Dear Dr. Hershey,
I have a 12-week-old kitten, and I am trying to decide if I should have her declawed. What is your opinion?
The trend in society and veterinary medicine is moving toward not declawing cats. The declawing procedure involves removing the last bone and nail of each of the toes.
Although many cats seem to recover normally from the procedure, there are other cats that can have life-long discomfort after being declawed.
It is important to know that clawing and scratching is a normal feline behavior, and that cats can be trained to claw on scratching posts and not on your favorite furniture or woodwork.
Cats will claw for multiple reasons. Scratching helps remove the “husk” of the nail and helps maintain nail quality. Clawing is also a marking behavior. The scratches left behind not only leave a visual mark, but an olfactory one as well. The primary reason that cats claw, however, is that it helps to maintain the necessary claw motion used in hunting and climbing. Although your kitty likely doesn’t need to hunt for his food, participating in the ritual of clawing is an important part of normal feline behavior.
Cats can be trained to claw in acceptable areas of the house. Training your cat is a two-step process. First, you need to provide a clawing area that the cat likes. Cats can vary in their preference for the type of scratching post. Some cats like the upright carpet covered scratchers. Others prefer the cardboard horizontal scratching posts. To maximize successful training to a scratching post, provide multiple options of scratching areas. Keep the scratching posts in rooms that your cat frequents.
Cats often like to stretch and claw right after a nap, so putting the post near his or her sleeping area will make it enticing. If your cat is ignoring the scratching posts, you can make them more inviting by placing cat nip or treats on or near the scratching post. If you see your kitty scratching in a different area, gently pick your kitty up and place her by the scratching post. Reward her with pets and attention when she is near the scratching post. Positive reinforcement works best when training a cat.
Part two in training your cat is to make any unwanted areas that she is scratching undesirable. You can do this in a variety of ways. I recommend a product called “Sticky Paws.” These are large, double sided tape sheets that you can put on the furniture or woodwork to make it unpleasant to scratch. You can mimic this effect with double sided sticky tape. You can also drape the area with plastic or foil to deter scratching.
If you are still having trouble with training your cat, you can try a product called “Soft Paws” — nail caps that are glued to the nail. “Soft Paws” don’t eliminate scratching, but they prevent damage to the item being scratched. “Soft paws” are a great product, but can be a little tricky applying the first several times. Don’t get frustrated if you can only do one nail and then need to give your cat a break. It is never good to hold your cat down to put on the “Soft Paws.” Although you may be successful the first time applying them, subsequent applications may not be successful.
It is important to note that an increase in scratching behavior can be associated with anxiety in your cat. If your kitty was previously not a “scratcher” and now has started to scratch objects in the house, it is worth thinking about any household stressors that may be contributing to the change in behavior. If there is not obvious change in the household, try focusing on feline enrichment in the house. Cats need mental stimulation in order to be calm, well-adapted house-pets. For more information on feline enrichment, visit the American Association of Feline Practitioners website and check out their brochure “Your cat’s environmental needs.”
Dr. Teresa Hershey is a veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic in Linden Hills. Email her your pet questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.