Declawing, i.e. removing the claws from a cat is a hotly contested issue in the humane community. Some behaviorists believe declawing is psychologically harmful to cats because scratching is a natural feline behavior. Other people feel that if the choice comes down to dumping the cat at a shelter (or something worse) versus getting it declawed, surgery is a better option.
Cats scratch for a number of reasons. They will claw something to remove the outer sheath of their claws, to stretch, and to mark territory. Cats actually have scent glands in their paws, so the reason they claw the same place over and over again is because they can smell the scent on the surface.
Note that even if you declaw a cat, a number of the reasons for clawing remain, so kitty will still go through the motions of scratching. Obviously, the cat can’t do as much damage to the sofa, however.
Declawing a cat is not minor surgery. Although there are two main techniques, both involve removing the end of the toe. While the cat is under anesthesia, the preferred method is for the veterinarian to use a scalpel to cut open each toe, carefully remove the last bone segment, and close the wound. Because the cat must be anesthetized, many people have the surgery done at the same time the cat is spayed or neutered. It’s important to give your cat some time to recuperate and it’s vital that the cat be an inside-only cat from then on.
As more people have become educated on options to declawing, the surgery is performed less often. Some veterinarians won’t do it at all. The cats here at my house are inside cats that have all their claws. I taught my cats to use their scratching post or "kitty tree." My mother still can’t quite believe I was able to do this, but it was easy.
We have a tall sisal rope kitty tree. When the cats were kittens, we’d carefully "hang" them on the tree, which forced them to climb up, since cats can’t go backwards down a tree. As soon as you hold them close, the kittens automatically reach out and attach themselves with their claws and off they go. All the kittens we’ve done this with thought the trick was a whole lot of fun, so the tree became their favorite clawing location and sisal their favorite clawing surface.
As any cat owner will attest, the key to training a cat is to make the cat think the trick was her idea.