We know it’s a difficult discussion. Whether you’re a new parent to an adorable kitten or a seasoned cat owner with three older felines, you’ve probably been in heated talks about declawing cats. And you may have strong feelings about it. We’re going to put those strong feelings aside for a moment and talk through some information about why cats scratch, how to help with scratching problems, what declawing means, and how best to make the decision.
Why do cats scratch?
Cats are born with claws; scratching is a natural use of them. Cats scratch to condition or manage their claws, to mark a location (visually and with scent), and to use and stretch their muscles. Conditioned claws help cats defend themselves and navigate outdoor environments.
Problems ensue when cats start using your furniture and home goods as scratching posts, or start scratching you too often, making their natural instinct a destructive behavior.
Tips for claw care
One way to help cats scratch less (and do less damage when they do), is to help them condition their claws. We recommend that you trim your cat’s claws every 10 days to 2 weeks. We can trim nails at our office, or read these home nail care tips from the ASPCA to cut cat nails at home. You can also add nail caps, or soft, plastic covers, to protect your home (and skin) from the sharp tips of nails. Caps should be replaced every 4-6 weeks.
How to stop inappropriate or destructive scratching
The best way to prevent damage is to give your cat approved places where she can scratch and stretch. Try setting up a cat post or tall board. What works for one cat may not appeal to another, so try a few options in different places. You can add catnip to make the area or toy more attractive at first.
Good behavior begins early. Start kittens with positive reinforcement, giving treats and love when they scratch in approved places. Punishment rarely works for cats, so don’t scold or hit after they have scratched.
Finally, make inappropriate places less attractive. Attach sticky tape or tinfoil to, or spray repellent scents on, places where cats shouldn’t scratch.
If that doesn’t work…should I declaw?
Frustrated or overwhelmed cat owners may try a few tactics and decide that declawing is easier. But it’s important to realize that declawing a cat is a major surgical procedure. A veterinary surgeon will amputate the cat’s claws and the third bones of the toes to which the claws attach (Dr. Merri is experienced in this surgery). Your cat will be put under full anesthesia and will require pain management afterwards. As with all surgeries, there are possible complications afterwards. It’s far easier and kinder for you and your pet to continue to work on behavior changes instead of physical changes.
When is declawing okay?
The American Veterinary Medical Association—and your vets at Animal Clinic of Woodruff—rarely recommend declawing. The bottom line is that declawing sometimes is good for owners, but it is rarely good for cats. Declawing should only be considered if the cat’s scratching behavior is abnormal and incredibly destructive (such that the cat would have to be rehomed or euthanized otherwise), or if a member of the family has a compromised immune system and can’t safely handle an accidental cat scratch.
Cats who have been declawed should stay indoors, and only go outdoors under careful supervision.
If you’d like to discuss scratching behaviors or surgery options for your cat, contact the veterinarians at Animal Clinic of Woodruff today.