Your couch and your nerves are in tatters. You’re scolding your cat, knowing all the while that it’s futile. This is one of nature’s most pragmatic and self-sufficient creatures. “Why the Fuss?” they seems to say. “I’m simply doing my thing – what’s with you?” You’re at an impasse. What to do?
What Do Veterinarians Say About Declawing?
Declawing is a serious consideration that should only be contemplated after discussing it with your veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a policy regarding declawing:
“The AVMA strongly encourages client education prior to consideration of onychectomy (declawing). It is the obligation of the veterinarian to provide cat owners with a complete education regarding the normal scratching behavior of cats, the procedure itself, as well as potential risks to the patient. Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as major surgery. The decision to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian. Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after every effort has been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).”
Why Does Your Cat Need to Scratch?
Understanding the situation is half the battle. Scratching is a territorial instinct by which cats place their mark and establish their turf. Through scratching, cats mark their domains with more than just visible signs of claw marks. Cat’s paws also have scent glands that leave their unique, distinctive scent on their territory. Scratching also serves to keep your cat in shape. The act of scratching stretches pulls and works the muscles of a cat’s front quarters. It feels good to scratch.
You can’t make a cat do anything they don’t want to do, and getting them to stop something they enjoy is almost as difficult. Therefore, you have to think smart and re-channel their desires. Cats don’t understand physical punishment. In addition to it being wrong to hit your cat, punishment doesn’t work and is likely to make your situation worse. Kitty won’t understand that you’re punishing them for scratching the couch.
What Can You Do?
Provide your cat with an appropriate scratching post. Bear in mind that your idea of desirable and Kitty’s may not coincide. Cats like rough surfaces that they can shred to pieces. Whatever post you choose, it must be tall enough for them to fully extend their body, and most importantly, it must be secure. If it topples over even once, they won’t go back to it. Sisal rug scratching posts are ideal. This is a material that can be shredded to pieces with great satisfaction for your cat. Be sure not to throw it away when it is shredded since that’s when they’ve just broken it in satisfactorily. Rugs provide an excellent, satisfyingly resistant texture for clawing.
How to Get the Kitty to Prefer the Post?
Remember that an important part of scratching is the cat’s desire to mark territory, so a scratching post should be in an area that the family uses, not hidden in a back corner. It may be by a couch, a chair, or wherever Kitty has chosen as their territory; you may need more than one post to cover their favorite spots. Encourage Kitty to use her post with clever enticements. Rub dried catnip leaves or powder into it. Reward them with a favorite treat when it’s used. Have them chase a string or a toy around the post or attach toys to it, which will result in them digging their claws into it. Eventually, they will learn to love it and regard it as their own.
Start them young. It’s much easier to initiate good habit patterns than to correct undesirable ones. From the beginning, teach your kitten the appropriate places to scratch. Take advantage of your kitten’s desire to play and attach toys to the post. They will soon “dig in” to catch their toy and discover how good it feels to scratch this surface. If your cat starts to scratch an inappropriate object, immediately place them in front of their scratching post and begin petting them. Some cats will begin kneading when petted, digging their claws into the desired surface, and establishing this as a fine place to scratch. Cats are creatures of habit. Start them off with good ones.
Soft Claws – An Excellent Alternative
If all of this is too time-consuming and you have a strictly indoor cat, you have another very desirable option; an excellent product called Soft Claws. These are lightweight vinyl caps that you apply over your cat’s claws. They have rounded edges, so your cat’s scratching doesn’t damage your home and furnishings. Soft Claws are great for households with small children, as they protect the child from getting scratched. They are also handy for people who are away from home all day and can’t apply the watchfulness necessary to train a cat to use a scratching post. An important caveat here, they should be used only on indoor cats since they blunt one of the cat’s chief means of self-defense. Soft Claws last approximately six weeks once Kitty becomes accustomed to them. At first, they may feel a bit strange to them. They’ll get used to them quickly. It is amazing how well cats tolerate the Soft Claws; most don’t even notice they are wearing them.
The Facts on Declawing
Unlike most mammals that walk on the soles of the paws or feet, cats are digitigrades, which means they walk on their toes. Their back, shoulder, paw, and leg joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves are naturally designed to support and distribute the cat’s weight across its toes as it walks, runs, and climbs. A cat’s claws are used for balance, exercise, and stretching the muscles in their legs, back, shoulders, and paws. They stretch these muscles by digging their claws into a surface and pulling back against their claw hold – similar to isometric exercising for humans. It is the only way a cat can exercise the muscles of its back and shoulders. The toes help the foot meet the ground at a precise angle to keep the leg, shoulder, and back in proper alignment.
Removal of the last digits of the toes drastically alters the conformation of their feet. It causes the feet to meet the ground at an unnatural angle that can cause back pain similar to that in humans caused by wearing improper shoes. The anatomy of the feline claw must be understood before one can appreciate the severity of declawing. The cat’s claw is not a nail, as is a human fingernail; it is part of the last bone in the cat’s toe.
Contrary to most people’s understanding, declawing consists of amputating not just the claws but also bones, ligaments, and tendons. When removing the claw, the bone, nerve, joint capsule, collateral ligaments, and the extensor and flexor tendons must all be amputated. Thus, declawing is not a “simple” single surgery but ten separate, painful amputations of the third phalanx up to the last joint of each toe. A graphic comparison in human terms would be the cutting off of a person’s finger at the last joint.