To declaw or not to declaw your cat? With declawing soon to be prohibited in Quebec, cat parents must find suitable alternatives to deal with scratching. In 2019, the Montreal SPCA launched a campaign against declawing in order to raise public awareness on the subject. Declawing is a major surgical procedure, regardless of the cat’s age or method used (laser doesn’t make it better); it consists in amputating the last phalange of each toe in order to remove the claws. Serious health issues can occur after the procedure, and the declawed cat’s behaviour may change as well, often due to pain. Scratching is necessary to cats; they do it to stretch their spine, among other things. Let’s see how one may deal with claws and scratches without any lost limbs.
Solution #1: Trim the cat’s claws to save your couch
Your cat may accidentally scratch things when jumping from one surface to another, or when running around. The best way to protect your couch is to trim the cat’s claws regularly, every 3 to 4 weeks. Claws on the front feet may need to be trimmed more often than those on the back, which are used more and trim themselves. You should get your cat used to having its claws trimmed as soon as possible; start trimming a kitten’s claws as soon as you get it, so that the experience will be pleasant, devoid of any pain or fear.
Trimming claws to prevent injury
Kittens are cute, but sometimes painful little critters; a kitten climbing up your leg or back to settle comfortably on your lap or shoulder tends to hurt. Cat claws can cause serious injury, and it’s important to know how to maintain them properly. You want to keep them short and smooth. If you’re not sure how to do it, ask the veterinary technician to show you how to trim a cat’s claws during your cat’s next regular check-up. When you start early enough, your cat may learn to enjoy the experience, and can be taught to present its paw for the trimming. Adult cats can also get used to having their claws trimmed, even if they initially hate it. There are fairly simple ways of doing so; don’t give up!
No more scratch marks on the couch
While a cat can be taught to shake paws, you can’t teach a kitten not to scratch, since it’s a natural and necessary behaviour. One way of protecting your furniture while teaching your cat where it can scratch: nail caps, also known as Soft Paws. These are smooth plastic sheaths which are glued over each claw, so that the cat can’t scratch surfaces. Each package usually contains enough caps for a few fittings, and/or replace fallen and lost caps. They can be worn for a few weeks or months and your veterinary team can install them or show you how to do it yourself. Nail caps last 4 to 6 weeks on adult cats, or 2-3 weeks on kittens, since they are usually more rambunctious. Kittens under 4 months are still developing their motor skills and balance and shouldn’t be fitted with nail caps, which could hinder the process.
Solution #2: Teach your cat where to scratch
New kitten scratches everything?
Before Kitty gets home, you should have set up a cat tree and scratching post, so that the cat’s education can start right away. It’s best not to let the cat get bad habits. Also, keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal and natural for kittens to have a lot of energy, and to jump and climb on everything with their claws; therefore, kittens need an adequate environment. These behaviours diminish greatly with age.
Why your cat won’t use the scratching post
If your cat doesn’t use the scratcher, the latter doesn’t suit the cat’s needs; it may not be the right type, be too short, not sturdy enough, made of unpleasant materials, or is simply not at the right place. Your cat may also be afraid of it, or not know how to use it.
Solution #3: The 3 commandments of ruined furniture
1: Scratched furniture Thy shall patch up
First, you must fix any scratched up furniture, whether fabric or leather. A simple patch can do the job when repairing your couch. Scratch marks are visual cues, and they encourage the cat to keep using the arm of your couch.
2: Unpleasant for Kitty Thy shall be
Next, make the coveted furniture unpleasant by covering it with crushed foil or double-sided sticky tape. This way, the furniture remains unpleasant even when you’re not there. Don’t punish the cat when it scratches what it shouldn’t! Punishing cats doesn’t work.
3: An interesting alternative Thy shall provide
Last, provide the cat with a scratching post where it’s been scratching. Your cat is telling you where it wants to scratch. Once the cat has adopted the scratching post, move it very gradually to where you want it, while keeping it near the cat-elected spot. If you move it too fast or too far, the cat may go back to its chosen scratch post.
How to get your cat to use a scratching post
Choosing an adequate scratching post
A good scratching post must be tall (at least 90cm height by 10cm width), and stand on a solid, stable base that won’t tip over when the cat uses it. There are vertical, horizontal and diagonal scratching posts and each cat has its preferences. Make sure you get one your cat will like. The material is also important; sisal rope, cardboard, wood and carpeting are widely used and generally appreciated by our feline friends.
Location is the key for scratching
Cats tend to scratch objects located near entryways (door frames, couch, rocking chair…); this is where you should put the scratching post. The larger the house, the more scratching posts you need. Likewise, the more cats share your home, the more scratching posts should be provided. The cats will share the posts, but some prefer having their own.
To make the posts more interesting, you could sprinkle treats or catnip on or around it, and play with a fishing rod type toy with the cat so that it will ‘accidentally’ scratch it and realize how fun it is.
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Translated and adapted from French by Elen Dupuis, Cat Educator and Biologist
French written by Kym Lecault, Cat Educator and Animal Health Technician