Feline declawing is an elective procedure where the cat’s third toe bone with the attached claw on each toe is amputated. We once thought this surgery was required for cats to live indoors without destroying the furniture.
Veterinarians have learned many things about normal cat behavior in the past couple of decades that have changed how we think about and care for cats. We have also learned what cats need to live a happy life.
Scratching is normal cat behavior.
It helps to groom the front claws, give the cat a great whole body stretch, and leave important scent markers. These markers are like tweets – tiny little messages to other cats.
Declawing does not remove the cat’s natural need to scratch. The problem comes when our beloved cat chooses to scratch on furniture, carpets, or parts of the house like door frames.
Although you can’t make your cat stop scratching, you can redirect them so they scratch on appropriate things.
All cats need a scratching post that they like. You need at least one scratching post per cat in the household. If you have three cats, you need at least three scratching posts. Most cats like vertical scratching posts that are taller than they are and sturdy enough not to move when they are scratching it. Outdoors, they would use a tree. We are trying to imitate that tree.
A clue your cat prefers horizontal scratchers is if she chooses to scratch the carpet. If that is her choice, there are scratching posts that are horizontal. Again, it needs to be longer than the cat and sturdy.
Texture is important, too. Most cats like sisal rope best, but just like us, each cat is an individual and may prefer another surface. Carpet and corrugated cardboard are other things some cats like best. At first, offer your cat a lot of choices and see what she chooses.
In addition to size, shape, orientation and texture, location is very important. Cats often scratch and stretch when they first wake up, so positioning one scratching post near where they sleep is ideal.
If your cat is already scratching a piece of furniture, place a scratching post near where they are scratching. Often it is helpful to wash away the scent markers from the furniture your cat is using and apply a Feline Facial Pheromone Spray daily until she redirects her scratching to the post you provide.
Remember, habits are hard to break for you and your cat. It may take a while for her to transition to the new scratcher. Be happy with any success even if it isn’t complete success at first.
We now have a great new product, Feliscratch by Feliway, to attract your cat to their scratching post.
This is a liquid that comes in individual pipettes that is applied directly to the scratching post. It is reapplied once daily for the first week, then once at the beginning of the 3rd and 4th week. More information about training your cat to use their scratching post is available on the Feliway website.
When you see your cat scratch in an inappropriate location, don’t punish her.
Remove her gently from there and place her near the scratching post. When she scratches appropriately, reward her right away (within 3 seconds) with the reward she craves the most – it may be food, play, catnip, petting, or brushing.
Keeping your cat’s nails trimmed is often helpful. The actual trimming is a simple procedure and your veterinarian can show you how to do it. Many cats eventually learn to accept nail trims if they are never hurt and always rewarded.
Sometimes inappropriate scratching can tell us your cat is unhappy. Often this is because of territory problems and we see it both when there is conflict between cats in a household as well as anxiety because of cats outside.
Sometimes you know there is conflict in your household because the cats hiss or growl at each other, but sometimes the clues are very subtle. Cats are very good at acting like everything is okay even when it isn’t.... and developing behavioral problems, like scratching the furniture or urinating out of the litter pan.
Often we can help cats by giving every cat its own resources – separate areas for eating, drinking, sleeping, eliminating, getting up high, and hiding – and lots of play and simulated hunting.
Sometimes cats need more help including a visit with a cat behavior specialist or their veterinarian and/or anti-anxiety medication.
For more information on alternatives to declawing, environmental enrichment for cats and taking excellent care of your kitty friend, go to www.catfriendly.com or talk to your veterinarian.
We are here to help you and your cat!
Dr. Emily Kinnaird has a special interest and training in Behavior Medicine and offers Behavior consult appointments for you and your cat for any behavioral issues. Dr. Kathi Gruss is a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and is very interested in everything about cats! We are a Cat Friendly Practice, so all our doctors can help you with cat health, behavior, and training.