paws with pink claw caps lternative to declawing cats

They aren’t permanent but can stay in place for weeks to months.

Nail caps (such as Soft Paws) are a great alternative to declawing. They are soft covers that are applied over the top of your cat’s claws using glue. They aren’t permanent but can stay in place for weeks to months. Nail caps help protect against damage from scratching whilst still allowing your cat to display their natural behaviors.

Also Read: Why Do Cats Chew On Their Nails

2. Trim Your Cat’s Nails

Trimming your cat’s nails regularly will reduce the damage they can cause in the house from scratching.

Trimming your cat’s nails regularly will reduce the damage they can cause in the house from scratching. Just make sure to only trim the ends, to avoid the blood vessel in the nail. If your cat is feisty to do at home, or you aren’t sure on the procedure, a groomer or veterinarian will be happy to help!

Also Read: The 5 Best Cat Scratch Deterrents

3. Provide Attractive Scratching Areas

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, and as cat owners it is important we provide them with the opportunity to scratch.

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats, and as cat owners it is important we provide them with the opportunity to scratch. But, of course, we’d rather this wasn’t on our brand new sofa!

Instead, we can provide plenty of attractive and appropriate scratching surfaces to redirect them from the sofa to a scratching pad or post. Finding the right location is key. Keep an eye on where your cat likes to scratch and position your scratching post next to the item you want them to stop scratching.

It can also help to offer a few different surfaces for them to try – corrugated cardboard, sisal rope and carpet are popular choices! Spray the area with a pheromone spray (such as Feliscratch) or catnip to help entice them.

Also Read: How To Stop Cats From Scratching Furniture

4. Training

Positive reinforcement always works better than telling cats off.

Positive reinforcement always works better than telling cats off. Every time your cat using the designated scratching area, give them plenty of positive reinforcement with praise and treats. If you do see them scratching somewhere you don’t want, calmly move them back to their scratching pad or post.

Also Read: Can You Discipline A Cat?

5. Ensure Your Cat’s Needs Are Being Met

Whilst scratching is a natural behavior for cats, destructive scratching is most likely to occur if their needs are not being met.

Whilst scratching is a natural behavior for cats, destructive scratching is most likely to occur if their needs are not being met. Making sure they have appropriate environmental enrichment (particularly if they are kept indoors) helps to reduce boredom and encourage exercise. All of which helps to reduce undesirable scratching.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Scratch and Dig Around His Food?

6. Seek Help From A Behaviorist

If you have tried alternatives to declawing and are still struggling with destructive scratching behavior in your cat, it might be time to seek help from a cat behaviorist. They will assess your cat’s temperament and environment and give you the support you need to tackle the problem gently.

Conclusion

Declawing is a surgical procedure that can result in lifelong pain or behavior problems for cats.

Declawing is a surgical procedure that can result in lifelong pain or behavior problems for cats. Thankfully there are lots of good alternatives to declawing that can help reduce destructive scratching (and preserve your furniture!) without resorting to a painful surgical procedure.

Also Read: How To Keep Your Cat From Jumping After Surgery

Frequently Asked Questions

Can declawing be done humanely?

Declawing in cats is a controversial topic. When carried out properly, by a qualified veterinarian, it is performed under anesthetic with pain relief during and after the procedure. However, even when performed correctly it has been associated with chronic pain and behavioral issues such as aggression.

Many cat experts consider the procedure inhumane and unethical, and it is actually banned in many parts of the world. Thankfully there are lots of good alternatives to declawing which are much more humane.

Is it considered cruel to declaw a cat?

Removing a cat's claws prevents them from performing the natural behavior of scratching. The ability to perform natural behaviors is vital to our pet's health and well-being. Declawing can also cause long term pain and behavioral changes in cats, and therefore many cat experts consider it to be a cruel and unnecessary procedure.

The good news is that there are many effective declawing alternatives that are much safer, and still allow our cats to exhibit their natural behaviors.

Are there different ways to declaw a cat?

There are several methods of declawing cats. It must always be carried out by a veterinarian, under general anesthetic. The procedure involves using a scalpel, a laser or a nail trimmer (known as the guillotine method) to amputate the third digit of each toe at either between the joint, or by cutting through the bone. This is the equivalent of removing the end of each of your fingers and toes at the level of your top knuckle.

Most cat experts consider declawing to be unnecessary and unethical, and is banned in many parts of the world. Thankfully, there are lots of safe alternatives to declawing in cats.

Is it OK to declaw an indoor cat?

Declawing cats is considered unethical and unnecessary by most cat experts, and it is banned in many parts of the world. This is because the procedure can cause long term pain and behavioral issues in our cats, such as aggression. Thankfully, there are lots of safe alternatives to declawing in cats that can help reduce undesirable clawing without causing long term issues.

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About Dr. Nat Scroggie MRCVS

Nat is a keen runner and has a passion for wellbeing, both within and outside the veterinary profession where she works hard to support others in their own wellbeing. She lives in Nottingham with her partner, their young baby and their beloved 14 year old lab x collie, Milly.

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