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Your domestic cat has maintained their instincts of their wild ancestors. Cats’ claws are physically unique and serve several functions. The forelimb claws are retractable and allow her to expose or retract her nails as needed. A cat may expose their claws to hunt and use them to grasp and capture their prey, to defend itself during conflict with other cats or other animals, or to mark territory (both visually and chemically).
Scratching is a natural, normal, and necessary behavior for your cat. Your cat does not scratch to upset you or spitefully damage your furniture. Scratching is a form of communication and often your cat will scratch during times of stress and anxiety. If your cat’s scratching or marking has increased, this may be a sign of stress or anxiety, including a threat or restriction to their environmental resources (food, water, litter box, safe place to sleep, familiar territory, etc.). It is important to figure out the cause of your cat’s stress or anxiety so you can address the issue and reduce the unwanted scratching behavior.
Feline declawing is an elective procedure, which is not medically necessary for cats in most instances. Declawing entails the amputation of a cat’s third phalanx, or third ‘toe bone.’ Unlike human nails, cats’ claws are attached to the last bone in their toes. A comparison in human terms would be cutting off a person’s finger at the last joint of each finger.
It is important to understand that scratching is normal behavior for cats, which has an inherent function. The primary reason cats scratch is to maintain the necessary claw motion used in hunting and climbing, as well as a means to stretch their body. Scratching serves to groom the front claws and leave markers of the cat’s presence. A cat’s claws grow in layers and scratching removes the worn outer layer to expose the new growth inside. Cat owners must therefore provide alternatives for cats such as suitable scratchers.
There are several potential negative side effects of declawing. In addition to potential pain and arthritis, the kitty may eventually develop an aversion to the litterbox resulting in inappropriate eliminations. In addition, without claws, some cats will increase their biting behavior. Anyone researching the declaw procedure should take these complications under advisement.
Provide your cat with suitable ‘scratchers’ where they can exhibit normal scratching behavior. Scratchers come in multiple styles and textures. It is important to experiment with a variety of textures and types of scratchers to determine which your cat prefers. Some examples include scratching posts or pads with sisal rope or rough fabric, cardboard boxes, and lumber or logs. Scratchers can be vertical or horizontal and there are even varieties that blend into your home decor. There are even couch extensions that allow your cat to scratch on the edge of your couch instead of damaging the actual furniture (https://sofascratcher.com).
The placement of scratchers is very important. Cats often stretch or scratch when they wake up so consider placing one near where your cat sleeps. It may also be effective to place a scratcher near or in front of a cat’s preferred, yet undesirable, scratching object (e.g. corner of the couch). Kittens and cats can be trained to use scratchers by rewarding use of the scratcher with the cat’s favorite treat. If the cat scratches elsewhere, they should be gently picked up, taken to the scratcher, and then rewarded. Cats should always be positively reinforced and never punished.
Regularly trimming your cat’s claws can prevent injury and damage to household items. Proper feline nail trimmers should be used to prevent splintering of the claws. The frequency of claw trimming will depend on your cat’s lifestyle. Indoor cats, kittens, and older cats will need more regular nail trims, whereas outdoor cats may naturally wear down their nails requiring less frequent trimming. If possible, start trimming as kittens so they become comfortable with the process early on. If your cat does not like claw trimmings start slow, offer breaks, and make it a familiar routine. Ask your veterinarian for advice or a demonstration on trimming your cat’s claws. Always trim claws in a calm environment and provide positive reinforcement. Proper training to scratch on appropriate surfaces,combined with nail care, can prevent damage in the home
These caps are glued over your cat’s nails to help prevent human injury and damage to household items. The nail caps usually need to be re-applied every 4-6 weeks; therefore they may be a less desirable alternative to regular nail trimming, suitable scratchers, and environmental enrichment.
Continued scratching by cats may be related to stress, anxiety, attention seeking, or a perceived lack of security in their environment. Anxiety can also be intensified by punishment, thus driving the cat to increase scratching behaviors in the same or other undesirable locations in the home. Consider using synthetic facial pheromone sprays and/or diffusers to help relieve anxiety or stress. Apply a synthetic pheromone spray such as Feliway® on the objects or areas in your home where your cat has exhibited undesired scratching. Do so after cleaning with soap and water to remove the communication marking scents left by your cat’s paws. Applying daily comforting pheromones can prevent your cat’s need to mark these areas again. Feliway® should not be sprayed on the desired scratcher. If undesirable scratching occurs in several rooms, indicating a more generalized anxiety or stress, it is recommended to also plug-in a synthetic pheromone diffuser such as Feliway® to comfort your cat in their home environment.
Providing your cat with an environment that is enriching is vital to teaching your cat to scratch on appropriate objects. Destructive scratching can occur in cats because their needs have not been fully met. Cats need the proper resources to perform their natural behaviors and have control over their social interactions. You can enhance your cat’s health and well-being by ensuring all their needs are met in the home. The AAFP has a wealth of information for cat owners on environmental enrichment. Visit: www.catvets.com/environmental-needs.
When scratching, cats mark their territory by leaving visual (lacerations) and chemical messages from their paws. This scent message, undetectable to us, is a pheromone known as the feline interdigital semiochemical. Scratching can also be a sign of stress in cats. Feliscratch by Feliway® is a copy of this pheromone. When applied on the desired scratching surface, it mimics the visual and chemical signals to encourage the cat to scratch there again.
At The Cat's Meow we recommend against the declaw procedure and do not perform this surgery.