Alternatives to Declawing: I Was Born to Scratch

By Amanda Jondle, DVM April 04, 2019

As cat parents, we have to make decisions about the well-being of our fur baby on a daily basis. One of those decisions is letting your cat keep their claws. Many cat owners actively avoid declawing their cats these days, but cats with their claws can be extremely destructive. If you made the choice of letting your cat keep their claws or are thinking about it, we want to provide you with ways to help you deal with their claws.

Let’s First Understand the Reason Why Cats Scratch

  • To mark their territory

Cats naturally secrete pheromones from the scent glands between their paw pads. They secrete these pheromones when they knead and scratch. Scratching is a form of marking their territory by leaving their scent, and they will often continue to scratch the same spot over and over again.

Scratching also allows your cat to mark their territory by leaving a visual signal. When they scratch, it makes a mark on an object. Other cats can see that visual signal and know that your cat was there and it’s their territory. This is one way cats communicate.

  • To stretch

Cats like to stretch when they scratch. If you’ve ever watched your cat scratch on their favorite item, they’re often stretching before, during, or after the act. They will scratch vertically, often reaching their front legs high above their heads. They also like to scratch horizontally, stretching their front legs far out in front of them with their rears to the sky. Whichever way they prefer, scratching provides them with a nice stretch and the opportunity to wiggle their toes.

  • To shed their claws

Cat’s claws naturally grow. In doing so, they shed the dead outer layer of their claws as the new layers grow. Scratching helps remove the dull outer portion of their claws so they can use the healthy, new, sharp claws beneath.

  • Because they are excited

Some cats will run to their favorite scratching post when they are excited about something, such as you returning home from work. At other times, your cat might scratch when they are playing. They will run from object to object and begin scratching when they get excited and worked up. Some cats will turn to scratching when they see something outside that excites them, like another cat, a bird, or a squirrel.

Teach Your Cat Where They Can and Can’t Scratch

Let your kitty know that it is okay for them to scratch and perform this natural instinctive behavior, but train them to scratch where you want them to. Cats will naturally scratch on objects that are vertical, such as couches, chairs, table legs, and other furniture. They prefer objects that have unique textures, such as fabric, cardboard, carpet, or sisal rope. Without a little direction and training, your cat may start scratching up your couch, carpet, or curtains, causing irreparable damage. Make sure to provide a variety of acceptable scratching objects, some horizontal, some vertical, and some to climb on. Here are some tips to help encourage your cat to scratch where you want:

  • Provide plenty of appropriate scratching surfaces and objects.
    • Cat trees and towers
      These come in many varieties of sizes, heights, and levels. Some even come with built-in toys or beds and different textures.
    • Scratching posts
      Similar to the cat trees and towers, scratching posts come in a variety of heights, styles, and textures. A common material used is the sisal rope which provides a unique texture and frays when the cat scratches it.
    • Cardboard
      Some cats prefer a simple cardboard box to scratch.
    • Petozy Sisal Cat Scratching Toy 
      Of course, you can use our very own scratching toy! This toy can be hung on a door or wall for vertical scratching or placed on the floor to play with and scratch on the floor. It is the perfect size to easily move around the house to your cat’s favorite scratching spots.
  • The placement of acceptable scratching surfaces is important
    • Look where your cat is currently scratching for clues about what they like to scratch and where. Place the scratching posts in these areas.
    • Common places cats will scratch are windows and door frames. You can place a scratching post near their favorite lookout so when they see something exciting outside, they have a post nearby to scratch.
    • Another good place to put a scratching post is close to your cat’s favorite napping spot. Since cats like to scratch after waking up, they can wake up and scratch the post.
    • Placing a scratching post by the side of the couch or a chair will help encourage your cat to scratch the post instead of your nice furniture.
    • Make sure you place the scratching post in a well-used area. You don’t want to put it out of the way or in a closet or corner because your cat won’t naturally go to these places to scratch. Place the scratching post in a well-lit and social part of the house. You can always move it around once they are used to scratching it.
    • Encourage your cat to scratch the acceptable items.
      • Treats
        If your cat is food-motivated, treats can be a great way to reward them for using your preferred cat scratching objects. You can place some treats on and around the scratching post to encourage your cat to feel comfortable with it. When you see your cat scratching the post, give them a tasty treat as a reward.
      • Catnip
        Catnip can be a great way to entice your cat to use a scratching post. You can sprinkle some of the leaves on the sides, top, and around the bottom to tempt your kitty to play on and around the scratching post.
      • Play
        Encourage your cat to use a scratching post by incorporating it into a play session. Use a laser pointer to direct your cat to the post or toss a toy over by the post, or even on top of it. Wand toys with feathers can also be used to bribe your kitty to move close to the post to start scratching it.

    Other Methods

    • Deterrents
      Deterrents can be used to prevent your cat from scratching objects and surfaces you don’t want them destroying.
      • Double-sided tape
        This can easily be used on many different surfaces. Since cats don’t like the sticky tape, they will often choose somewhere else to scratch. Just make sure you have the acceptable scratching post nearby.
      • Enzymatic pet cleaner
        These are made to get rid of pet odor including pheromones in places your cat likes to scratch.
      • Foil
        This is another substance cats try to avoid. The foil is often shiny, makes noise, and is a texture they don’t like. You can cover furniture or place this over areas of carpet that your cat might be scratching.
      • Citrus
        Cats often avoid the smell of citrus. Try using a citrus essential oil spray on the furniture you are trying to get your cat to stop scratching.
    • Trimming your cat’s claws 
      This is easiest if you acclimate your cat to nail trimming when they are young. You can find cat nail trimmers at most pet stores. Moreover, you can ask your veterinarian at their first kitten vet visit to show you how to trim them properly. Once you know how to do it, trim your cat’s claws regularly to keep them nice and short. If your cat is not cooperative, recruit someone to hold them while you trim or take your cat to the vet for help.
    • Nail caps
      Nail caps are used to cover the outside of your cat’s claws so they aren’t sharp and destructive. These come in many different colors and can be used on cats of all ages. You simply trim their nails, apply the adhesive that comes with the caps, and place the nail caps on. It’s often best to have your veterinarian help you with this at least the first time around.

    Your cat can have the opportunity to live a happy life indoors with their claws. To ensure their happiness, provide plenty of enrichment, acceptable items to scratch, and nail care. Your cat will show their appreciation and excitement by scratching on appropriate items!

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