Say No to Declaw!
You have all heard the arguments against declawing. There must be something to them if cities and countries have made it illegal to declaw cats. Israel is the most recent country to outlaw this painful and unnecessary procedure. Although I am obviously opposed to declawing, today’s blog is not focused on the arguments against declawing. Instead it will cover why cats scratch objects and I will outline humane, alternative solutions that will keep both claws and furniture intact.
Cats have to scratch. In addition to giving themselves manicures, when cats scratch they mark their territory. They have scent glands on their paw pads that produce pheromones. So whenever they scratch, they leave information about themselves on the objects they scratch. They also mark visually through the physical scores and audibly through the sound. Think of it as a cat’s way of autographing objects. Cats scratch objects for other reasons as well. Scratching objects functions as an effective emotional release and is often a displacement behavior. Often cats will scratch when they are feeling stressed. Scratching also is an outlet for releasing excessive energy and after a nap, cats love to stretch and scratch. As you can see, cats have many reasons for scratching objects.
Scratching the Right Stuff
Cats can be trained to ignore the furniture and scratch designated objects. Start by making the targeted areas off limits to sharp little claws. If your cat is focusing her attentions on the sofa, then block it with either double sided-tape or cover the sofa with a fabric that is not satisfying to scratch. Sheets work great, tucked tightly around the sofa cushions.
Blocking areas is only half of the solution though. While making an area off limits to claws, put a sturdy scratching post directly in front of the now blocked area. The post needs to feel irresistible to the cat. Some cats love the feel of sisal beneath their paws, others prefer cardboard or carpet. If your cat enjoys carpet, make sure that the scratching surface is a different texture then the carpet on your floor. Scratching posts need to be tall and stable—they should not tip over while they are exuberantly scratched. It is important that you positively reinforce your cat when she is scratching the post. My book Naughty No More! (link) has a chapter dedicated to training cats through clicker training and environmental changes to scratch the right objects and ignore the furniture.
The scratching post won’t have to live prominently in the middle of the living room forever. After the cat consistently scratches the post, move it a couple of inches each day, to another spot in the room. Don’t move it in back of the sofa or to a hidden area. Remember, your cat is scratching to mark territory, so the post still needs to be in a relatively high profile area.
Another effective alternative to declawing cats is fitting cats with Soft Paws®. These commercially available nail caps are placed on each claw and periodically replaced. Cats still scratch the furniture, but the nail caps keep the furniture protected. Although Soft Paws® are effective, they don’t train cats to scratch appropriate objects and avoid targeting the rugs and sofas.
Scratching is a natural instinctive activity that cats have to do. Even though cats have to scratch, they don’t have to target the carpets and sofas. Instead of declawing, furniture and rugs can become scratch-free through painless and humane methods.