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Declawing cats is decreasing in popularity every year…and for good reason.
More and more country, state and local legislations are banning the practice and professional associations like the American Veterinary Medical Association are also taking a stance. Most folks agree that the practice is unnecessarily harmful to cats and dozens of studies suggest that there are numerous long-term negative effects.
These long term problems can range from chronic pain and aggression to increased likelihood of urinating outside the litter box. Overall, the majority of the problems that declawing can cause are far worse than the problem that’s it designed to solve.
In most cases, people just want to prevent furniture, carpets or people from being scratched up and the declaw surgery seems like a surefire solution. But whether you look at it from a humane perspective or a financial one, the alternatives to declawing win every single time.
So let’s take an indepth look at the 8 alternatives to declawing cats so you can have a happy cat and beautiful furniture all while saving some cash.
Before we go any further, I want to clarify that you’ll never completely stop a cat from scratching. It’s a hardwired part of being a cat and even declawed felines still scratch.
Instead, of stopping cats from scratching altogether we’ll review 8 alternatives that will help your cat understand the right areas to scratch and minimize or completely eliminate the negative impact when your cat scratches the wrong areas like furniture.
We’re going to cover a lot of ground here so I suggest you check out the table of contents below if you’re looking for something specific.
What Is Declawing?
I know, I know. If you’re looking for alternatives to declawing them you probably already know what declawing is, right?
However, there can be a lot of confusion around what actually happens during a declaw surgery.
To start with, “declawing” is quite a misnomer since the surgery requires that a lot more is removed than simply the claws. Even the more official name for a declaw surgery, onychectomy, comes from the Greek word onyx which means nail or claw.
But there’s a lot more being removed than just the claw.
Declaw surgery requires that the last bone in each toe be completely removed, otherwise, the claws would simply grow back. The folks at the Humane Society for the United States explain, ” If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.”
Not only does that description sound much more uncomfortable than anything that the name “declaw” can conjure up but it’s also a bit easier to see why there can be so many long term impacts of the surgery when you consider just how significant it would be to lose a portion of every finger.
Why Declaw At All?
With all this information out there about the negative impact of declawing, why are people still trying to declaw their cats?
Simply put, claws are one of the more problematic parts of living with cats. For some folks, protecting furniture is the primary goal and they don’t want to have their couch destroyed by an active feline friend.
Others may be concerned about the safety of pets or children.
Then there are some folks who just always declawed their cats for a combination of the above reasons.
My dad fell into that last category and growing up we always had declawed cats but I’m very happy to say that the newest addition to his feline family has all her claws! That also means that many of the alternatives on this list are based on the real world and many were implemented in a home that was used to declawing. I’m also happy to say that they worked!
Understanding Why Cats Scratch
Before we can really learn how to manage the scratching problem, we’ve got to understand why cats scratch in the first place.
While many folks might assume that cats scratch simply to sharpen their claws, and that’s certainly part of it, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Remember, that even declawed cats that haven’t had claws in more than a decade will still regularly use scratching posts. These cats are very aware of the fact that they don’t have claws, but the instinct is too powerful to ignore.
Let’s quickly look at why.
Cats are naturally territorial creatures and our feline friends have several methods for marking their turf. With scent glands in their paws, scratching is a great way for cats to leave their mark on a particular area, even without claws.
The drive to claim territory is one of the bigger scratching motivations and also one of the most problematic. That’s because cats don’t just want any old territory, they want the good spots. That means scratching in key areas like the living room is most common.
Stretching & Boredom
Yep, for some cats it can be as simple as a good stretch. You’ve probably noticed that our theatrical cats love to stretch out before a big scratch and not only does scratching help claim their turf it also just feels good. Some felines may even scratch simply because they’re a little bored, too.
Instinct & Habit
Cats have been scratching for millions of years and declaw surgery or spraying them water isn’t going to break the habit. In other words, scratching is just another part of being a cat.
8 Alternatives To Declawing
Now that we understand our goals and why cats scratch, let’s dive into all your options outside of a declaw surgery!
1. Offer Areas To Scratch
The first thing we need to do is make sure cats have an appropriate area to scratch. I’ve mentioned it several times now, but scratching is just a part of being a cat so there’s really no getting around this one and almost every other alternative will depend on your cat having an appropriate and appealing area to scratch.
But what exactly makes a scratching post appropriate and appealing?
Location Is Everything!
Remember that cats scratch in order to mark their territory and let the rest of the world know that what’s theirs!
So do you think your cat wants to claim the living room where there’s a ton of activity from people and other pets…or the dark, drab corner of the laundry room?
Probably the spot with all the action, right?
Well, that’s where your cat’s scratching post needs to be. Cat expert Jackson Galaxy refers to this as socially significant parts of the home, “near the heart of the action”.
Many folks get frustrated when their cat doesn’t use a scratching post but often they’ve placed the scratching post in the farthest possible corner of the home. That’s like offering your cat a prime piece of Antarctic real estate that they’re just not likely to be interested in.
I know, you might not be excited about having a scratching post in the middle of the living room. But with so many interesting options on the market, you can pick out a scratching post that matches the rest of your decor or find a way to keep it slightly out of the way.
Not Antarctica levels of out of the way but something like this wall-mounted scratcher can be placed where it’s not immediately visible when guests enter your home but still central enough to keep your cat interested.
Vertical Vs Horizontal
Most cats have a “scratching style” and they prefer either vertical or horizontal options.
If your cat is scratching your carpet over everything else, then they’re probably a horizontal scratcher while cats that go for the corner of the couch might have a vertical preference. Either way, you’ll want to offer both options to cats but if you know your cat’s preference you can focus on scratchers of that type.
Whatever scratcher you get, make sure that it’s long enough for your feline friend to stretch out on since this is universally preferred.
It might seem like our cats are happy to scratch just about anything but the reality is they have preferences as with anything else. One study found that most cats specifically prefer sisal rope over other materials so that’s always a good place to start. But again, it’s a good idea to give your cat multiple scratching options, including a few different materials like cardboard, carpet, and sisal rope.
Where Do You Start?
We’ve got a better idea of the individual features we’re looking for in a scratching post but how does this look in the real world?
One study sought to answer exactly that and found:
“The ideal scratching post to recommend to a cat owner to help prevent inappropriate scratching is one that includes rope as a substrate, is upright vertical, 3 ft or higher, has two or more levels and a base width of between 1 and 3 ft.
Although cats can have individual preferences, our data provide a starting point for veterinarians to recommend specific scratching posts to clients as a first best choice.”
That lines up closely with the conclusions we’ve drawn in other articles about how big of a cat tree you should get for your feline friend.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I’ve frequently recommended this 3 feet cat tree from YAHEETECH which you can see here. It’s not a pure scratcher but it does have plenty of sisal rope and meets all the requirements that the study recommended.
It shouldn’t be the only scratching option, but it can be the main one.
2. Use Deterrents To Make Furniture Less Appealing
Once you’ve established appropriate areas for cats to scratch, it’s time to discourage them from using the wrong spots.
I’ll be the first to admit that some of these options aren’t going to look great in the house but you also don’t have to use these techniques permanently. Instead, you can implement some of these declaw alternatives long enough for cats to form the positive habit of using their scratching posts and then remove them later.
Don’t Use Essential Oils
You may read articles that suggest using essential oils on areas you don’t want your cat to scratch but this something you should avoid.
Ingestion, or even just skin exposure, to essential oils can be life-threatening for cats and the last thing you’d want to do is place essential oils on the exact spot that your cat is likely to scratch. That’s a surefire way to expose your cat to these dangerous compounds.
Instead, stick with some of the other options.
Furniture covers are a great place to start and if you don’t mind the look of them it can actually become a permanent solution. These are plastic shields that you can place over the key spots of your furniture to make scratching impossible and completely unappealing to your cat.
Your feline friend will quickly decide to move on to greener pastures.
In most cases, one side of the shield is sticky enough to attach to furniture, without damaging it, and the other side is smooth plastic. It takes a few minutes to add to your furniture and it’s easy on the budget. You can check out one of the better brands on Amazon by clicking here.
Foils, Sticky Tape and Spike Mats
Instead of a deterrent on the furniture, you can place one near it to prevent your cat from scratching. You’ve got a lot of options here but the clear winner for me is sticky tape and it’s also one of the options that the ASPCA recommends.
It’s easy on the budget, not a massive eyesore and there’s really no cat that will be happy about having some tape stuck to them. You can check out my favorite brand here, but if you go with something else just make sure it’s safe for cats since many types of glue aren’t.
You can also use some kind of spikey or uncomfortable flooring in front of the designated no-go zones. You know those plastic mats that go under office chairs on carpet? If you flip that over, you’ll find hundreds of little spikes and that’s similar to the type of cat deterrent flooring we’re talking about here.
You don’t want to go overboard here and pick up something that’s going to hurt your cat, just something that will make the couch a lot less appealing when it comes time to scratch. You can see one of the more budget-friendly options on Amazon by clicking here. Just know that not all cats will be deterred by this and some cats will just endure the little pokes if it means they can scratch their favorite couch.
You can also try aluminum foil, which some cats can’t stand, but it’s not likely to be as consistent as other options.
Motion Activated Sprays
The problem with deterrents like spraying your cat with water or using a noisemaker is that you have to be there for these to actually work. Instead of your cat understanding that the furniture or carpet is off-limits for scratching, they simply learn that it’s off-limits while you’re around- which isn’t actually that helpful.
Motion-activated deterrents solve this problem by working 24 hours a day. Depending on where your cat is scratching, a deterrent like this one can work but if you’re trying to protect furniture it’s not always the most practical since you’ll need several to really cover a wide area.
3. Make Appropriate Scratching Areas More Appealing
You can take things to another level by making your designed scratching areas even more appealing with the addition of catnip or feline pheromones. If your cat has to choose between trying to scratch a couch that’s guarded by sticky tape or scratching a beautiful sisal-covered post that’s sprinkled with catnip…it should be a pretty easy choice.
No need to go crazy with it and your cat’s powerful nose will quickly figure out what’s going so just a few sprinkles should do the trick. It’s worth pointing out though that roughly 33% of cats lack the gene required to enjoy catnip so figure if your cat likes the stuff first.
You can pick up catnip from just about anywhere but I’d recommend going with some of the bulk options on Amazon.
You can also consider using a feline pheromone spray like Feliway which is designed to mimic the natural calming pheromones that are released when cats scratch. There’s a lot of debate in the veterinary world around the effectiveness of Feliway but some studies have suggested that it can help with scratching or at least help cats feel more relaxed. It may also encourage cats to use their appropriate scratching posts as many can be attracted to the scent.
4. Positive Reinforcement Training
Yes, you can train your cat!
Even though our feline friends often have the reputation of being aloof and “untrainable” there’s nothing further from the truth. Just check out the amazing Didga performing a list of tricks for proof of just how trainable cats can be:
You don’t need to teach your cat to skateboard…you just want to give them plenty of positive reinforcement when they use the appropriate scratching areas. Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be complex at all and the American Association of Feline Practitioners explain:
Positive reinforcement is defined as giving a reward – something that is desirable for the individual – to increase the likelihood of that behavior recurring.
Cats learn best through positive reinforcement. Favorite rewards for cats include delicious treats, catnip, interactive play, and petting or grooming. It is important to remember that the reward must be desirable to that individual cat, and may vary between cats.
Any time you see your cat scratching in the right area just give them a treat, pull out their favorite toys or just pet them- whatever you know your cat likes. With a little consistency, your cat will quickly learn that using their scratching post not only satisfies millions of years of instinct but also results and something good from you too!
There’s really no need to make it any more complicated than that!
5. Keep Nails Trimmed
Keeping nails trimmed is one of the most obvious alternatives to declawing and also one of the most effective. Not only that but trimming your cat’s claws is part of taking care of your feline friend and if claws aren’t kept trim they could end up becoming ingrown.
But even if things don’t get that bad, when your cat’s claws are too long they’re more able to cause damage to people and furniture or simply get stuck on things (including you) when they’re walking around.
Trimming claws on its own may not reduce how frequently a cat scratches, but it will drastically reduce the impact on furniture or carpet when cats do scratch.
That means trimming your cat’s nails is part of the bigger picture of declawing alternatives but shouldn’t be the only method you use.
Most folks can be pretty skeptical about the idea of trimming their cat’s nails. Not only is it common to assume that cats don’t need regular nail trimming but after a few tries many folks will decide that it’s entirely impossible to even pull off.
But I promise it can be done! You just need to figure out what motivates your cat and a good place to start is with food.
Check out this video for a great demonstration of how to use a tasty treat to make nail trimming easy- or at least easier:
Besides giving your cat the right motivation, you also want to make sure you’re using the right tools by picking up some cat-specific clippers. These are clippers that you can hold like scissors, which will make things much easier if you’re doing this alone, and they have a shape that’s easier to use on long narrow claws.
You can use human nail trimmers but if you’re just getting started, I highly suggest you pick up some budget-friendly clippers off Amazon to make your life easier.
For most cats, a nail trim every two weeks will be plenty but if you’re looking to be especially protective of your furniture you can even trim claws every week.
6. Nail Caps
Nail caps are small, colorful caps that you can place on the end of your cat’s claws. These vinyl caps completely prevent destructive scratching but don’t hinder any of your cat’s movements. It may take some cats a day or two to get used to them but once it’s part of the routine most cats don’t mind at all.
This product was purposely made as an alternative to declawing and it’s one of the best options out there.
Not only are they excellent for protecting furniture and carpets but they can also protect people. Cat scratches can be especially risky for the elderly or immune-compromised and nail caps can help keep these folks protected without ever having to consider declawing.
But again, some folks may be skeptical about the idea of placing nail caps on a cat’s claws but once again I assure you that with a little practice it is possible! You can also turn to a professional to have them placed and since most nail caps last a little over a month you’re looking at roughly 12 visits a year.
If you’re interested in trying out some nail caps, you can check Soft Claws on Amazon which are one of the more popular and highly rated brands out there.
Remember, your cat will still want to use a scratching area, even with nail caps on so these shouldn’t be used as the only alternative to declawing but are part of an overall approach.
7. Keep Your Cat Entertained
Have you ever heard the expression “A tired dog is a good dog?”
Well, it’s also true for cats! If your feline friend is full of pent-up energy, there’s a better chance that they’ll take on some negative behaviors including scratching, overeating or just being a bit mopey.
In other words, a bored cat can be a problematic cat, and scratching the furniture or carpets can sometimes just be a way to pass the time.
You can help keep your cat occupied (and not scratching) with toys but you also need to be a part of playtime.
As the folks at Cat Behavior Associates point out, “While you may have lots of toys around the house for your cat, the problem is they’re essentially “dead” prey. They don’t move. The only way to create action is if your cat bats at them. With the interactive toy, however, she doesn’t have to be both predator and prey – she can simply focus on being the hunter.”
That means a better play experience with increased physical and mental exercise for your cat. That can also mean less destructive behavior like scratching!
8. Adopt A Declawed Cat!
Adopting an already declawed cat may not work as an alternative for everyone, but if you’re thinking about declawing alternatives before you bring home a new feline friend then this is absolutely something to consider.
Sadly, there are more than 3 million cats entering US shelters every single year. While it’s certainly not the majority, many of those cats are already declawed and these clawless felines would be happy to be a part of your home!
You can contact your local shelter and let them know that you’re specifically looking for a declawed cat and most will be more than happy to let you know when a declawed cat enters the shelter. It may take a little patience to find the right match, but if you’re just stuck on the idea of declawing then it can be worth it.
What About Laser Declawing?
Laser declawing is an increasingly popular method of declawing that uses an extremely powerful laser to complete the procedure instead of a scalpel. Laser declawing is typically preferred to traditional methods since it isn’t as traumatic on the toes, has a decreased chance of nerve complications, and minimizes bleeding.
But there’s one important thing to point out here…
Laser declawing is still the removal of the last third of a cat’s toe and even though the method may be a little better the real issue lies in the declaw procedure itself not how the toes are removed!
Even with a laser, cats will still suffer all the same negative effects of declaw surgery. That means laser declawing is just another path to the same problems and not an alternative to declawing surgery.
How Much Does Declawing Cost?
Most folks look for declawing alternatives because they want to avoid the inhumane practice but that’s not the only reason to seek out other options.
You could easily implement all of the declaw alternatives above for less than the cost of a declaw surgery.
That’s because the typical declaw surgery costs anywhere from $250 to $800. The cost will vary based on your location but that doesn’t take into consideration the risks of post-operative complications which can actually be quite high, at least compared to other elective procedures.
The data can be difficult to find but according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “The reported incidence of postoperative complications ranges from rare to 50%”
Hemorrhage, or bleeding, was the most common complication and it’s safe to say that getting blood all over your furniture or carpet is not a good outcome when the whole point of declawing is to try and protect your home.
I’m happy to say that declawing is a declining practice with more and more people looking for alternatives.
It also helps that the alternatives available are getting better every year and products like nail caps, high-quality nail trimmers, and affordable scratching posts all go a long way to keeping people and furniture protected without having to resort to declawing.
I hope you found exactly what you’re looking for and feel free to let me know what alternative has worked best for you- I’d love to hear about it!