Cat Nail Caps: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives to Consider
Ask any cat parent what they love most about their kitty and you’re sure to get a wide range of answers. For some, it’s that warm, cuddly feeling when they curl up in your lap. Others like the reassuring rumble of a contented purr…and who can resist those adorable toe beans? However, the sharp, pointy claws on the other end of those toe beans are often not so beloved. That may lead cat parents to wonder: Are cat nail caps a good solution?
According to one survey, 83 percent of people with cats reported that their pets scratched “inappropriate items” around their homes, with the most frequent targets being chairs, furniture, and carpeting. To combat this destructive behavior, some cat parents turn to cat nail caps as a possible solution. But are these popular protectors a good idea for cats? We talked to some experts to get their opinion on nail caps for cats.
What are Cat Nail Caps?
Scratching is a natural instinct for cats. Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, whether that’s to express emotions, mark objects with their scent, or perform routine maintenance on their nails. But nobody wants their furniture ruined by their pet. Thus, cat parents often go to great lengths to curb scratching if it becomes destructive. Some pet parents use cat nail caps to prevent damage from cat claws.
Cat nail caps are tiny protective plastic or acrylic covers that fit over a cat’s nails. They’re designed to prevent the damage cats can do to people and objects with their razor-sharp claws. They’re considered by many to be a more humane alternative to declawing.
Typically, nail caps are secured to cat claws with built-in adhesive or special glue that’s included in the packaging. Most are designed to last about 4-6 weeks and then fall off naturally as the cat’s nails grow. Many come in a variety of bright colors to add a pop of pizzazz to kitty claws.
Are Nail Caps Safe for Cats?
According to the experts we spoke with, cat claw caps have a variety of benefits, as well as some potential downsides. Some veterinarians recommend them, while others advise cat parents to steer clear.
So what’s the verdict? Like most judgment calls, cat parents will need to take their pet’s preferences and nature into consideration when deciding if cat nail caps are a good fit for their feline. It’s also a good idea to consult with a veterinarian who knows your cat well.
To prepare you for that conversation, we rounded up answers to the questions pet parents most commonly ask about cat nail caps, along with some expert insights from veterinarians about nail capping cats.
Cat Nail Caps Pros and Cons
We consulted several veterinarians to help pet parents understand the controversy surrounding cat nail caps. Some experts consider them a viable solution for shielding sharp cat claws, while others warn that using them can be risky. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of cat claw covers.
The Pros of Cat Nail Caps
Cat claw caps are effective. When it comes to protection, cat nail caps are an easy and effective way to prevent the damage sharp cat nails can do to your home, as well as injuries to members of your household.
This can be especially helpful for homes with young children or elderly cat owners who have more fragile skin, says head veterinarian Dr. Patrik Holmboe, DVM, of Cooper Pet Care.
Cat nail caps do not impede nail use or growth. Contrary to popular belief, “nail caps don’t prevent the normal retraction movement of the nail,” Holmboe says. He also notes that with claw caps for cats, nail growth is not affected in any way. “In fact, this is why the caps only last 4-6 weeks, as it is the nail growth which usually makes them fall off,” he adds.
Cat nail covers are affordable. Especially when compared to the cost of replacing expensive home furnishings or carpets, cat nail caps are a low-cost way to prevent damage or injuries within your home.
“For ten to twenty dollars, you can often get hundreds, which will last many rounds of application,” says Holmboe. “As long as a cat tolerates the application of them, you can continually replace them,” he says.
Using cat nail caps is considered a more compassionate alternative to declawing. “Declawing is never recommended as a solution,” says leading pet trend expert Charlotte Reed, executive producer and host of The Pet Buzz syndicated radio talk show. “It’s not recommended by most vets and it has even been banned in some places because it is considered an inhumane procedure,” she adds.
The Humane Society of the United States also opposes declawing and suggests a range of alternative solutions to prevent cats from aggressive scratching, including the use of cat nail caps to blunt sharp claws. However, the organization urges pet parents not to rely solely on cat nail caps to solve the problem.
Though cat nail covers do allow cats to exercise their natural urge to scratch without inflicting damage on furniture or carpets, the Humane Society recommends pet parents also provide a more acceptable surface for a cat to scratch on, like a scratching post.
Cat nail caps can be a fun feline fashion accessory. Many companies offer acrylic cat nail caps in a variety of fun colors and patterns. If you’re looking to give your favorite feline a paw-i-cure, cat nail caps offer a fun way to do it safely, according to Dr. Krysia Chipperfield, DVM, of All About Cats Veterinary Clinic.
The Cons of Kitty Nail Caps
There are some potential downsides to cat nail caps that pet parents may want to consider. Here’s a roundup of those most commonly mentioned by our veterinary experts.
They’re temporary and require regular reapplication. Holmboe reminds cat owners that cat nail covers do require regular monitoring and replacement, generally every 4-6 weeks. Depending on the temperament of your cat, this could prove time-consuming and difficult. It may be more effort than reward for some pet parents, says Chipperfield.
Cat nail caps could present a choking hazard. “They often come off very easily and some cats nibble at them incessantly,” says Chipperfield. That can make them a danger to your cat and others in your home, such as young children or other pets.
Cat nail caps are not recommended for outdoor cats. “If a cat goes outside, cat nail caps can limit their climbing ability,” says Holmboe. They can also prevent cats from defending themselves in the case of a fight. That makes them a poor choice for outdoor cats, as well as cats prone to escape attempts.
Cat nail caps could limit some benefits cats get from scratching. “Scratching is an instinctive behavior for cats, and they scratch to get rid of the dead nail sheaths on their nails,” says cat expert and behaviorist, Samantha Bell. Nail caps, she warns, can prevent some cats from feeling like they’re truly scratching. “And the dead nail sheaths build up inside the caps, putting pressure on their toes and making them feel uncomfortable,” she adds.
Some cats could find nail caps annoying…or even harmful. As most pet parents know, cats can be very opinionated, and some may not appreciate nail caps, while others might tear off when you attempt to apply the caps to their claws.
“If a cat really dislikes the caps, that could cause stress and anxiety,” warns Chipperfield. Some cats could self-inflict injuries trying to get them off, which is why Chipperfield doesn’t recommend them to her clients.
Safety Tips When Using Cat Nail Caps
If you choose to use caps for cat claws, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind:
Consider the Materials
When shopping for cat nail caps, “make sure that the cap material and the adhesive are nontoxic,” says Chipperfield. That way, you don’t have to worry about your kitty nibbling or licking a hazardous substance off their capped claws.
When purchasing cat caps for nails, make sure you’re buying the correct size, based on your cat’s weight. “If you choose the wrong size or apply them incorrectly, then they can come off easily,” Holmboe says.
Consult Your Veterinarian
“Before applying nail caps, you should trim your cat’s nails,” says Reed. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that yourself, you can take your kitty to a groomer or your veterinarian.
While you’re there, you may also want to ask your professional if they apply or remove cat nail caps. “Many veterinary offices and groomers can do it for you,” says Dr. Megan Conrad, DVM, a veterinarian at Hello Ralphie.
Check the Instructions
Before you attempt to apply cat nail caps, always read the manufacturer’s directions to make sure you do it properly. Conrad also offers this tip: “With any brand, try the caps on one at a time — without glue first — to check the fit.”
Keep an Eye on Your Cat
Kitty claw caps normally come off naturally after about 4 to 6 weeks, as the cat’s outer nail sheds. “Cat parents need to keep an eye on their cat’s paws to ensure this is happening and the claw and cap don’t start to grow into the paw pad,” Conrad adds.
If that happens, follow the manufacturer’s directions for removing the nail cap. And if you’re having any trouble, consult your veterinarian.
Wearing nail caps can be stressful for some cats, “especially the first time,” says Chipperfield. So always keep an eye on your cat and watch for signs of anxiety or discomfort.
Cat Nail Cap Alternatives
Though scratching is instinctive for cats, there’s still hope for your furniture and rugs, even if you decide cat nail caps aren’t the best choice for your cat.
Keep Claws Trimmed
Reed recommends trimming cat nails on a regular basis as an alternative for pet parents who decide against nail caps. You can take your cat to the groomer to have this done professionally. Or you can do this at home if you (and your cat) are comfortable with that. “Getting the sharp tips off of the claws helps reduce damage to furniture, skin, and other items,” she says.
Offer Cat a Scratching Post
Other cat claw cover alternatives include using scratching posts. “You can even provide several areas for scratching with different textures and surface types, depending on what your cat prefers,” says Reed. She suggests noticing what types of items and materials your cat tends to scratch and using that as a guide to help you to determine appropriate solutions. “Try directing your cat to the scratching post if they scratch in other areas so they know this is an appropriate place to do so,” she says.
You can position scratching posts near furniture that cats typically scratch to encourage them to use that instead. Once the cat gets used to using the scratcher, slowly move it away closer to the area where you’d like to eventually keep it. Chipperfield recommends positively rewarding your cat whenever they use their scratching post. Try petting them, using appraising words, and giving them their favorite cat treat.
Limit Access to Furniture
You can make furniture less appealing to cats by covering it with a blanket or sheet to limit access. Pet stores sell special pet furniture guards and shields that you can also place around your furniture. A spray deterrent is another option. Many companies make cat repellent sprays containing scents that cats dislike. Spritzing this on items you want a cat to avoid scratching can help to deter them.
Cat nail caps have a variety of benefits and disadvantages for cats. If you choose to use them, make sure you follow the safety tips above to ensure your cat is safe and happy when wearing them. And most importantly, if your cat shows any signs of agitation while wearing cat claw caps, remove them and try one of the many expert-backed alternatives to cat nail caps.