How to Manage Your Cat's Claws

cat claws
Shikhar Bhattarai / Stocksy United

A kitten's paws are like the hands of babies. As they grow, they will become more and more important tools for life, and claws are an essential part of cats' paws. Like babies, they may use those tools in destructive ways unless they are trained. Please learn to respect your cat's claws. Never even consider declawing as an option, nor getting rid of the cat. Instead, consider the training options you need to use, even as you'd train an errant toddler.

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 nice and sharp for self-defense.

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 them only confuses them because they are doing what comes naturally, with the nearest tool at hand, which may presently be your prized Louis XIV chair you inherited from Aunt Blanche.

A Two-Step Plan

Fortunately, there are compromises that offer you and Tiger a win-win resolution. An often-used psychological tool with children applies equally to our cats: encourage/reward desirable behavior and discourage undesirable behavior. Consistency and repetition are the keywords and are crucial to any re-training program.

Positive Tips to Consider

  • 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 come in fashion colors as well. Available from your veterinarian or at the larger pet supply stores.
  • Trim Tiger's claws: Trimming will not discourage them from clawing furniture, but will render their weapons a little less destructive. It's really very easy to do yourself, but if you're simply not up to the job, your veterinarian will do it for a minimal fee.
  • 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.
Domestic cat sharpening her claws, side view
Westend61 / Getty Images

Reward Good Behavior

Praise your cat profusely and give them one of their favorite treats when they use their scratching post, and when they have cooperated with claw trimming or Soft Claw application. Their fertile little mind will soon associate loving hugs and tasty treats with good behavior.

Discourage Undesirable Behavior

You must use your discouragement tools at the time of the crime. If you delay even a few minutes, your cat will not understand why he is being rebuked and the lesson will have been lost. Never, never use physical punishment like hitting or shaking your cat. That only teaches him that you are a bigger bully, and can lead to even worse behavior on his part in the future.

  • Use the "pennies in a can" trick. The instant you see kitty scratching the sofa, shake the can a few times. They hate the racket and will usually stop.
  • Spray the area around your cat's favorite scratching area with citrus-scented spray.
  • Lay a few sheets of aluminum foil over sofa arms and sides. Cats will usually avoid the area.
  • 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.
  • Buy a small plant mister spray bottle and fill it with water. When you catch your cat in the act, give them a spray with the bottle. Don't drench them; a quick spray will suffice.
  • 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.

Tricks like penny cans and spray bottles are only effective as long as the cat does not associate you with the punishment. Otherwise, they will only continue their scratching when you are absent. Once a cat has learned that certain areas are off-limits for scratching, clapping your hands, accompanied by a sharp "No" will be all you'll need.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cats: Indoors or OutdoorsUC Davis Veterinary Medicine.

  2. Making your outdoor cat indoor-only. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.  

  3. Inappropriate Scratching in Cats. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine.