What Is A Safe Alternative To Declawing Cats?

The controversy around declawing cats

Declawing, also known as onychectomy, is a surgical procedure where the entire claw and end bone of each toe is removed. Some pet owners choose to declaw their cats to prevent scratching and damage to furniture and belongings. However, declawing is very controversial from an ethical perspective.

Many veterinarians and animal welfare organizations argue that declawing is inhumane since it removes a cat’s primary means of defense and compromises their normal behavior. Scratching and clawing are innate behaviors in cats that allow them to stretch their muscles, mark their territory, and feel secure in their environment. Removing this ability denies a basic physical need and is likened to amputating human fingertips at the last knuckle. There is also evidence that declawed cats experience more back pain and stress behaviors.

Due to ethical concerns, declawing cats has been banned in many parts of the world, including the UK, Europe, Australia and some Canadian provinces. There are also bans in some California cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Monica and others. However, declawing remains a common practice in most of the United States. The debate continues around balancing cat welfare with owners’ valid concerns.

Understanding normal scratching behavior in cats

Scratching is a completely natural and normal feline behavior that serves several important purposes for cats[1]. Here are some of the main reasons cats scratch:

  • Territory marking – Cats have scent glands in their paws and scratching leaves both a visual and a scent mark that communicates information about themselves to other cats.
  • Conditioning claws – Scratching helps cats remove worn outer claw sheaths to reveal sharp claws underneath.
  • Stretching – Scratching stretches and flexes cats’ feet, legs, shoulders and back.
  • Relieving stress/excitement – Scratching provides an outlet for cats to express emotions.

Understanding why scratching is important for cats can help owners be more tolerant of this natural behavior. Providing suitable scratching outlets is key to preventing unwanted scratching around the home.

[1] https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-stop-cats-destructive-scratching

Providing Appropriate Scratching Surfaces

Cats have a natural instinct to scratch, so it’s important to provide them with suitable surfaces to satisfy this need. The best scratching posts and surfaces will allow cats to fully stretch and dig their claws in. According to The Spruce Pets, sisal rope, corrugated cardboard, and carpet are ideal scratchable materials.

Look for tall, sturdy scratching posts at least 28 inches high. These allow cats to stretch fully when scratching. The base needs to be wide and heavy enough so the post doesn’t topple. Posts wrapped in sisal rope are a top choice since the material shreds when scratched and provides an inviting texture. The SmartCat Ultimate Scratching Post is a highly rated sisal option according to Wirecutter.

Cardboard scratchers are affordable and appealing to cats. They can lay horizontally or stand vertically. Replace them once worn out. Try the Frisco Cat Scratch Ramp, which has an inclined ramp design.

Place multiple posts and scratchers around your home, focusing on areas where your cat already tries to scratch like chairs or sofas. Provide both vertical and horizontal surfaces since cats may prefer one over the other.

Training Cats to Use Scratching Surfaces

One of the best ways to train cats to use appropriate scratching surfaces is through positive reinforcement. When you see your cat scratching on something unacceptable like furniture, make a loud noise to startle them and interrupt the behavior. Immediately pick up and move your cat to an acceptable scratching post or pad. Give praise and treats when they investigate or scratch the right surface. This helps reinforce that desirable scratching spots are rewarding.

It can also help to rub catnip or a synthetic feline pheromone like Feliway (https://www.feliway.com/us/Products/FELIWAY-CLASSIC-Spray) on scratching posts and pads when training cats. The smell attracts them to investigate and scratch there instead of furniture. Try a variety of scratching surfaces and vertical and horizontal orientations to accommodate different cat preferences. Be patient and persistent in training to re-route scratching urges onto suitable scratchable items.

Trimming claws regularly

Regularly trimming your cat’s claws is an important alternative to declawing. Cat claws continuously grow and need to be trimmed every 10-14 days to maintain a proper length. Using a clipper designed specifically for cat claws, trim just the sharp tip of each claw, cutting at a 45 degree angle [1]. Only trim the translucent part of the claw and avoid the pink quick inside to prevent discomfort and bleeding. Special cat claw trimmers or scissors allow you to gently hold the paw pad and expose each claw for safe and effective trimming [2]. Start trimming your kitten’s claws at around 10-12 weeks old so they get used to the routine. Make it a relaxing experience with treats and praise. With patience and practice, regular claw trims will keep your cat’s nails blunt and prevent damage from scratching.

Considering soft caps (oncyplasty)

Soft caps or nail caps are plastic sheaths that cover a cat’s claws to prevent scratching damage. They are an alternative to declawing that allow cats to keep their claws while protecting furniture and surfaces.

The application process involves trimming the cat’s nails first and then gluing the caps onto each claw. The caps come in various colors and last 4-6 weeks before needing replacement as the nails grow out. brands like Soft Paws provide kits with caps, glue, and instructions for application at home.

Advantages of soft caps include:

  • They are humane – the claws are not removed
  • Caps only need occasional replacement every 4-6 weeks as claws grow
  • They come in fun colors and patterns
  • Caps can redirect scratching to appropriate surfaces

Potential drawbacks include:

  • The application process takes time and patience
  • Caps may fall off and need reapplication
  • Cats may resist handling their paws during application
  • Cost of ongoing cap purchases every few weeks

Overall, soft caps provide a temporary protective layer over claws as an alternative to permanent declawing procedures. With patience during application and monitoring caps over time, many cat owners find caps an effective and humane option.

Trying synthetic pheromone products

Synthetic pheromone products, such as Feliway, mimic cat facial pheromones and can help reduce inappropriate scratching. Feliway comes in a spray and diffuser form and contains feline facial pheromones that provide soothing “happy signals” to cats.

The Feliway spray can be applied directly to surfaces your cat tends to scratch to deter scratching and encourage more appropriate scratching behaviors. Studies show the Feliway spray reduces scratching within 2 weeks in 90% of cases (1). The Feliway diffuser plugin releases synthetic pheromones into the air to create a calming environment.

In particular, the FeliScratch by Feliway pheromone spray is designed to attract cats to scratch approved surfaces and scratching posts. It can be sprayed on cat scratching surfaces to teach kittens or newly adopted cats where to scratch appropriately (2).

Addressing stress, anxiety, and other issues

Stress is a common cause of destructive scratching in cats. When cats feel anxious or unsafe, they may scratch furniture or carpeting as a territorial behavior to comfort themselves. Providing your cat with appropriate and attractive scratching surfaces is key, but you may also need to address the root cause of stress. According to a CatScratching.com article, signs of stress in cats include excessive grooming, aggression, appetite changes, and of course, inappropriate scratching.

To reduce stress, make sure your cat’s basic needs are met including proper nutrition, clean litter boxes, access to water, daily playtime and affection. You can also enrich their environment with cat trees for climbing and perches to survey their territory. Rotating toys to keep them novel and interesting is advised. Using synthetic pheromone products like Feliway can also curb stress-related behavior issues. Ultimately, be patient and pay attention to clues about what is causing your cat stress so you can address the root problem.

Being patient and persistent

Teaching a cat to use appropriate scratching surfaces and avoid destructive scratching takes time, effort, and consistency. It’s important to be patient and persistent. As the ASPCA advises, “Don’t give up too soon! This new scratching behavior could take days — or even weeks — to kick in.” (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/destructive-scratching)

Continuously reward and positively reinforce wanted scratching behavior. If the cat reverts back to unwanted scratching, calmly interrupt the behavior, then redirect to an appropriate surface. It’s crucial to remain calm and consistent. Yelling or punishment is counterproductive.

Be patient, as it can take cats time to form new habits. The key is persistence – stick to the training plan daily. Curbing inappropriate scratching and teaching cats to scratch acceptable surfaces instead requires ongoing effort. But the investment of time and consistency pays off by resolving destructive scratching issues.

When to seek veterinary advice

While scratching and itching can often be managed at home, there are certain signs that may indicate a medical issue requiring veterinary attention. Excessive scratching that leads to sores, bleeding, or hair loss can signal conditions like skin infections, allergies, or parasites that need diagnosis and treatment (source). Drastic behavior changes like aggression or depression along with non-stop itching can also signify an underlying medical problem.

If home remedies don’t provide relief within a few weeks, take your cat to the vet for an exam. Diagnostic tests like skin scrapings, bloodwork, or elimination diets can pinpoint the cause of itching. Medical treatments like antibiotics, antihistamines, or immunosuppressants may be prescribed in severe cases. Steroid therapy can provide temporary relief but has significant side effects with long-term use (source).

As a last resort, vets may recommend allergy shots, cyclosporine, or even declawing for intractable itching. But declawing comes with many risks and should be avoided if at all possible. Have an honest conversation with your vet about alternatives before considering permanent declawing surgery.

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