A cat biting and scratching a sissal rope scratching post with sharp nails.

Luckily I have this great scratching post so I can sharpen my nails, shed the outer layer.

Cats That Scratch – Alternatives to Declawing

We first hand how cats that scratch can lead to problems such as aggressive play and ruined furniture.  This purpose of this article is to offer alternative to declawing.

You may have heard me tell of my faithful cat Max and how she came into my life.  I adopted Max while in vet school (after getting over my fear of cats).  She was my first surgery and I didn’t have the heart to send her back to the shelter.  Of course, she looked innocent enough sitting in her cage.  Nothing to scratch there…  I quickly discovered after taking her home though, that she loved to scratch- especially the carpet at the bottom of my bedroom door and the only time she stopped scratching was to bang on my door.  I could let her in but that would mean I would need to sleep with her on my head.   Oh, and did I tell you?  I’m allergic to cats, yet another thing I discovered while in vet school!  Seems over the years, I’ve become immune to Max but on occasion, a patient will send me into bouts of sneezing…  And, having her rub face on my cheeks or “head butt” me, can trigger a reaction too.

I sit here with a glass of red wine with Max on my lap kneading me and giving me head butts.  What she is really doing is marking me as her own.  Did you know that when cats rub their cheeks or paws onto objects they are releasing pheromones which serve as territory markers?   When cats scratch they are marking their territory.  Scratching also helps shed the outermost layer of nail.   That said, when your favorite feline decides they want to mark your brand new leather couch as theirs, then they could quickly become your not so favorite feline.  In fact, this is a very common source of anxiety for owners sometimes, sadly, culminating with a relinquished pet.  The longer the behavior persists and the stronger the desire of the individual to scratch, the more difficult the behavior is to correct.

Some cats do not seem to have a strong desire to scratch but, for the most part, it is something that is really engrained in them.  It’s who they are.  Asking for a cat that doesn’t scratch, is kind of like asking for a dog that doesn’t bark, or a baby that doesn’t need diaper changes- it’s just part of the package.  So, how do we keep everyone happy?  First is to offer the kitty an appropriate scratching post.  Second, is to deter them from scratching the item which owners do not want them to scratch.

Scratching posts

Of course, you can go to your local pet store and find a scratching post that fits your budget.  They range from $25 to $250 but these do not need to be fancy.  One can wrap scrap pieces of wood with sisal rope, or carpet.  Some cats will even enjoy an upright firewood log.

Location, location, location:  it should go without saying that the post should be placed in a location where the cat enjoys being. Most cats prefer to scratch items that are vertical.  Encourage your cat to visit the scratching post by sprinkling catnip and treats on/around it.  Offer kitty a small treat when the post is approached and a bigger treat when the post is scratched.  Feliway http://www.feliway.com/us, a pheromone cat spray, can also be used on the post itself or in the affected area.

For severe cases that have persisted for a long time, temporarily isolating the cat to an area where the only possible surface for scratching is the scratching post, might be necessary.  Keeping nails short, using mittens or  (http://www.softpaws.com/)  plastic nail covers are an option as well.

If your cat has been using a section of couch as a scratching post, you should cover that section up with double sided tape, tarp, foil or plastic.  Or you could try an aversive substance such as bitter apple, lemon juice or have heard lemon juice or pepper.  SSSCAT http://www.innotek.net/Multivet is a motion detector which sprays a safe, non toxic substance when approached and acts as an excellent deterrent.  Punishing the cat for scratching anything other than the post, may just make them fearful and encourage him/her to scratch while you are not watching.  They are sneaky that way!  What can be done, however, it interrupting them while they are scratching by sounding an air horn, alarm, or even shaking an empty can with pennies in it.  Do not speak or make obvious gestures.  The sound should in no way be associated with you, but rather with the precise action of them scratching the undesired object in question.  Allowing cats to scratch old furniture should be discouraged because once this behavior has been learned, it can easily be transferred to new pieces of furniture.


We do not perform declawing surgery at our clinic. In North America, as many as 50% of cats are declawed (though in my experience, only about 10% are).  There are certain countries where declawing is illegal.  My own cats have claws that are trimmed on a regular basis and for the most part, they are pretty good.  In a perfect world, declawing is a surgery that I would never perform. A declaw is an amputation of the nail and digit at the level of the knuckle. For more information please visit http://pawproject.org/.

Dr. Michelle


Cat lovers, check out this awesome website for cats only!  http://fabcats.org/

Here’s a funny video if you’d like to check out how SSSCAT works:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG0ciR_k8ck