Alternatives to Declawing Your Cat

When I first graduated as a veterinarian, declawing cats was still a very mainstream, common practice; However, in the last few years, a movement began in veterinary medicine to try and understand the animal’s behavior so we could provide them with healthy outlets for their energy and natural behaviors, instead of eliminating the instruments used to express them.

Simultaneously, the general public began to feel the same about the extreme procedures used to alter the way an animal looks, such as ear cropping and tail docking. Done in a healthy animal, these are purely cosmetic and, in my opinion, ethically irresponsible.

More and more veterinarians and caring pet owners are looking for safe, effective ways to avoid painful procedures.

Removing the claws of a cat is not a cosmetic procedure, but is a severe alteration which should not be taken lightly. It should never be the first response for a cat which scratches the carpet or furniture. Most clients who come to me with this request feel that they’ve taken all the prerequisite steps to keep their cat from scratching and have failed. They are often dismayed and feel guilty for asking me to perform this procedure.

The reality is that there are quite a few practices we need to employ simultaneously to try and give our cats an outlet for the natural behavior of scratching and a healthy release of energy.

The following tips will help you keep your cats mind and body and instincts healthy as well as protect your furniture:

1.) Provide scratching surfaces: Ensure there are horizontal and vertical scratching surfaces in the specific areas of the house the cat wants to scratch.

  • Encourage their use by applying catnip, Feliway or honeysuckle spray directly to scratching surface
  • Feliway is a synthetic copy of the relaxing hormone produced and secreted by glands in front of every cat’s ears (the same stuff they rub on your legs to tell you they love you). Feliway spray can also be used in the areas where they are currently scratching to discourage this behavior.

2.) Encourage natural hunting activities: Place daily food rations in treat balls or hiding it in several places throughout the house for your cat to find throughout the day. This is great because it also gets your cat moving!

3.) Cover undesired scratching surfaces: Place cardboard covered with a thin layer of aluminum foil or double-sided tape to discourage scratching.

4.) Redirect scratching behavior: When you find your cat scratching, immediately redirect this energy to play with lasers, feather sticks and “hunt-kill” toys like fabric mice stuffed with catnip. Remember, your cat is not scratching out of spite. They are displaying a natural behavior.

5.) Increase general environmental enrichment: Follow these links for great information on how to enrich the lives of our indoor pets:

6.) Trim nails regularly: Use a pair of sharp, cat specific nail trimmers. Make it as fun as possible by incorporating treats. We know trimming nails can be intimidating and we are here to assist if you need it.

7.) Apply Soft Paws: These are little plastic caps which are glued to the cats nail after a short trim. They come in many different colors and designs. These are not perfect and do take patience. Many cats will chew many of them off after the first or second application, but most cats get used to how these feel and leave them alone. These grow out along with the nail so re-application every 2 months is often required. They can be use long-term or just short term to protect your furniture while we begin to implement an environmental enrichment program.

8.) Block access to scratching areas.

9.) Use Feliway: Feliway is a recognition and stress-relieving pheromone which can be used in the cats environment to reduce a number of undesirable behaviors. Try it. It’s harmless and has no smell (5 minutes after application) and leaves no residue.

It’s rare to have continued problems with scratching if we’ve made a concerted effort with the applications above. If you do, let’s talk. Sometimes there are deeper anxiety issues to deal with and medications may be necessary.

To discuss behavioral problems or for more information on the behavior products listed above, please contact us at (780) 439-4353 or

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