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Cats scratch. It’s what they do.
While we love our kitties with all our hearts, we don’t love having furniture that looks like it’s been put through a shredder. What’s a devoted cat owner to do?
There’s a lot of controversy swirling around declawing these days, and pet parents are seeking more humane alternatives for their cats. One solution that is growing in popularity: adhesive nail caps.
Touted as a safe, non-toxic way to stop destructive clawing, nail caps have gained a loyal fanbase of happy pet owners.
But do they actually work? Are they comfortable? Are they worth the effort?
We did some digging and found the answers. Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about nail caps for your cat.
So…what exactly are nail caps?
Designed to minimize the damage inflicted by sharp claws, nail caps are tiny plastic covers that you glue over your cat’s nails. They’re inexpensive, you can apply them at home, and they last between four to six weeks.
These durable covers are sold in a range of sizes and colors (usually neon) to suit your individual tastes.
Are nail caps safe for cats?
According to Mary Molloy, animal behavior counselor and founder of Nirvana Tails in NYC—yes, absolutely. “[The caps] do not prevent the cat from retracting his claw, and if properly applied, they do not cause any pain or damage to the claw bed,” she reports.
Your cat’s nails will continue to grow naturally, and he’ll still be able to stretch and retract his nails with the caps on.
One valid concern voiced by naysayers is that nail caps leave cats vulnerable by eliminating their main defense mechanism. Manufacturers agree, which is why they typically include a disclaimer, stating that nail caps aren’t intended for outdoor cats and should only be used on cats who are kept strictly indoors.
Do nail caps bother cats?
So they’re safe, but are nail caps comfortable?
It depends on the cat.
Some cats will adapt effortlessly to the new bling on their paws. Some may take a few days to adjust. There are some cats, though, who’ll never warm up to the caps.
“It is normal for a cat to fuss at them for the first application or two, as they tend to do at anything that feels different,” Molloy says. “However, most cats get used to them after the first few applications.”
It may take a few days of wearing the nail caps for your cat to get used to them, so be patient. They may be curious or perplexed with the caps. Your cat may bite them off or fuss with them. Give it time—it will probably just take some getting used to. The folks at SoftPaws recommend positive reinforcement during the application to make the adjustment period easier.
Are there any downsides to using nail caps?
Just like any new product we try out for our pets, there are potential downsides to nail caps.
And just like any other pet product, opinions are divided. Here’s what naysayers have to say:
• “They’re ridiculous-looking.” Some pet owners share concerns that advocates of nails caps are using them as frivolous fashion statements. Rather than using them as a practical solution to clawing, there are people who will treat nail caps as a cutesy manicure for their kitties.
• “They make cats defenseless.” This concern bears weight. A cat with nail caps won’t be able to protect itself from other animals. This is why it’s so important that nail caps only be used for indoor kitties.
• “They’re difficult to apply.” There is definitely a learning curve to applying nail caps properly. If your cat doesn’t like his paws to be handled, you may find gluing tiny plastic covers to his nails to be quite the challenge.
• “They may require sedation.” Patrick Mahaney, DVM, a holistic veterinarian in Los Angeles shared with us another downside worth considering: “[There’s always] the potential need to sedate or anesthetize the cat so a degree of cooperation can be achieved.” If your cat is extra fidgety or nervous, this could be an area of concern.
Despite these concerns, there are plenty of happy consumers who’ve had success with nail caps. Using them as they’re intended to be used—not just as a feline mani-pedi—is critical.
Can I DIY them, or do I need to get a professional involved?
No need to call the professional groomer. Nail caps can be applied at home! But you need to do it carefully.
Veterinarian and former president of the Academy of Feline Medicine, Drew Weigner, points out the importance of applying the nail caps correctly. He tells WebMD, “The caps are put on with surgical adhesive and the cats usually get used to them within a day or two. But the glue has to be applied properly. I’ve had people glue a few toes together. And the hardest part is that you have to trim your cat’s claws before you put them on, and most people can’t trim their cat’s claws.”
Here’s how to apply nail caps—the right way
We took advice from Soft Paws, one of the leading manufacturers of nail caps for cats, to give you step-by-step instructions.
1. Choose the proper size cap for your cat’s nails. This will be determined by your cat’s weight. In general, caps come in small, medium, or large sizes.
2. Trim your cat’s nails. According to the National Cat Groomer’s Institute, you should trim the nail slightly longer than you would normally. If your cat doesn’t tolerate nail trimming well, try clipping a few at a time. Some pet owners recommend trimming your cat’s nails right after a nap. They might be more cooperative in their sleepy state.
3. Fill the nail cap with adhesive and place it over your cat’s nails. Be sure to use the proper amount of glue, and be careful not to get any on your cat’s fur or the skin around his claws.
If the glue begins to ooze out of the cap, you’ve used too much.
4. Enlisting the help of a friend will make the whole process easier. Keep your kitty calm and comfortable by having a friend (whom your cat trusts) hold him gently while you trim the nails and apply the caps.
5. Keep an eye on the caps. Some of the caps may fall off, especially when you’re just getting used to the application process. Replace any missing caps when necessary.
Should I apply nail caps to my cat’s hind paws?
You can, but it may not be necessary. A cat does most of his damage with his front paws. Plus, most cats naturally keep their back claws short by chewing them down periodically. There are a couple of situations where nail caps on a cat’s hind claws are beneficial:
1. To eliminate damage caused by cats who frequently jump on and off furniture.
2. To discourage self-inflicted wounds for cats who scratch excessively. Covering a cat’s front AND hind claws will protect kitties with sensitive skin from nasty scratches.
How often do I need to get nail caps replaced?
According to manufacturers, nail caps should last about six weeks, and they will fall off on their own as the nails grow. If they don’t fall off, however, you’ll need to replace them by the eighth week. If you don’t, the caps will become uncomfortable. Remember not to use too much glue, otherwise the removal process will be difficult.
If the nail caps are continually falling off, it’s possible you’re using the wrong size. If the caps are too large, they won’t adhere to your cat’s nails properly.
And remember—before applying a new set of caps, always trim and clean your cat’s nails first.
Is my cat a good candidate for nail caps?
Have we piqued your interest yet? Nail caps may seem like the ideal solution for your kitty’s razor claws, but they’re not suitable for everyone.
According to the National Cat Groomers Institute, you should probably pass on nail caps if any of the following apply to you:
• Your cat is an outdoor cat (he needs protection from predators!)
• You don’t have the time to properly maintain your cat’s nails or replace the caps regularly.
• Your cat seems agitated by the caps, even after several applications. If he continually bites and fusses with them, it may be better to explore other options (which we’ll look at shortly).
Nail caps are a solid choice for the following scenarios:
• Homes with designer furniture. Or antique linens. Or anything the average person would be devastated to see torn up by a rascally feline.
• Frisky kitties who have a “mean” streak. Does your cat lash out or exhibit aggressive behavior? Perhaps nail caps could be the answer, particularly if you have small children at home.
• Hairless cats with delicate skin or cats with chronic skin conditions where scratching can become a serious problem. The caps will protect your cat from self-inflicted scratches.
• Cats who cannot be successfully trained to stop scratching.
Alternatives to nail caps
If you’re wavering between nail caps and declawing your cat, the caps win every time. Nail caps are a safe, humane, comfortable, and generally effective way to minimize destructive clawing.
But there are other solutions you may want to explore, especially if your cat isn’t fond of the caps.
Keep in mind, it’s virtually impossible to eliminate your cat’s urge to scratch. Scratching is just a natural activity for cats. That said, there still are ways to direct your cat’s scratching towards more favorable surfaces.
Certified professional pet trainer, Nicole Ellis, shared some of the environmental changes you can make to let your cat embrace their scratching instinct. “Sticky paws or couch defender are great options for saving your couch from cat nails,” she says. “Be sure your cat has scratching posts available, and catnip is a great way to entice some interest.”
Molloy agrees. Mary Molloy gave us the following advice: “I always recommend training and behavior modification along with management tool,” she says. “Most cats can be taught to scratch on appropriate surfaces and to not use their claws on people, after which nail caps become unnecessary.”
If you’re struggling to get your cat to scratch the right places, even when offering treats, there’s another option, too. “Pheromone sprays can be applied to vertical and horizontal scratching posts to promote a cat to scratch in desirable locations,” Dr. Mahaney says. “Pheromone sprays and diffusers can also be used in multiple rooms around the home to produce a general calming effect.”
The best nail caps (and where to get them)
If you’re convinced that nail caps are right for you, here are some of the best in the market.
Arguably the most well-known manufacturer of nail caps, Soft Claws come in a variety of sizes and festive colors. Kits include 40 caps, adhesive, and six applicator tips. At under $15 per kit, Soft Claws are an economical way to protect your home from excessive scratching.
Developed by a veterinarian, Purdy Paws are a safe and non-toxic way to curb unwanted clawing. They offer a selection of over 40 colors, so there’s something to suit everyone’s taste.
Made with natural vinyl resin, Kitty Caps are a great option for your cat. Each kit comes with two different colors, so you can change it up on your second application.
This kit will give you the greatest bang for your buck. Each set comes with 120 nail caps (in six different colors), six tubes of adhesive, and six applicator tips. Customers can choose from four sizes (x-small, small, medium, and large).
ScratchPause caps are made from an extra durable plastic blend. These caps are meant to last! They are 100% non-toxic, and they come in six adorable colors: light pink, glitter pink, turquoise, royal blue, clear, and glow-in-the-dark.
Scratching is a natural cat behavior. But it’s also one us humans aren’t particularly fond of—especially when the target is our nice furniture, our legs, or our kids.
Nail caps for cats provide a safe way to minimize destructive clawing. You may be surprised at how effective they are.