Feline Scratching Behavior and Declawing
One of the most common complaints by cat owners is destructive scratching and clawing in the home. Although horror stories abound about the difficulty involved to get cats to stop scratching furniture, with the right steps this process is easy.
Scratching is an important part of a cat’s behavior. It stretches their muscles and leaves their scent upon items they scratch. A cat’s claws are formed like an onion. They are made up of many layers, one on top of another and scratching helps cats shed the old layers of their claws. It is also an outlet for frustration. If you’ve ever noticed a cat looking out the window at a bird and then walk away to scratch on something or groom, you have witnessed this behavior.
Declawing a cat takes away their ability to exhibit this behavior, but no one wants to have their couch look like a pincushion for their feline family member. Instead, training a cat to appropriately use a scratching post can be a wonderful solution. Owners should first provide an appropriate alternative. “Appropriate” is the key for many people who say they have tried scratching posts, but they don’t work. Many new cat owners get the inexpensive posts that are too short with unappealing surfaces that tip over easily. Cats need a solid place to scratch that won’t fall over, with a surface that they can sink their claws into. Finding a scratching post that meets these qualifications is paramount in ensuring your cat will use it. Just like people, each cat has different preferences, but the following are some basic guidelines:
Look for a scratching post tall enough for a full-grown cat to stretch its entire length against.
Posts covered in sisal rope or made from uncovered wood make good surfaces to scratch on. Carpet usually does not.
The base of a post should be wide enough so that it does not easily tip. About 18”x 24” should be the minimum to look for.
Some cats like scratching on horizontal surfaces, so try a cardboard scratcher. These are shallow boxes with corrugated cardboard in the middle. They provide a good scratching surface and don’t move since the cat stands on them to scratch. Eventually, they will wear out, but are so inexpensive it’s easy to pick up another one.
Cat trees are wonderful for expanding a cat’s territory, but are not scratching posts! Some cat trees have good scratchers built into them, but use the same points as above to evaluate whether that portion of the tree as a good scratcher. If destructive scratching is your primary concern, it’s a better idea to first invest in a good scratching post and cardboard scratchers than to buy a big, expensive cat tree.
The next step is to teach your cat to use the posts and stay away from your furniture. This involves making the furniture undesirable and the posts their preference for scratching. For furniture, a great deterrent is Sticky Paws, wide strips of double-sided tape that won’t leave residue on your furniture. Cats don’t like the sticky surface and will avoid it.
There are a couple good techniques to make the scratching post your cat’s new, preferred scratching place. First and foremost is location. If you put the post in an extra room that you rarely visit, don’t expect your cat to use it. Instead, put the post in your living room or wherever you spend most of your time. If your cat enjoys catnip, rub some all over the post to attract your cat. Finally, for the next few days, play with your cat and his favorite toys on and around the post or scratcher. Do not try to pick up your cat and force him to make scratching motions on the post. Most dislike being forced and will associate that with the scratching post. Instead, by centering your play around the post and/or scratcher they will quickly learn that it is a great surface to scratch on. Whenever they use it, praise your cat. If you are consistent and patient, it won’t take long to get your cat trained to use the post for life.
A discussion about declawing is appropriate as well since for some, this is their first impulse when getting a new cat. The process of declawing involves cutting the joint just above the cat’s claw under surgical anesthesia. This is an amputation (similar to amputating a human finger at the top joint) and quite traumatic for cats. After the surgery they can never fully stretch their leg muscles again. Some cats do fine after the procedure, but in others it causes problems. It is impossible to guess which category your cat would fall into. Sometimes the claws grow back at strange, painful angles or under the skin, requiring another surgery to correct it. In almost all cases properly training your cat to use a scratching post is better for them and less expensive for you. Of course, if you are having difficulties in the training process or questions about declawing, ask your veterinarian for help. We may have some simple solutions to assist you.
Evergreen Animal Hospital
6225 Wollochet Dr. NW
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Phone: (253) 851-9195
Sunday 10:00am - 4:00pm
Monday 8:00am - 6:00pm
Tuesday 8:00am - 7:00pm
Wednesday 8:00am - 6:00pm
Thursday 8:00am - 7:00pm
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Saturday 9:00am - 5:00pm