Seven humane and sane alternatives to cat declawing

I feel that it is my duty as a cat and animal lover to strongly recommend alternatives to cat declawing. Arguably, cat declawing should not exist at all, but because it does I feel compelled to argue the case for alternatives and present them on this page.

Acceptance

I have to get out of the way the obvious namely that a cat owner accepts their cat’s claws and they accept that those claws may cause damage to some possessions and they may cause damage to the cat owner themselves. Starting with that acceptance the cat owner/guardian can take steps to minimise the damage. Whether a person accepts their cat’s claws or not is down to many factors including the risk averse nature of the cat owner, their knowledge of the declawing operation and how painful and cruel it is, the commitment to animal welfare and their love of cats.

I’m not going to preach to people. Each person has their own point of view and I accept it. But the simple alternative to cat declawing is to not do it through the acceptance of all the elements of a cat’s anatomy including their claws which should remain in place because they define the individual. A cat’s claws are part of that cat and they define a significant part of their behaviour.

Cat playing and stretching. Photo: Photo by Yuliya kota from Pexels

Modification to behaviour

It is possible to modify feline behaviour through gentle and gradual training and the provision of objects mentioned below such a scratching post et cetera.

All training should be done by positive reinforcement and not punishment. Remote punishment is another matter. By that I mean a device which perhaps squirts water or a rattle which makes a noise. It is highly important that the cat does not associate their owner with something unpleasant because it will break the bond. I do not advocate any form of punishment even by a remote device but the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) suggests remote punishment as a possibility.

Pheromone sprays may also be a useful addition to modifying behaviour because they calm cats down a bit which may reduce their natural desire to scratch. When a cat scratches they also deposit scent from scent glands in their paws. So it is partly a marking process and cats have an increased desire to mark if they are stressed. Reducing stress through pheromones may help.

Scratching post et cetera

Cat scratching board. Photo: MikeB.

This has been said a million times but providing lots of alternatives to scratching furniture will certainly help. I have half a dozen scratching boards around the house and a couple or scratching posts. This minimises the scratching of furniture. You can protect furniture with things like double sided sticky tape or aluminium foil. I don’t subscribe to that because I accept a little bit of damage to my furniture. Always buy the biggest and best scratching post you can and if you can afford it by a couple of them.

Distractions

If the cat owner is at home a lot and with their cat throughout the day and night they can distract them if they are about to scratch furniture. I’m not saying this is 100 percent secure because you can’t always watch your cat but being at home can help you manage your cat’s behaviour and encourage them to use scratching posts and scratching boards.

Trim your cat’s nails

Trimming a cat’s claws diagram. Illustration: PoC based on image in public domain.

This sounds easier than it is. Pretty well every cat owner knows that it can be difficult. The people who have trained their cat as kittens to accept having their nails trimmed are the ones who come out on top. They are the ones who are able to trim their cat’s nails without difficulties. It is doable and it should be done. I don’t trim my cat’s nails because he now goes out a lot and they wear down naturally which helps but they could be blunted by trimming (I accept his claws totally). That would certainly help save furniture and being nicked by a paw. On the internet there’s lots of advice about how to trim a cat’s nails and having the right equipment certainly helps.

The AVMA say that frequent nail trimming does not alter a cat’s scratching behaviour but can lessen damage to objects. Weekly trimming may be required to maintain “optimal nail length”. Some cats strongly resisted. We know that.

Nail caps

Soft Claws nail caps. Photo by Laura.

This has been discussed a lot too. Some people think they are no better than declawing because they will affect the natural behaviours of the domestic cat. For example, a cat scratches a scratching post in part to stretch their back. If they can’t grip the post because of the claw caps then that aspect of having claws is negated. Also the cat can no longer sharpen their claws by removing the outer sheath. This means the claws caps will have to be removed and replaced. There may be complications in doing that. And how does a cat feel when their claws are covered in plastic? We don’t know whether they are discomforted by wearing them.

The AVMA reminds us that claw caps do not alter scratching behaviour. They have to be replaced every 4 to 6 weeks. Most cats tolerate it but sedation may be required in some cases to fix them. This is a big negative because of the stress of going to a veterinarian to have it done.

Deep digital flexor tenectemy – DDFT

The AVMA suggest this as an alternative. It is the seventh and, in all honesty, it is not, in my opinion, an alternative because it is in operation akin to cat declawing. It is as painful or more painful as cat declawing apparently and for someone like me it is unacceptable. I am listing it nonetheless to be objective and allow the AVMA to have their say.

The procedure removes 5 to 10 millimetres sections of the tendon of each digit. This stops the cat protruding her claws. There are downsides, many of them in my view. The claws may overgrow and become rough and thick because the aged cuticle cannot be removed by scratching. The overgrown claws may grow into foot pads causing pain and infection. They will need to be regularly trimmed.

Cat owners who have had the operation done on their cats report that they walk normally after four days up to a maximum of 30 days. My advice: don’t do it. Choose any one or a combination of the above alternatives but do not have your cat operated on by veterinarian because you are risk averse about their claws.

Advice from a veterinarian?

You may like to seek advice from your veterinarian. That’s a good idea but make sure that he or she is objective. Do they declaw cats? If they do, why do they do it? What is their excuse? The AVMA obliges them to provide advice about declawing. The advice should be balanced and objective. It should be honest. If your veterinarian can’t reassure you that they provide honest advice then don’t take the advice.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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