What is Declawing?
Declawing (also known as onychectomy or de-knuckling) is a surgical procedure in which the cat’s toes are amputated at the last bone. The procedure is traumatic and permanently debilitating for a cat, causing lifetime damage and irreversible consequences.
The name ‘declawing’ is quite inaccurate and misleading as it may suggest that the procedure is about removing the claws. Unfortunately, the truth is, declawing is a real amputation of the last joint of a cat’s toe. In order to remove a nail, a portion of the bone, from which the claw grows, must be removed (amputated).
Many cat owners are unaware of what declawing really is. They don’t realize that declawing is an amputation of a cat’s toes at the last joint. They also don’t realize that the consequences of declawing are deteriorating of a cat’s physical and mental health, resulting in behavioral changes.
Unwanted scratching is replaced with another set of unwanted behaviors like pooping and urinating outside a litter box, aggressiveness, and excessive biting to name just the most common problems.
Cats don’t benefit from declawing whatsoever. Declawing is a completely unnecessary procedure.
Some cats will experience immediate complications from the procedure. Others will display problems in later life. In a nutshell, declawing harms the physical and mental health of a cat, resulting in behavioral changes.
Declawing messes up a cat’s balance, causing her to shift her weight and in effect walk on her wrists. This is an abnormal posture that can cause many long-term complications, such as muscle weakness, permanent lameness, arthritis, or back and joint pain.
Bone fragments left behind from a declaw surgery can produce a ‘pebble in the shoe’ sensation inside a cat’s tender paw pads when the animal tries to stand or walk.
The pain in the paws causes declawed cats to avoid litter boxes because it hurts them. That leads to pooping and urinating outside of the litter box.
Claws are an important organ in a cat’s defense. When they lose it, they start biting more. Biting is considered more dangerous for humans (infections) than scratching.
When cats scratch, they leave their scent on the surfaces, which is how they mark their territory. A declawed cat will start marking her territory by urinating.
Alternatives to Declawing
Fortunately, there are many safe alternatives to declawing that we list below:
1) Provide different scratching surfaces
If you worry about your furniture, the first and foremost thing that you can do is to provide your cat with different scratching surfaces.
Scratching is a natural part of a cat’s physiology. It helps to stretch the cat’s muscles and tendons in the body. It helps shredding the old, outer layers of cat’s claws and prevents them from overgrowing. It provides stimulation, relieves stress, and boredom. Thanks to scent glands in the paws, it helps to mark their territory.
There are a lot of various cat scratching posts and cat scratching pads on the market. You can choose between vertical, horizontal, and angled cat scratchers depending on what kind of scratching position your cat prefers.
There are also different scratching materials, such as sisal rope, corrugated cardboard, carpeting, or natural wood.
If you don’t know what kind of a scratcher your cat prefers, you can provide her with a few different cat scratchers and see what suits her best.
Put the cat scratchers in different parts of the house so that she has plenty of opportunity to scratch.
If your cat has already got a habit of scratching your furniture, put the scratching post next to that bit of the furniture so that it’s easier for your cat to learn she should scratch on the post.
Read more about the different types of cat scratchers in our guide to the best cat scratching post to file nails.
2) Trim your cat’s nails regularly
Trimming your cat’s nails is extremely important. It will help to reduce scratching of your furniture as well as prevent deep scratches on the human body.
If a cat doesn’t get rid of the old, outer layer of their claws, the claws will become overgrown, which can be painful and even lead to infection.
It may happen that your cat doesn’t get to successfully shred their nails on the scratching post. In this case, your cat may turn to your sofa to finish off the job. If you trim your cat’s nails your cat won’t have the reason for turning to your furniture.
Trimming a cat’s nails is not the easiest of the tasks because felines don’t like when anything is done to their bodies.
It’s best to start the nail trimming routine when your cat is still a kitten. Then she is the most susceptible to the new experiences and training. It’s not impossible to trim an adult cat’s nails, but it may take a bit more time and patience.
You only clip the tips of the nails and avoid the base of the claw which is a cat’s quick. A quick is an area where the blood vessels and nerves are situated, so if you cut into this area, it will bleed and be extremely painful for the cat and she may resent having her claws trimmed in the future.
To trim your cat’s nails at home you only need a pair of sharp and good-quality cat nail clippers that will do the job quickly and gently.
To find out more about this declawing alternative, read our guide to the best cat nail clippers.
3) Use nail caps
Another declawing alternative and a very effective way to prevent your cat from scratching your furniture, you or the members of your family, is to put cat nail caps on your cat’s nails.
Nail caps are made from vinyl or rubber and are designed to fit over a cat’s claws. To put the nail caps you first need to apply adhesive inside the cups and slide them onto your cat’s nails.
Good-quality nail caps will stay on a cat’s claws for up to 4 or 6 weeks.
To read more about the cat nail caps, read our guide to the best cat nail caps.
4) Use cat relaxants
An uncontrolled scratching is often caused by the mental state of your cat.
Cats tend to be aggressive and display all sorts of unwanted behaviors when they are stressed, feel anxiety, fear, boredom, or loneliness.
To relieve your cat’s stress you can use special cat relaxants in the form of cat calming sprays, diffusers, collars, chews, gel paws and other cat calming aids, depending on what suits your cat best.
The cat relaxants are formulated with pheromones, herbal oils, or catnip. They are designed to calm and to relieve a cat’s stress. By putting a cat at ease, you will eliminate the need for unwanted behaviors like scratching and urinating on your furniture.
5) Make your furniture unattractive to scratch
To stop your cat from scratching your furniture you can try making it unattractive to your cat.
Certain types of textures and smells are unappealing to cats. For example, cats hate sleek, crinkly, and sticky textures and bitter smells.
6) Provide distractions to prevent boredom
Oftentimes cats scratch extensively because they feel bored and lonely.
It happens when a cat doesn’t have a company of other cats or pets and her owners spend a lot of time outside, for example at work.
If that’s the case with your cat, try playing with your cat more whenever you can. If you have to leave the house for the whole day, try playing actively with your cat at least for half an hour before you leave the house.
This way your cat will feel less bored and more tired during the day and may not turn to scratch your furniture. Repeat playing with your cat again after you come back from work.
If you really can’t carve any time for your cat during the day, you can provide your cat with interactive cat toys and cat trees to play with. Interactive cat toys, for example, cat tunnels, are designed for a cat to play with without a need for human interaction.
Alternatives to Declawing – Summary
To get the best results, we would recommend using several of the declawing alternatives listed above at the same time.
Using cat scratching posts and regular trimming of a cat’s nails are a necessity, and every cat parent should use these two techniques from day one of having a cat.
Remember that the earlier you start accustoming your cat to scratching on the posts and trimming their claws, the better.