April 20

When The Claws Come Out

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June 11, 2019

Victoria Browne from NSW writes: ‘I have adopted two kittens from my local shelter. They are settling into our house really well, except they love to scratch the carpet, the furniture and anything else they can get their claws into! We have bought a scratching post for them, but they seem to lose interest in it. I have heard of declawing cats, but I don’t want to do that to mine.  What can we do from now while they are still young?’

Just like dogs have their unusual habits, so do cats. They can be adorable purring machines one minute, and then destructible furry bullets around the house the next. There are a few things that new cat owners will always have to deal with when living with cats – changing litter trays, late night play time and your cats scratching everything you own. Can it be controlled? Of course, once you understand why your cat needs to scratch and how to manage it better for you and your cat.

Cats do not scratch your furniture or carpet out of spite, or simply to annoy you. Firstly, they need to scratch to remove the outer layer or sheath of their nails. It gradually grows out all the time and scratching help to pull those layers off. Secondly, it is a great way to stretch out all their muscles. You may notice your cats do this after they’ve gotten up from a long sleep. They will lock in their claws into a strong surface so they can stretch back and work those muscles out. This is how they stay in shape!

Another reason your cat will scratch is to mark its territory. Cats have glands in their paws that allows them to release their own scent to let other cats know that this is their space. Particularly if your cat/s are indoor and outdoor cats, they will scratch the fences, trees, and any outdoor furniture as well as indoors. They will make it obvious to other cats that there is a cat already here that owns the space.

Finally, your cat will start scratching when they gear up to play! Whether it is with you or another cat, you may see your cat stretch back and scratch their front paws deliberately on the floor or furniture to prepare for some serious play time.

So how do we manage the damage that comes from their destructive needs? By giving them alternatives and making it work for everyone:

Provide Adequate Scratching Posts

Choose a few scratching posts that your cat can explore. You can have a tall tower with extra hidey holes, or a multi-platform structure that allows your cats to look down upon their people. Cats love to be up high, so tall towers are a great choice. Ensure that the tower will be tall enough to look out a window or to have space between your cat and the ceiling. A heavy scratcher with thick carpeting will be safer for your cat to scratch and there is less chance of your cat tipping the tower over during play time. A cat scratcher that doesn’t have stability won’t be used much – remember your cat needs traction to be able to get those layers off their claws, they can pull back pretty hard!

My cats have two towers, both with hidey holes in them. We keep one upstairs near the balcony windows and one downstairs near the glass doors to the backyard. Even at 18 and 17 years of age, they still love using their towers.

Creating An Ideal Floor to Scratch

If you have carpet in your home, it is best to lay down a mat near your cat’s favourite spots. Encourage them to scratch these mats by moving them to the mat when they first wake up or encouraging play on the mats instead. If you have floorboards or tiles, your cat will need some heavy and large mats placed around the house. Heavy carpet mats or tight woven mats make great cat scratching spaces. Avoid shagpile carpets with loops if possible, your cat can get their claws caught in these and may injure themselves trying to get their claws out.

Trimming Claws

Regular claw trimming helps prevent destructive clawing, and also helps prevent their claws from getting snagged and torn on anything. This will rely on how tolerant your cat is of touching their paws. If your cats are not used to you touching their paws, then now is a great time to desensitise them. When you are having cuddles together, or petting your cat, you can gently rub your fingers over their paws, gently pressing into their paw pads. If your cat doesn’t like this, then go back to cuddles and try again. You want your cat to be in a happy relaxed state when you trim their nails. Remember to only cut the very tip of the nail (the white part), do not trim further up to the pink part, this is the quick – where the blood vessels and tissue are. Cutting the quick can cause bleeding and you should take your cat straight to the vet.

Watch how your cat responds, some will prefer to be eating and you can cut them whilst standing up or you can have your cat lying on their back with their feet in the air. This will require patience, so take the time to work with your cat. Don’t expect to get every nail in one sitting. If you can get one paw trimmed per day, it’s a good result.

It is preferred not to trim the claws of your outdoor cats, as they wander the neighbourhood. They may need their claws to jump over fences or climb up trees to get away from dangers. If your cat is purely indoor, then it is safe enough to regularly trim your cat’s claws every 4-6 weeks. It is best to check your cat’s claws during this time as some cats may grow back quicker than others.

Declawing a cat involves a surgical procedure where the vet will amputate the claw up to the toe so that the cat cannot scratch anything. Think of it as cutting off the human finger up to the first knuckle. It is a painful procedure with a slow recovery, not to mention it is cruel, and barbaric to do to an animal for the convenience of a human. If gives no benefit to the animal whatsoever. Therefore, we use any other alternatives we can to help the cat learn to scratch where it doesn’t bother us.

Positive Reinforcement

Most people believe a cat cannot be trained. This isn’t true! Cats have been proven to be smarter than dogs (sorry but its true!), and can follow verbal instructions. To encourage your cat to scratch in the correct places, you will need to observe when they begin scratching. When you are playing together, tease the toy or wand towards their cat scratcher. If you are gearing up for a game of chase, encourage their pre-game scratching onto the carpet mat or cardboard. If they have just woken up and need to stretch, then place a carpet mat or cardboard squares near their regular sleeping spots.  There is no point to yelling or disciplining your cat, as they won’t see it as doing something wrong, they will just wait until you are not around to do what they want.

At the end of the day, living with cats means some nice things are going to get scratched up or knocked over. But they make up for it by being such loving, entertaining and cuddly friends that you cannot help but just accept that this is a part of who they are. By respecting and accepting that your cats have a natural instinct to scratch, you will be less stressed and happier knowing they feel accepted, loved and welcomed into your home.


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