A kitten's paws are like babies' hands in many ways. As they grow, they will become more and more important tools for life, and claws are an essential part of cats' paws. Like babies, kittens may use those tools in destructive ways unless they are trained. Please learn to respect your cat's claws. As you learn more about the many functions of their claws and how important they are for everyday cat behaviors, it will become more clear as to why declawing is no longer considered a humane procedure in cats. Instead, consider the training options you need to use and the proper toys and tools that will help you live in harmony with your kitty and its claws.
The Many Uses of Cats' Claws
A cat's claws are versatile, multi-purpose tools. Cats use their retractable claws every day for climbing, scratching, pouncing, turning, balancing, or defending themselves against other cats, dogs, predators, even humans who might try to harm them. Cats do not scratch furniture with malicious intent. Scratching is part of their regular self-maintenance program to keep their claws sharp and healthy.
When cats scratch, they are actually dislodging and removing a transparent sheath that grows over the claws. You may occasionally find these sheaths buried in your carpet. Scratching also stretches and tones your cat's back and shoulder muscles. Yelling at your cat or getting mad at it only leads to confusion because they are doing what comes naturally, with the nearest tool at hand. Unfortunately, this may presently be your prized Louis XIV chair you inherited from Aunt Blanche.
Consistency and Repetition
Fortunately, there are compromises that offer you and your feline friend a win-win resolution. Whatever solutions you choose to implement, the best way to encourage your cat to cooperate is with positive reinforcement. This form of training involves rewarding your cat when it is engaged in the behavior you want. If your cat is doing something undesirable like scratching the furniture, you can redirect it to an appropriate alternative and then reward that. Consistency and repetition are key and are crucial to any re-training program.
Positive Tips to Consider
- Buy or build a scratching post: Your cat should have at least one post that's tall enough for a full vertical scratch, sturdy enough to stand when they put their full weight on it, and covered with a nice rough material like sisal. Play with your cat near the post and put a little catnip on the post to make it more appealing. Pretend you're a cat and scratch the post yourself; before you know it, kitty might join you. Put scratching posts in places where your cat is likely to scratch: near where they sleep and around exits and entries to rooms and the house. Some cats prefer horizontal scratching posts while others prefer to scratch on a vertical surface, so you may have to try a few varieties to figure out what your cat's style is.
- Trim Tiger's claws: While trimming your cat's nails won't stop it from scratching the furniture, it will render their nails a little less destructive by keeping the tips from getting too sharp. This is also an important part of routine grooming for all cats and should be done regularly. Some cats can develop painful ingrown nails that can injure their paw pads if they don't have regular nail trims. It's fairly easy to do yourself, but if you need some pointers, your veterinarian will likely be happy to show you, and most will do regular trims for a minimal fee.
- Apply soft plastic nail caps, such as Soft Claws: Soft Claws (also sold under the name "Soft Paws") are the cat's meow when it comes to both fashion and utility. These plastic nail caps come in four sizes, and application is fairly simple, once you and kitty get the hang of it. These can be a "natural" color but also come in fashion colors as well. Available from your veterinarian or at the larger pet supply stores, these caps are glued over the nails to create a more dull tip. They last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the cat. Some veterinarians will apply these for your convenience since it can be tricky to get it right at first.
Reward Good Behavior
Praise your cat profusely and give it one of their favorite treats when they use their scratching post, and when they have cooperated with claw trimming or Soft Claw application. Your cat's eager little mind will soon associate loving hugs and tasty treats with these activities.
Discourage Undesirable Behavior
It is not recommended to use punishment when training cats as this often leads cats to fear you, and does not necessarily stop the undesirable behavior. They may just learn to avoid doing it in your presence and sneak off to scratch when you are not around. If you need to protect certain pieces of furniture, you can use some deterrents to make those spots less appealing for your cat to scratch:
- Cats will often avoid citrus-scented objects, so you can try using a non-toxic citrus spray near the areas you are trying to protect.
- Lay a few sheets of aluminum foil over sofa arms or other areas you want to protect. Cats will usually avoid the area because they don't like the sound or feeling of the foil.
- Try putting wide double-sided tape over their favorite scratching surface. Cats dislike the sticky feeling and will avoid the area. A commercially available product is Sticky Paws.
- Consider a commercial cat deterrent. These products often work with a combination of an electric eye or motion sensor, and a blast of air accompanied by a loud sound so these can be used when you are not home.
In all cases, if you catch your cat scratching an area that is off-limits, redirect it to an appropriate scratching post and make sure to reward it once there. It can take time to get your cat to change their habits, but it will be worth it once your furniture is safe and your cat is scratching happily on its new post.
Craft, Tyler, et al. Cats: Indoors or Outdoors? UC Davis Veterinary Medicine.
Youngerman, Claire. Inappropriate Scratching in Cats. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine, April 2019.