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Feline Friday: Scratching the Surface–DON’T DeClaw!

water play and cat pix 032

Seren can scratch the carpet or wood, vertically or horizontally on this cat tree. Notice it's placed in front of windows for ideal kitty viewing.

If you got a new kitten over the holidays, chances are you’re dealing with those needle-sharp claws. One of the top reasons a cat loses his home is destructive scratching when the importance of pristine furniture trumps the cat-owner bond. People already bonded with a cat tend to put up with more household damage before resorting to ditching the kitty–but it can still happen.

Declaw surgery sounds like the perfect solution. Think again!


Feline claws correspond to the last joint of a human’s fingers and toes, but extend and retract courtesy of two small “hinged” bones that rest nearly on top of each other. A relaxed paw sheaths the claw inside a soft, smooth furry skin fold. Flexing the tendon straightens the folded bones and pushes claws forward and down.

Declaw surgery cuts off the last joint of each kitty toe. The cat is sedated, the paws scrubbed, and the joint amputated. This is commonly done using a scalpel blade or a guillotine-type nail trimmer (yes, the same ones you use on your pets!). State of the art declaw surgery uses a laser which arguably is the most humane.

Declaw surgery most commonly is performed on kittens. That’s right, the cute little guy snuggling in your lap gets taken to the vet, snuggled on and played with, goes to sleep and wakes up without part of her paws. Often the declaw gets scheduled at the same time as spay/neuter to save cost since only one anesthesia is needed.

With the cutting technique, the paws must be bandaged tightly for a period of time to stop the bleeding. Pain medication is also necessary afterwards because as you can imagine, walking on the stubs is excruciatingly painful.

Laser surgery prevents bleeding and is less painful for the cat but the toes take longer to heal from burns. In most cases, only the front paws are declawed and no cat without claws should be allowed outside since her defenses have been removed.


Cats without claws won’t claw–damage furniture, but they WILL still try to scratch. Some cats do FINE and go on to be wonderful pets. But unlike neutering, this surgery has no real health benefits for the kitten or cat (only for the owner’s house) and in fact can cause physical and emotional fall-out.

Now, the AVMA questions anecdotal reports of adverse consequences to declaw surgery, its position statement says, “Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively(read the whole statement here).

seren scratching 1

Choose your battles. This old chair now "belongs" to Seren and is in my office for her scratching/lounging pleasure.

Declawing should never be considered routine. It has been made illegal in some countries, as well as a few American cities due to concerns of humane issues. Some declawed cats develop other behavior problems, such as biting to defend themselves, or snubbing the litter box when sore paws make them reluctant to dig in the litter. So even though the kitten stops claw-damage, the litter-ary mishaps or biting often causes them to lose their homes anyway. Some detractors also argue that walking without that last digit throws off kitty balance and predisposes to arthritis later in life.


Instead of trying to stop clawing, cat owners (and the cats they love) are best served by giving the pet a legal opportunity to claw and teaching the cat what’s acceptable. Understanding why a cat scratches–and how easy it is to prevent damage to furniture–helps motivate us to train Kitty to properly use a legal target.

Clawing feels good, and provides great aerobic exercise to stretch the shoulder and foreleg muscles, and keeps nails healthy. Scent pads in kitty paws leave invisible smell-cues of ownership. The marks also serve as feline Post-It Notes to warn away other cats from prime feline real estate. That’s why singleton cat households may have less claw-trauma than the multi-pet homes, where each cat vies for territory and attention. Cats also claw to comfort themselves during times of stress.


For successful scratch training, give the cat an irresistible target, while making forbidden objects undesirable. Kitty wants the world to see his scratch-graffiti, so don’t hide posts in back rooms. Place them in high traffic areas or near important cat territory— windows, lookouts, nap places, and food stations.

The scratch surface—wood, sisal, carpet—and its shape—vertical or horizontal—are very important. Observe your cat to figure out what he likes. Spiking the new object with catnip helps promote feline allegiance.

Make illegal targets unattractive to the cat, until he learns to use the right object. Sticky Paws double-sided tape, endorsed by the ASPCA, works great on upholstery—cats dislike touching surfaces that stick to paw fur. Strong scents such as citrus deodorants or Vicks Vapo-Rub repel many cats. Cinnamon peppered on dark upholstery, or baby powder on light fabric, prompts a poof of dust into the cat’s face when he assaults with feline claws. You can even temporarily wrap chair arms with bubble wrap. These pet-safe “booby-traps” are effective when you’re not around.

Meanwhile, position the legal object next to the illegal target so you can redirect your cat’s claws when necessary. Interrupt forbidden scratching with a loud sudden noise. Slap a newspaper against your thigh, clap hands, or shake an empty soda can full of pennies. A long-distance squirt gun aimed at a furry tail can startle some cats out of the behavior, but this won’t work for all cats. Once kitty stops, direct claws to the legal target perhaps with a laser pointer or dragging a feather lure over the surface, and praise when he does the right thing.

For hard-case cats, Soft Paws reduce the potential for scratch damage. The vinyl claw covers glue over the top of each nail, and come in a variety of fashion colors. They are available from pet supply stores and some veterinary offices.

After the cat switches to scratching the correct object, move it to a better location, a few inches at a time. The bubble wrap comes off as well. A little bit of human inconvenience translates into a well-trained kitty and a lifetime of love. And that’s the purr-fect outcome for everyone.

Do your cats and kittens claw? How do you manage claw-maniacs? Have you adopted a declawed cat or had the surgery done on your kitty? What has been your experience? Please share! And I hope you’ll share this blog with other cat lovers debating about claw issues.

Last November I posted an Ask Amy on dealing with screen-scratching kitties.  And one of the tips came from Gretie’sMom who said they bought a roll of the Pet Resistant Screen from Orchard Supply Hardware that is not invincible, but it works pretty well.

You can find many more training how-to’s in the book Complete Kitten Care.


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About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant (dogs/cats), award winning author of 30+ pet care titles and thrillers, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

7 responses »

  1. Ahhh…for years we had our cats declawed. And the last cat I adopted was declawed. Back then, I had no real understand of how inhuman it was. Ignorance is no excuse. As I learned more and more about the surgery over time, I was devastated at what I put my babies through. Felt very guilty. I would never do it again.
    I am a total cat person but my hubby likes leather furniture so I’ve had to succumb to simply not having a cat. The risk is too great and I won’t declaw. I know the alternatives are there and are quite effective but…it’s just not for us right now. I hope someday when we moved back to our comfy furniture, I can go back to having a kitty in my home!!!
    Thank you for bringing awareness to this very important issue!

    • Natalie, we have leather furniture and the cat has NEVER offered to scratch that. She likes the fabric/nubby type surface. When she was a kitten, she’d wriggle on her back underneath the sofa and claw overhead, LOL! At least that doesn’t show.

      Lots of people don’t realize what’s involved. No need to feel guilty–we all learn lessons and wish we had do-overs. But you did the best you could with the info you had at the time. *gentle smile*

      I put my first dog through lots of bad stuff not knowing any better–and today my current pets benefit because of the lessons I learned. Yep, guilty-R-us (do as I say, not as I do…*s*)

  2. Yes, we’ve had declawed kitties in the past. We had one dropped off to us already declawed, so when my parents brought the runt of their barn kitty’s litter inside, they had it done to him along with his neuter for fear if they didn’t he might hurt the other cat. Nobody told them what it actually entailed, so they had no warning before mom’s little buddy came home with candaged feet and in terrible pain. The recovery period was absolute hell. He walked on his knees and cried, refused to put weight on those paws. Had anybody warned them, they probably wouldn’t have had it done, and quite honestly I think a decent vet ought to ask the reasons you want to declaw and make suggestions from there for alternatives before they will schedule the surgery. They never had another cat declawed after that. They couldn’t go through that again. Had they known I’m pretty sure they would have considered it too big a risk in the first place.

    Thankfully in the long term he healed up okay and didn’t have any major issues, but it still was NOT worth the pain he went through. I will say with certainty, however, that the idea that declawed cats won’t ruin furniture is utter BULL. They may not damage is as quickly, but the scratching behavior still exists. Those cats raked their paws across the same part of the armchair in the living room every day, and it looked no better than if it had been clawed on. The fabric wore down, there were a few baskets in the house that had broken spots where the cats would curl their paws around and grab and pull while playing near them… and the older of the two could hit like a hammer if she really wanted to, so the whole thing really was POINTLESS.

    Now, my household has one declawed cat and one clawed cat. Simba, who has all her claws, does have arthritis so she gets stuck now and then from not being able to retract very well anymore, but she has yet to damage anything. The only place she really scratches is in the windowsills, so we put carpet up there for her and all is well. Anubis was declawed while my other half was still living with his family, and they considered him THEIR cat. He didn’t agree with the decision but he was a kid, so not really much he could do about it. Simba has NEVER hurt Anubis with her claws. She seems aware that she shouldn’t use them in play, so if she swats it is VERY gentle to avoid raking skin. Admittedly we were nervous about introducing them, since one was at a disadvantage (Anubis may have the epic saberteeth but nowadays they’re too sore for him to really want to bite much with them), but we figured if all else failed and there was trouble, we’d grab some nail caps and use those until things calmed down. But we never had to use them.

    I was VERY happy when the local humane society started giving out SoftPaws with their kitty go-home kits – even before that their adoption contract included an agreement NOT to declaw. I honestly wish more people knew those existed, and that more shelters and veterinary offices suggested them as an alternative when people come in requesting declaw surgery. Yes, you have to replace them over time, but you have chosen to bring this animal into your life, that animal is going to look up to you to care for and protect it – if all you’re looking out for is yourself, and can’t be bothered to take the time or money to actually deal with arising issues appropriately, you shouldn’t have pets in the first place. (I feel the same about having kids.)

    • In the old days, pain meds weren’t given. Makes my heart ache to think about that! Today at least that’s an option for the recovery period.

      Soft Paws are kewl! A FB friend uses them and says she prolongs the life of the nail covers by smearing Vicks on the Soft Paws to keep the kitty from trying to chew ’em off. *s*

  3. I read every line about declawing. Colors has not ruined anything and stops when we say, “Colors stop.” Strange, but she prefers door casings so this is her signal to visit her litter box in the garage about 6 A.M. I’ve decided to place one of those scatching/perching items to place by my window in the studio. She loves to watch the birds that fly around the patio and back yard. It will also give her peace from Midge who loves to ?play? torment her. I am one of those who has taped foil around strategic corners of couches and chairs when we are gone too long and our neighbor takes care of her.

  4. Pingback: Feline Friday: Scratching the Surface–DON’T DeClaw! - The Cat Pet Shop : The Cat Pet Shop

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