Q: How can I stop my cat from destroying furniture without having her declawed?

Original Question: "Dr. Greenway - In times gone by you supported declawing as you said that it allowed homes for cats that would otherwise not be accepted re: furniture damage. Now you have changed your tune. I have had 3 stray cats for 15/16 years until recently 2 have passed away. All were declawed young and lived happy lives indoors. One remains (age 15) and when he goes I would be interested in getting another cat but I cannot have the furniture destroyed. What is your answer to this? Declawed cats can and do live happy contented lives and our homes remain intact. Do we have some vets who are not opposed to declawing? There is some pain but otherwise a happy indoor life. I have had animals (cats and dogs) all my life but it seems now that I may have to opt out." - Peter

Vet Certified Answer | Answered: February 20, 2018

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your question and thanks for listening to the show.

I appreciate the comment you make about 'changing my tune'. This is a touchy subject and being in my position where so many people get to hear my opinion, it can be challenging. So let me first try to explain my thoughts on this topic.

There is no doubt that our society is moving towards banning elective surgical procedures on animals. From a principle perspective, I agree with this because it is a movement that improves the lives of animals overall and eliminates the real needless cosmetic procedures that are really unnecessary. Declawing falls into a category for me that is challenging. I strongly believe that a pet's quality of life can be directly impacted by a pet owner's love for that animal, this comes from having a harmonious life with it. If a pet is destroying furniture and wreaking havoc in the home, that harmony and quality of life will be negatively impacted. I believe there are pet owners who in turn, will not provide adequate care for that animal because of it. So I believe in making the relationship as harmonious as possible and I do believe that this can inspire an owner to save a pet's life where they may not have otherwise. For this reason, in the past, I have performed declaws only when I exhausted all other options. I know I saved a life by performing a declaw. It's difficult thing to go against after an experience like that. I believe it needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and strong discrimination needs to be applied before allowing the procedure. The problem is that enforcing this view is more than difficult, it's almost unrealistic. So I'm left in a very difficult position.

The reality at this time is that the procedure is legal and you can consider it. I would encourage you not to and I will give you advice on this. I want you to know that I just adopted 2 kittens 7 months ago, they have their claws, and I have had no problems at all by implementing the simplest of strategies.

Here are some strategies...

1. Start working on nail trimming immediately after bringing a new cat into your home. Take time to massage and probe the toes and paws so your new cat gets used to you handling them. Then get some good clippers and clip one nail. That's it. Do one nail a day only. If you clip all the nails one day it can be a stressful episode and they can be turned off of it for good. Use treats and give lots of love after each trim. Gradually make the nail trimming episodes longer and clip more nails. You'll find that they turn into a cat that barely even struggles when they receive a nail trim. I just did my cat's nails and without a word of a lie, it took 2 minutes and there was no struggling. You can watch my video on nail trimming to help.

2. Get appropriate toys and products that they are allowed to scratch. Buy a scratching post and focus their attention on it by sprinkling catnip or placing treats on it. This will give them an outlet for the behaviour that is appropriate and tolerable. There are great resources for this. You can even buy corrugated cardboard boxes that you can sprinkle catnip into which really draws their attention to it.

3. Avoid punishment if you can. If you do find that your new cat is scratching the couch, you could discipline or punish it in the moment. I strongly recommend not doing this but I am guilty of it in a minimal way. My wife and I have made a short simple hiss noise to shoo them away from doing it when we see them scratch the couch. Getting serious with this can make the home a scary place and create other problems due to anxiety.

4. Consider other products. There are products that you can apply to the nails to 'cap' them so that they aren't sharp. They can be difficult to apply but your veterinarian and the Registered Veterinary Technicians can certainly help you with this.

5. Engage them as much as possible. By providing environmental enrichment and consistent stimulation, they may not develop the habit of scratching at all. You can give them lots of interaction and activity to avoid them having to entertain themselves by engaging with your furniture. Use laser pointers, treats, scavenging games, cat toys, and automated cat toys to keep them as busy as possible. You'll find lots of options in your local pet supply store for this.

I hope these ideas help. Be open to them and I think you'll easily find success.

Best of luck,

Dr. Clayton Greenway

Disclaimer: and its team of veterinarians does not endorse any products or services mentioned. Advice presented by our veterinarians is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.

Join the community!