Solving Cat Scratching Problems
Written by: Aaron I
There has been a lot of media attention lately on cat declawing, as the total number of cities banning the practice as animal cruelty rose to 8 by the end of last year. Declaw surgery is no manicure; it amputates 1/3 of the cat’s paws. Declawing is extremely painful for the cat, and medical complications are extremely common. Despite average pain management at the time of surgery, it is now known that serious pain can persist for months or years, leading to physical and behavior problems. Studies show that 33% (1 in 3) declawed cats will develop a more serious behavior problem, such as aggression, or failing to use the litterbox. It’s far better (and more humane) to resolve behavioral problems with behavioral solutions.
What can you do about destuctive scratching without declawing? Fortunately, there are many alternatives, one or more of which is sure to work for any cat.
Keeping Furniture Safe
Surveys recently found that while 95% of cats are declawed to protect furniture, only 52% of cat guardians provided their cat with a scratching post. Scratching is an extremely strong instinctive need for cats, and unless you give them an attractive and acceptable surface to scratch on, they will choose one for themselves—and it could be your sofa or expensive carpet! So the first step in preventing destructive clawing is to give the cat a good scratching object and start transferring the behavior.
To train your kitten or cat to use the post or scratcher, place it next to a problem scratching spot, or near a favorite sleeping spot. Cats like to stretch when they wake up from a nap. Rub the post with catnip if your cat likes it. Gently redirect scratching to the post. No yelling or punishment—they don’t work, and will only confuse and frighten the cat. Praise the cat or give treats for using the right surface. Be patient, and be consistent.
Some cats have a distinct preference for either vertical or horizontal scratching surfaces, which can easily be determined by observation. Cats tend to prefer corrugated cardboard and sisal rope or matting over carpet (the most common post covering). There is an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and orientations available. From simple cardboard scratchers to wall art and exotic cat furniture, you’ll find something here to please any cat! We advise providing multiple options, even for a single cat. All vertical posts should be sturdy, stable, and tall enough for your cat to stretch fully. Make your own scratchers from cardboard, logs, sisal, or soft wood, or try one of these cat-friendly products:
- Scratch Lounge Double-Sided Cat Scratcher
- SmartCat Ultimate Scratching Post
- Marmalade Sweet Lounge Cat Scratcher
- The Refined Feline Lotus Cat Tower Furniture
- Kong Naturals Cat Scratchers
- Marmalade Wall Flower Cat Scratcher
- SmartCat Scratching Ramp
- Mr. Herzher’s Feline Combo Scratching Platform
If your cat still prefers furniture to his own scratching objects, loose furniture covers (blankets, towels, sheets), or protective double-sided sticky tape can be used to make the furniture unappealing. Specially made tape comes in strips and sheets, and won’t harm harm upholstery. Don’t worry, these are not permanent measures; once your cat is using the acceptable alternatives reliably, you can remove the protectors.
Keeping People Safe
Another concern is the potential for the cat to scratch a person. For young children, the elderly, immuno-compromised individuals, or people on blood-thinners, this seems like a legitimate reason to declaw; but it isn’t. Studies show that declawed cats are more likely to bite, and to bite harder or more frequently. Cat bites are far more dangerous to human health than scratches, and are much more likely to become infected.
Children (and some adults!) should be taught how to approach and handle cats gently and humanely. Children can learn, but declawing is for life. Never play rough with a cat or kitten using bare hands or feet. Yes, it’s funny and cute to play with a kitten with your hands (we’ve all seen that YouTube video), but when he’s all grown up with inch-long fangs, it’s not so amusing. Don’t create a bad habit to start with, so your cat won’t have to unlearn it later (which is not so easy to accomplish).
Additional protection for human health can be accomplished by regular nail trimming to keep the claws blunt and harmless. Scissor-style nail clippers or human nail clippers are the easiest to maneuver. It’s ideal to get kittens started young by handling the feet and trimming nails early; but even adult cats can learn to tolerate it. Be patient and go slowly. There’s no rule that says you have to trim all 18 claws at once; one or two when your cat is sleeping or peaceful is also a great way to start.
For even more protection, you can apply vinyl nail caps over the nails. Your veterinarian’s office or groomer can show you how to apply them. Once the nail caps are applied they remain in place for approximately 4-6 weeks. They will fall off with the natural growth of your cat’s nails. We recommend that you check your cat’s nails periodically because usually just one or two fall off at a time and these can be easily reapplied. Each kit contains 40 nail caps and will last approximately 4-6 months per cat.
There are “repellents” available that will make the unacceptable scratching area less appealing to your cat. Or, make your own using citrus oils or citronella.
If your cat is scratching due to territorial anxiety, natural pheromones can encourage use of the correct surfaces (posts, scratchers)
There’s Never a Need to Declaw
All reasons for non-medical declawing have non-surgical alternatives. There are many humane choices that will protect both human and feline health, as well as sofas and Persian rugs. Those who absolutely insist that no cat of theirs will have claws, can adopt an already-declawed cat (there are many of them in shelters and rescues).
With time, patience, and a little effort, one or more of these alternatives will work for any cat; making it unnecessary and inhumane to use a radical, irreversible surgery to solve a behavior problem.