What are the alternatives to de-clawing a cat with a destructive scratching problem?


Have a kitten destroying your woodwork to sharpen it’s nails?  How about a feline who thinks your couch is a giant scratching post?  Do you have a cat who may be scratching up your home, but you don’t feel that de-clawing is a humane answer?  The good news is there are alternatives to de-clawing that can help with your cat’s destructive scratching problem!


First, let us understand that scratching is a normal feline behavior!  It has many benefits, such a dulling away long nails and stretching muscles and tendons (especially those used during a hunt).  Cats also scratch to communicate, using it as a visual signal to others, and scenting with paw pheromones.


With that said, providing appropriate scratching devices are essential if you are going to own a cat with all it’s claws!  Don’t bother with the cheap ones either — cats need durable and tall posts, to stretch out and really work those muscles from the paws, all the way down their back.  Try placing scratching devices near common areas of destruction, in hopes of redirecting the cat to the appropriate post instead.  I had a client find success in placing his cat’s posts near her favorite sleeping areas, so when the cat awoke and needed a good stretch, she didn’t have to wander far.


If you have all the best cat posts in the world, and your feline is still scratching up your home, try increasing the amount of mental and physical exercise your cat is receiving daily.  Try feeding your feline out of an interactive puzzle game instead of a bowl.  Invest in some cat trees and perches, and place near active windows.  Some kitties that are treat motivated can easily learn tricks and agility moves like jumping for more stimulation.  Cat dancer toys, laser lights, they even have kitty TV now!  Get creative, and engage your cat in unique ways every day.


Replaceable soft nail caps and frequent nail trims help manage the destructive aspect of your cat’s scratching.  Teach your kitty to love mani-pedi time by associating nail trims with positive reinforcers, such a tasty treat.  Early handling of paws and nails can be highly beneficial to acclimate the kitten to your touch, making nail trimming time much more pleasant.


Manage your environment to set your cat up to succeed.  Calming pheromones and soothing aromatherapy around the home may help reduce the likelihood to scratch by relieving anxiety.  Restrict access to coveted scratching areas when you cannot supervise your kitten.  Try some safe deterrents, such as hiding behind the corner and squirting the cat with a water bottle the moment it starts to scratch inappropriately.  Most cats hate sticky things, and I have many clients who have found placing double-stick tape around areas of destruction provide a humane physical barrier to reduce scratching.  Commercial boundary sprays may help keep some cats away from unwanted areas as well.


Be sure to rule out destructive scratching as intentional communication!  I’ve seen cats who will scratch something close to a large picture window, but only when they see an outdoor cat on the other side.  In multi-cat households, scratching can be used to mark territory.  Scratching can becomes a displacement behavior, based on the group dynamics.  A client at our vet clinic had 5 cats, and when the oldest passed away, one of the younger cats began scratching up her home, as if to communicate to the others that he was “in charge” now.  In these situations, better management of the environment can help reduce unwanted scratching behaviors.  Discuss with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues, and consider utilizing calming pheromone therapy.


We just scratched the surface on this one, but hopefully these tips will help tame your feline friend!