Cool Cats: Claw edition!

colo cats claws

Hello Calgary Humane Society Supporters!

We hope you are loving this sunshine-filled cat month here on the blog! Summer marks the busiest season for cats at Calgary Humane Society so we can’t think of a better month to cast the spotlight onto our feline friends.

Today on the blog we tackle one of the most frequently asked question about feline attributes: Claws! Learn more about how cats use them and why Calgary Humane Society believes in leaving those claws firmly attached to the cat!

Why do cats scratch??

Cats use their claws for a number of purposes! First, claws are an important method of territory marking. Cats will mark territory by scratching a surface in order to rub the scent glands located in the cat’s feet onto the surface. Even very large wild cats will engage in this type of scent marking (you can find videos of this on Youtube if you are curious!).

Cats will also scratch to maintain good hygiene! Scratching helps cats to shed the outer layers of their claws in order to keep their claws in good condition.

Finally, cats will also scratch to keep their muscles in good condition! Cats are typically long and lean, and to keep their muscles and joints in top shape they must stretch frequently. By anchoring their claws into a surface, they are able to get an even better stretch. If you have ever held on to a bar or railing and leaned in to a stretch to get some extra extension you will know how great this feels!

What is Declawing?

Declawing is the surgical removal of a cat’s claws. What many people don’t know; however, is that declawing removes much more than just the claw. Declawing removes the full first joint from each digit of the cat. If you would like to know what that would mean for a human, look at your hand. “Declawing” a human would involve removing everything above the first joint in each finger.

Aside from being an amputation, declawing creates additional problems for our feline friends. As humans, we walk flat on our feet (plantigrade) but cats walk on their tiptoes (digitigrade). Even for a plantigrade walker (like humans), losing the first joint off every toe would make staying balanced more difficult, but for a digitigrade animal (like cats) that first joint is even more important. If you would like to try this yourself, try walking around on tiptoes, then try to lift the front of your toes off the ground and do the same thing. To give you an idea of what your bones look like if you walk plantigrade or digitigrade, we’ve included a picture below (courtesy of classnotes). If you look at the heel on the human foot you will see a couple of bones that have been shaded in. These same bones (the astragalus and calcaneus) have also been shaded in on the cat diagram so you can see how the bones line up.

cats claw


Sadly, many cats are declawed each year by people who are unaware of how the declaw surgery may impact their feline companions. When a cat is declawed they are forced to walk differently to compensate for the missing joint and to prevent pain. Just as with humans, being forced to walk with an unnatural gait for long periods of time can have long-term health consequences, like arthritis, joint problems or muscle pain.

What about that other “non declaw” surgery that prevents cats from scratching?

The most common alternative declawing surgery we hear about at Calgary Humane Society is a flexor tenectomy. This surgery involves severing the tendon that enables a cat to extend their claws. Like a declaw surgery, this surgery can lead to life-long consequences including pain, claw growth problems and permanent changes in gait.

What is Calgary Humane Society’s policy on declawing/flexor tenectomy?

At Calgary Humane Society our adoption contracts expressly state that no cat adopted from our facility can be subjected to “unnecessary or cosmetic surgery” including declawing. In very rare cases, declawing may be medically recommended for a cat’s well-being (if the cat has a paw or claw deformity that is causing pain due to the claw, for example).

Regardless of where the cat is adopted from, Calgary Humane Society does not support the declawing of cats except in situations where the declawing is medically necessary to prevent the cat from suffering. Declawing to reduce damage from scratching or for cosmetic reasons has many negative consequences for the cat and leads to unnecessary pain and suffering. Likewise, a tenectomy would also be considered unnecessary surgery except for when it is medically necessary for the well-being of the cat.

What alternatives are there to declawing?

We are so glad you asked! Thankfully, there are many great alternatives to declawing!

Provide an appropriate scratching surface. Cats need to scratch to stay in good shape but if you provide an appropriate and appealing place for your cat to scratch that is often enough to stop scratching problems. Choose a cat post or cat condo that is taller than your cat when your cat stands on their back feet in a full stretch – if your cat post is too short, your cat cannot get the benefits of a full stretch. If your cat prefers horizontal scratching (scratching the floor), make sure the scratcher you choose is stable enough that the cat cannot pull it over, heavy enough that the cat can anchor their claws without the scratcher moving and large enough that the cat can get that full stretch they are looking for.

Another note on scratching surfaces? Make sure these surfaces are available in the areas that you cat wants to scratch! Placing a cat condo near a window or another area that your cat finds desirable is a great way to encourage them to use it. Making the cat condo or cat post more fun by playing with the cat or giving them treats or catnip while they are near the cat post can also help to increase use of the new scratching surface.

Make other surfaces less appealing. Once you have provided an appropriate scratching surface, you can also make problem scratching locations less appealing. Double sided tape and tin foil are inexpensive temporary deterrents. Cats typically don’t like how tape or foil feel on their feet, so they will usually move their scratching to a more appealing surface (like the cat condo you have placed nearby!). Motion-activated air cans that make a hissing noise when the cat comes too close are another way to encourage a cat to choose a more appropriate scratching location.

Nail caps. There are several brands of nail caps available for cats. These temporary nail caps still allow a cat to extend and retract their claws, but protect other surfaces from damage. These nail caps are fairly easy to apply and can be done by pet owners at home. The caps come in clear or various colours, so you can decide what is the best option for your cat. Clear caps are less visible while coloured caps make it easy to spot if one falls off.

Who can I call if I need help to address a cat’s scratching?

If you are looking for more information on preventing inappropriate scratching, please contact our FREE Behavior helpline at 403-723-6019.