For many cat owners, redwood would be a good choice when selecting living room furniture. While we all bemoan that rip-rip of claws-on-fabric just as we’re dozing off at night, we can’t change the fact that nature intended cats to have claws.
The act of scratching serves a number of purposes for our cats — despite the fact that we often feel that the destruction of our sofa is their primary goal. Since scratching is such an integral part of cat behavior, it’s in our own best interest (and our furniture’s!) to help them channel that energy and to understand why they do it.
First, scratching serves as a feline pedicure. The action removes the outer sheath, leaving behind a freshly honed, conditioned claw.
Second, in the wild as well as indoors, scratching serves as a kind of calling card, since scent glands are embedded in the paw pads. It’s one way for the cat to mark its territory.
Third, it feels good. Have you ever noticed the look of pleasure and concentration in a cat that’s really into its scratching post?
It’s never too early to start teaching proper scratching manners.
If you’re starting from ... scratch ... with a kitten, provide sturdy scratchers with a variety of surfaces – sisal, carpet, cardboard – angled, vertical, flat.
They should be placed in various locations, especially in sleeping areas since cats like to stretch and scratch when they first awake.
Investing in several good scratching posts costs less than a new sofa. A good tall scratcher with a couple of cubbies or shelves and placed by a window is also a good place to lounge and bird watch. Sturdy is the operative word here. Nothing would deter a cat more from using a scratcher than having one fall over on her in mid-stretch. Arubacat scratchers (arubacat.com) are among the sturdiest and longest lasting; Artie Mitchell can be found selling them at local cat shows and online.
Cardboard scratchers are inexpensive and come in different sizes. They can be conveniently scattered around the house and easily replaced.
At last count, there were nine scratchers scattered around the house for our three cats, a combination of tall carpeted/sisal, well-used cardboard, and a “Turboscratcher,” with a newly replaced scratching surface.
Lace the surfaces liberally with catnip (few cats fail to respond to it) and lavish praise and a special treat when the kitty uses the scratchers.
Keeping your cat’s claws clipped is important, especially if she likes to knead to softer parts of your body. Early on, get the kitten used to having her paws handled. Some cats actually like a paw massage. While she may not enjoy having her claws clipped, she’ll understand that it’s part of her routine, especially when it’s topped off with a treat.
Do not encourage a kitten to play with your hands; provide proper toys, including soft ones that she can really sink her claws into.
Punishment does little to deter scratching, since the kitty will only scratch that surface when you’re not around to monitor her behavior. Yelling, rattling a can of pennies or using a squirt bottle may distract the cat momentarily, but she’ll probably move to a less conspicuous area and become more fearful of you.
If you catch her in the act, pick her up and bring her to the preferred location. And, if you really need to protect that Chippendale settee, consider isolating the cat when you’re not around to supervise.
Soft Paws (www.stickypaws.com) nail caps and Sticky Paws™ (www.softpaws.org) transparent adhesive strips may help deter scratching.
Declawing? Not an option.
Simply, think of it as chopping off your fingers at the knuckle. Cats who have been declawed often display biting behavior; they may be prone to litter box avoidance and arthritis due to their compensating gait.
At least 21 countries now ban declawing, but the U.S. has been slow to act. While several California cities ban declawing, New York was the first state to ban declawing; Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation in July 2019, but New Hampshire legislators voted down a bill to ban declawing last month. Florida and Arizona are considering declawing bills.
The Paw Project (pawproject.org) has been a longtime advocate against declawing and reports on legislative action.
In January, the American Veterinary Medical Association updated its policy, discouraging declawing, but leaving it up to individual veterinarians. It seems to be backtracking on its previous position, which said the procedure should be a last resort but focused on encouraging client education.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners strongly opposes declawing and says it’s the obligation of veterinarians to provide owners with alternatives and education about the procedure.
Scratching is natural behavior. The tools are readily at hand to keep both you and your cat happy.