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Val Caron Animal Hospital

3055 Highway 69 N
Val Caron, ON P3N 1R8


Declawing and Alternatives

Cats have retractile claws and keep them protected by withdrawing them into a sheath. Thus, cat claws require sharpening and need to be worn down so they can be retracted within their sheath. It is therefore important for cats to scratch various surfaces. In addition, when cats scratch they are also marking their territory. It is essential for outdoor cats to have sharp claws for protection. Outdoor cats may need to climb trees to escape predators or to defend themselves against other animals. Also, climbing is a highly enjoyable normal activity for all cats, including indoor cats.

Indoor cats exhibiting normal behaviour such as scratching can sometimes interfere with the bond between a cat and their owners. Adolescent cats in particular, may scratch furniture, destroy the household, play rough and even scratch children.

Declawing is the surgical amputation of the distal phalanx (last bone) of each digit of the front feet, which includes the nail. There is a common misconception that only the nail is being removed but in fact it is an amputation of the last bone of each front toe.

Surgical declawing is not a medically necessary procedure and although rare, there are potential anesthetic and surgical complications such as hemorrhage, infection and pain. Most of these complications can be minimized with an effective anesthetic protocol, pain management protocol and the appropriate use of antibiotics. There are many pros and cons to the surgical declaw method and pet owners should try other alternatives prior to the surgical solution.

The non surgical methods to declawing include behaviour modification, nail trimming and Soft Paws, or ideally a combination of all three.

Since scratching and scent marking are natural behaviours for cats, we must provide them with a suitable outlet for this behaviour, such as scratching posts. Behaviour modification is essential to help increase wanted behaviour, such as using a scratching post and reduce unwanted behaviour, such as scratching furniture. It is important to understand that reinforcing appropriate behaviour will yield much better results than using punishment.

Encouraging your cat to use scratching posts can be accomplished by putting treats or catnip on your scratching posts and place scratching posts near areas favored by cats. These areas include windows and sleeping areas, since cats often stretch and scratch upon awakening. Scratching posts should be tall or long enough to allow full stretching, and be firmly anchored to provide necessary resistance to scratching. If you find your cat scratching the scratching post, give praise and reward your cat with a special treat. If you find your cat scratching something inappropriate, bring your cat to the scratching post, praise and then give a treat. Alternatives to scratching posts include, cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects.

Reducing unwanted behaviour can be accomplished by spraying your cat with a water squirt bottle, but only if the cat does not see where the water comes from. This is important as the cat cannot connect the punishment with the person administering it, otherwise the cat will simply learn not to scratch while that person is watching. Scratching furniture can be made unacceptable by using plastic, or even aluminum foil to cover the target pieces. Spray-on antiperspirants can be sprayed on the furniture as a repellent. In addition, double stick tape can be used on furniture to create an undesirable scratching area.

Keeping your cats nails trimmed short is also helpful. This can reduce the risk of the claws causing damage to furniture or skin.

Blunt acrylic nail caps are available that can be glued onto the cat's claws every 4-6 weeks. They are becoming more and more popular for a variety of reasons. They are easy to use, they let your cat exhibit normal scratching behaviour without ruining furniture, they can be removed if necessary and they are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to surgery.

Cats scratching can have a large impact on the relationship one has with their cat and therefore needs to be addressed at an early age. It is imperative to try non-surgical alternatives prior to considering surgical removal.

For more information on declawing and non-surgical alternatives, please refer to