Cats scratch in an effort to mark their territory, shed their nail husks, and stretch. This is a normal and natural behavior, and from an animal welfare perspective, animals who are able to express natural behaviors lead happier and more wholesome lives. This behavior usually starts around eight weeks old which is also an ideal time to start training your cat away from scratching unwanted surfaces or furniture, and to encourage them to scratch a post instead.
The best way to go about this is to praise your cat when they interact with the scratching post. It is important to make sure the scratching post is tall enough that your cat can stretch upwards while they scratch and that it be made out of a durable material. Catnip and toys can be placed around the post to encourage interaction. If your cat is approaching surfaces that aren’t intended for scratching like your couch or other household furniture, simply give them a firm verbal “no” and redirect them to their appropriate scratching post.
In situations where scratching is destructive, continue training efforts, and explore alternative products that are on the market. There is double sided tape pet owners can purchase that makes scratching specific surfaces undesirable when applied as well as a product called Soft Paws where little rubber tips are glued to the cat’s nails by a veterinarian every six weeks. Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed is also essential.
Declawing is not recommended if infectious disease is the owner’s concern because the likelihood of infection from bites, cat litter, and fleas are greater than being scratched according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Declawing your cat isn’t just like getting a permanent nail trim, rather it is equivalent to cutting off the first knuckle of your finger and is an amputation of the last bone on each toe of your cat. This procedure causes pain during the healing process and is considered a major surgery that is not medically necessary.
Cats who are declawed are more likely to bite and less likely to use a litter box. After surgery it is usually suggested that litter be replaced with shredded newspaper to reduce irritation in the paws. The strange material in the litter box along with the pain associated with scratching the box after surgery can lead some cats to avoid the box entirely. Cats can also suffer from nerve damage and physical problems as declawing actually changes the way your cat’s foot meets the ground and can cause permanent discomfort.
The alternative surgery to declawing called a tendonectomy. This is where the tendons that control the claws are cut so the claws and toes remain in-tact but your cat can no longer control them. This procedure, like declawing, can lead to lameness, pain, and infection.
There are of course medical exceptions where declawing may be necessary that are recognized by HSUS and MSPCA including removal of nail bed tumors.
In a time where we do everything for our pets to help them live the best lives possible let your cat’s keep their claws, and if you are having an issue with destructive scratching, contact your veterinarian or local animal shelter or rescue group for support on how to train your cat to use a scratching post instead.