updated 3/4/2008 2:38:09 PM ET 2008-03-04T19:38:09

The Humane Society and the American Veterinary Medical Association advise pet owners to consider declawing only as a last resort. Other approaches to training cats to scratch harmlessly include:

  • Supply alternate scratching surfaces. Scratching posts and pads are available in many textures, shapes and sizes. Scenting the surface with catnip can make it more appealing, too.
  • Use blasts of air as a deterrent. When your cat approaches furniture you want to protect, a squirt from a can of compressed air — the kind used for cleaning computers, available for just a few dollars — can startle the cat. Used often enough, it can condition the cat to avoid that furniture. If you’re not usually present when the cat does its scratching, SSSCAT, a can of nontoxic gas with a motion detector, can do the spraying for you.
  • Try scented sprays that cats dislike. Individual cats vary, but many are turned off by the smells of citrus, coffee grounds and pipe tobacco. Try spraying citrus air freshener on items you’d like the cat to avoid.
  • Use covers or other physical barriers. Protecting a sofa by tossing a sheet over it can be a simple and cost-free solution. Some owners also place noisy materials like aluminum foil on furniture, hoping the cat won’t like the feel or sound. It may take some experimentation to find the right physical barriers — cats are masters at sneaking under things or moving them aside.
  • Make surfaces sticky. Strips of double-sided tape will make a surface unappealing to cats. Sticky Paws — a brand of clear, thin double-sided tape that owners can put on furniture — makes this technique less unsightly. The downside: Sections of your furniture will feel sticky and may gather dust or lint.
  • Cover the cat’s nails. “Soft Paws” are plastic caps that can be glued on a cat’s nails to blunt their edges. Some owners praise them as the perfect solution. Others say cats can remove them, leaving the floor littered with bits of colored plastic. In a home with babies or toddler, it’s important to keep track of any lost caps so they’re not swallowed.

If these methods don’t work and you’re considering declawing, discuss the specifics with your vet (some offer laser surgery) and be sure to get complete information about post-op care, including pain relief. Also ask which type of litter your doctor recommends during the first weeks of recovery.

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