not to declaw
is natural behavior for cats
your cat with an appropriate scratching post
get your cat to prefer the post
your cat's nails
Paws® -- Vinyl nail caps for cats. An excellent
Your Sofa and your nerves are in tatters. You're scolding
your cat, knowing all the while that it's futile. This
is not a cocker spaniel you're dealing with. This is one
of nature's most pragmatic and self sufficient creatures.
Worse, you're well aware that your cat considers your
behavior abberant. She looks at you as if you've gone
slightly mad. "Why the Fuss?" she seems to say.
"What are you raving about? I'm simply doing my thing--what's
You're at an impasse. What to do?
Above all, don't declaw.
Please, take that as a given. Declawing is not an acceptable
option for the beautiful, loving animal that depends on
you. The reasons to avoid declawing are compelling, for
you as well as for your cat.
Declawing is literally maiming a cat, a mistake that
can lead to physical, emotional and behavioral complications.
It is erroneous to think that declawing a cat is a trivial
procedure similar to trimming fingernails. A cat's claws
are a vital part of its anatomy, essential to balance,
mobility and survival.
Declawing is an irreversible surgical procedure that
involves amputating the last joint of the cat's "toes."
It is a very painful procedure with strong potential to
secondary complications. (Imagine having the last joint
of your own fingers amputated. Not a pleasant idea.)
On rare occasions declawing may lead to secondary contracture
of the tendons. This makes it uncomfortable for the cat
to walk. Since the last joints of their front paws are
missing, they compensate by placing more of their weight
to the hind quarters, causing them to be out of balance.
This shift of weight to the hind quarters may lead to
atrophy of the muscles of their front quarters.
Being out of balance is extremely distressing to a cat,
whose very life is about balance. You've observed cats
climbing trees, teetering perilously on a single branch,
leaping incredible heights to land on a pre-selected spot,
or threading in and out of complex arrangements of knickknacks
without disturbing a single ornament. (Unless, of course,
they choose to do so.) These are acts of balance and part
of a cat's basic heritage.
In addition to being an intrinsic part of a cat's normal
conformation, its front claws are a cat's primary defense.
Once declawed, there is no replacement or regrowth of
the claws. You may think, "My cat never goes outside."
But what if your cat accidentally gets outside and you
can't find her? She is now defenseless in a potentially
Deprived of its front claws a cat may become insecure
and distressed. I can assure you that if Kitty becomes
emotionally distressed, you will too. Kitty's display
of distress tends to take such forms as urinating on your
favorite rug or spraying your antique armoire. Feeling
defenseless without her claws, Kitty may become hostile
to people (including you), and to other cats and become
more apt to bite. Some cats develop an aversion to their
litter box because of the pain associated with scratching
in the litter after a declawing procedure. If Kitty doesn't
go in the box, she will find a more comfortable place
to do her business. Often times, these habits are hard
One more compelling reason not to declaw. Some European
countries have ruled declawing illegal! It is considered
inhumane. For more information on declawing, please visit
Now its time to lighten things up and provide you with
some solutions. Remember: Knowledge is power. Understanding
the situation is half the battle. You and your cat are
about to teach each other some valuable lessons.
Lesson 1- Scratching is a natural
behavior for cats.
This isn't exactly a revelation, since you probably have
the evidence everywhere--in the tattered corners of your
sofa, the shredded drapes, your frayed nerves. Though
Kitty's natural propensity for scratching may not be big
news, it is a fact that you'll need to take into account
if you're to make any headway in winning the battle to
keep her from scratching in places you consider undesirable.
Lesson 2 - You can't keep your
cat from scratching.
What you can do is stop her from scratching those items
you value and want to keep in their relatively pristine
state. Bear in mind Mark Twain's advice, which applies
universally: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it frustrates
you and annoys the pig. Translate this bit of wisdom to
your dealings with cats and you'll avoid a good deal of
futility and frustration.
You can't make a cat do anything she doesn't want to
do. Get clear on that. And getting her to stop something
she enjoys is just about as difficult. Therefore you have
to think smart and re-channel her desires.
A word about punishment--Don't do it!
Cats don't understand physical punishment. In addition
to it being wrong to hit your cat, punishment simply doesn't
work and is likely to make your situation worse. Clever
though Kitty is about many things, she won't understand
that you're punishing her for scratching the couch. She
will only compute that sometimes when you catch her she
is treated badly. This may make her insecure and stimulate
her to scratch more or develop other undesirable behavior
Eventually you will break the trust and security that
is the basis for your cat's relationship with you, and
you will find it very difficult to catch her for any reason
at all. Cats have excellent memories
and hold serious grudges.
Lesson 3 - Why do cats scratch?
More to the point, why do they scratch your prized possessions?
Understanding your cat's need to scratch is more than
just an act of charitabilty on your part. It's the key
to channeling Kitty's efforts to more acceptable areas.
Marking their territory: 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 own special
scent on their territory. And this is why they mark
the most visible portions of your house. It's Kitty's
way of adding her own personal touch to your (and her)
home. Her version of interior decorating.
Exercise: Scratching also serves to keep your cat in
shape. The act of scratching stretches and pulls and
works the muscles of a cat's front quarters--a cross
between a feline gym workout and Kitty Yoga.
Sheer pleasure: Hey! It feels good to scratch.
So give up the idea of reforming Kitty's desire to scratch.
Rechannel her into scratching where you want her to. You'll
both be happier.
Lesson 4- Provide your cat with an appropriate scratching
Since your cat brings you so much joy, you decide to
buy her the softest, prettiest and most luxurious scratching
post you can find. You take it home and your feline friend
gives you a blank stare and walks away. This activates
your parental guidance mechanism and you decide to show
her how to use the post by taking her front paws and making
scratching motions at the post. She of course struggles
till she gets free of you and then treats you with utter
disdain for the rest of the day.
Never make the mistake of trying to "show her how"
to scratch anything. You'll only offend her. She knows
perfectly well how to do it. She just reserves the right
to scratch when and where it suits her.
Lesson 5 - Remember, we said appropriate.
Bear in mind that your idea of desirable and Kitty's
may not coincide. Cats like rough surfaces that they can
shred to pieces. (The exception of course is your velvet
couch, which has its own particular appeal.) The scratching
post with the most aesthetic appeal to your cat is often
a tree stump, though this is a bit unwieldy in a one-bedroom
apartment. Whatever post you choose, it must be tall enough
for her to fully extend her body, and most important,
it must be secure. If it topples over even once, she won't
go back to it.
Sisal scratching posts are ideal for releasing Kitty's
primal urges. This is a material she can shred to pieces
with great satisfaction. Be sure not to throw it away
when it is shredded, since that's when she's just broken
it in satisfactorily, and she will not appreciate your
The reverse side of rugs provides a good, satisfyingly
resistant texture for clawing. You can place a piece of
rug material over an area of carpet where Kitty has already
been scratching. However, it must be stationary. Secure
it so it doesn't move by duct taping the edges or placing
it under furniture. You can also staple pieces of rug
to a wall or post.
Lesson 6 - How to get Kitty to prefer the post.
Remember that an important part of scratching is the
cat's desire to mark a territory, so a scratching post
should be in an area that's used by the family, not hidden
in a back corner. After a time you can move the post away
to the periphery of the room, but you'll need to do this
Initially, put the post where your cat goes to scratch.
This may be by a sofa, a chair or wherever Kitty has chosen
as her territory, and you may need more than one post
to cover her favorite spots. Security is a major factor
in making the post appealing to your cat. If it topples
or shakes, she won't use it. It should either be secured
to the floor or have a base wide enough and heavy enough
to keep it stable.
Encourage Kitty to use her post with clever enticements.
Feed her and play with her by the post. Rub dried catnip
leaves or powder into it. Make all the associations with
the post pleasurable. Reward her with a favorite treat
when she uses it. Have her chase a string or a toy around
the post or attach toys to it, which will result in her
digging her claws into it. Eventually she will learn to
love it and regard it as her own. It's also a good idea
to put a post where Kitty sleeps. Cats like to scratch
when they awaken, especially in the morning and the middle
of the night. If space permits, a scratching post in every
room of the house is a cat's delight. The most important
place is the area of the house in which you and Kitty
spend the most time. I have many sisal posts in my house,
yet often in the morning my cats line up to use the one
in the living room.
If at first Kitty is reluctant to give up her old scratching
areas, there are means you can use to discourage her.
Covering the area with aluminum foil or double-sided tape
is a great deterrent. These surfaces don't have a texture
that feels good to scratch.
Remember too that Kitty has marked her favorite spots
with her scent as well as her claws. You may need to remove
her scent from the areas you want to distract her away
from. You will find pet odor removers in pet stores and
many supermarkets as well.
Cats have an aversion to citrus odors. Use lemon-scented
sprays or a potpourri of lemon and orange peels to make
her former scratching sites less agreeable to her. If
Kitty still persists in scratching the furniture, try
squirting her with a water gun or a spray bottle set on
stream. Another option is a loud whistle or other noise-maker.
You must employ these deterrents while she is scratching
for them to be effective. The point is to establish an
aversion to the spot you don't want her to scratch.
Lesson 7- Start them young.
If you are starting with a kitten, consider yourself
fortunate. It's much easier to initiate good habit patterns
than to correct undesirable ones.
From the beginning teach your kitten the appropriate place
to scratch. Use the methods already described, especially
playing around the scratching post to capture her interest.
Take advantage of your kitten's desire to play and attach
toys to the post. She will soon "dig in" to
catch her toy and discover how good it feels to scratch
Do not take her paws and make her scratch the post. This
is a major turn-off and will only inspire a bratty "you
can't make me" attitude. Even at an early age, cats
refuse to be coerced into doing what they don't want to
If she starts to scratch an inappropriate object, immediately
place her in front of her scratching post and begin petting
her. Some cats will begin kneading when petted, thus 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
Solutions: Trimming your cat's nails. [HOW
TO: click here]
Though you should never declaw, you may defray some of
your cat's potential for destruction by carefully trimming
the razor-sharp tips of her claws. You will find this
endeavor more easily accomplished by two people, one to
hold Kitty and one to trim her nails. Though she enjoys
other forms of pampering, Kitty will not find a manicure
Gently hold Kitty's paw in one hand and with your thumb
on top of the paw and forefinger on the pad gently squeeze
your thumb and finger together. This will push the claw
clear of the fur so it can easily be seen. You will notice
that the inside of the claw is pink near its base. This
is living tissue that you do not want to cut. Trim only
the clear tip of the nail. Do not clip the area where
pink tissue is visible nor the slightly opaque region
that outlines the pink tissue. This will avoid cutting
into areas that would be painful or bleed. The desired
effect is simply to blunt the claw tip. Many different
types of nail trimmers are available in pet stores, but
I find human toenail clippers easy and effective to use.
If by now you're rolling on the floor laughing because
you know your cat isn't about to let you trim her claws,
here are a couple of guidelines that will help make this
a possibility: Patience and preparation.
Rushing into a full-scale claw trimming is a foolhardy
move unless you're really into operatic drama and traumatic
events. As you well know, cats hate to be restrained.
And they don't like you fooling with their paws, which
comes across as threatening. After all, their claws are
a major tool for survival, and Kitty may consider your
This is where preparation comes to the rescue. For approximately
a week before her manicure, begin making Kitty accustomed
to having her paws handled. While petting and soothing
her, start massaging her paws, especially on the under
side. Gently press on the individual pads at the base
of her claws. You may want to give her treats to reward
her for not protesting. (Or as in the case of my own cat,
to distract her from doing so.) The point, of course,
is to make the process reassuring so that she will eventually
feel comfortable enough to let you handle her paws without
Next, be patient. Don't attempt to trim all her nails
at once. Trim one or two at a time, reward her with affection
or food, and then let her do as she wishes. Cats are not
strong on patience or restraint. As the creature theoretically
higher on to evolutionary scale, that's your department.
Don't attempt to change your cat. Instead make it tolerable
for her. Eventually trimming will become a completely
non-traumatic experience. For a more detailed explanation
and pictures of how to trim your cat's claws click
Paws®--An excellent alternative
If all of this is too time consuming and you have a strictly
indoor cat, you have another very desirable option; a
wonderful product called Soft
Paws. These are lightweight vinyl caps that you apply
over your cat's own claws. They have rounded edges, so
your cat's scratching doesn't damage your home and furnishings.
You can find Soft
Paws on the web by clicking
here or call 1-800-989-2542.
Paws® are great
for households with small children, as they guard against
the child getting scratched. They are also extremely useful
for people who are away from home all day and simply can't
apply the watchfulness necessary to train a cat to use
a scratching post. An important caveat here, however;
they should be used only on indoor cats, since they blunt
one of the cat's chief means of self-defense. Soft
Paws last approximately
six weeks once Kitty becomes accustomed to them. At first
they may feel a bit strange to her and she may groom them
excessively, causing them to come off sooner. She'll get
used to them quickly though, and thereafter they will
last longer. It is amazing how well cats tolerate the
Paws, most don't even notice they are wearing them.
Paws come in a kit and are easy to apply. Just glue
them on. They are generally applied to the front paws
only, since these are what cause most of the destruction
to your home. A kit will last approximately three to six
months, depending on your cat. After applying the Soft
Paws, check Kitty's
claws weekly. You may find one or two caps missing from
time to time, and these are easily replaced using the
adhesive included in the kit. To make application easier
for both you and your cat, follow the instructions on
accustoming your cat to having her paws handled that are
discussed here in the section on trimming your cat's claws.
The great majority of cats tolerate Soft
Paws well. The brattiest of my own cats, a princess
who is hyper-fastidious, wears them with aplomb. On her,
by the way, one Soft
Paws kit last at least five months.