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Cats make wonderful house pets, but they do have some behaviors that can cause concern — scratching is one of them. This is an instinctive activity (not a learned behavior) in all cats. They use scratching to mark their home "territory" (visually and with scent), to hook prey (real and toy) and to groom their claws. But, just because cats scratch, doesn't mean that you have to put up with having your home or body shredded.
Frequently people think that declawing is the only way to prevent scratching damage - we do not agree. Onychectomy — the traditional method of declawing — is a surgery where the nail and end toe bone of each digit are amputated. It should be done only as a last resort — when the alternative would be to give up the cat — or if the guardian would be at medical risk if the cat scratched him. If you declaw your cat, remove only the front claws — and, only on kittens or very young cats — the older and heavier the cat, the more painful the procedure.
If you don't declaw your cat — there are things you can do to control scratching that are as (or more) effective. Here are a few:
Play safely with your cat. When you play with a kitten or a cat, never use your hand as the play object. If you do, you will train the cat to scratch your hand — as their claws come out during play. Instead, dangle a toy on a string or give the cat an acceptable cat toy to claw. This keeps the cat from developing a habit you may later regret.
Provide A Scratching Post. Cats mark their home (territory) by scratching obvious places — this transfers their scent onto the items and it gives them a visual "signature" to let other cats and people know they live there. They especially like to scratch vertical surfaces — like the sides of chairs and sofas. To stop a cat from continued scratching of a chair or a sofa, first cover it with a loose sheet and put a scratching post next to it. Once the cat starts scratching the post, you can remove the sheet.
If you have craft skills you may be able to make your own cat tree using 4x4s and carpet remnants. If not, pet stores and web sites offer many varieties. Some include perches for the cat to sit or sleep on. To train a cat to use a scratching post spray or sprinkle it with catnip.
To work effectively, a vertical scratching post should be tall enough to allow the cat to stretch its entire body while scratching — a minimum of 30' high. It also needs to be heavy enough to support his weight.
You may need different types of scratching posts and materials to satisfy different scratching needs. Some cats favor horizontal surfaces — like rugs or carpeting — and you can satisfy this by giving the cat a rough log to claw. Alternatively, pet stores have floor-based scratching pads (above) that double as a toy — a ball runs through the outside track to entertain him
Trim The Claws. Most scratching damage comes from sharp claws — the easiest way to blunt them is to keep them trimmed. This is a quick, simple procedure that doesn't hurt. Have your veterinarian show you how it's done — or follow the simple directions included in this brochure.
Apply Nail Caps. Rounded vinyl caps can be glued on to your cat's claws. They last for several weeks and don't interfere with the normal extension and retraction of claws. They're relatively inexpensive but may need to be professionally applied.
All cats — even those without claws — need places to scratch — if not, your home may still sustain damage (from soiling if not from shredding). Never punish your cat for scratching inappropriately — as this will make the cat fearful of you — and it won't change the behavior. Instead, provide him with good scratching options — ones that both you and he can be happy with.
The easiest way to significantly reduce scratching damage is to regularly trim your cats' claws — every few weeks — with toenail clippers or cat nail trimmers (available at pet stores). Never use regular scissors. Using the diagram for guidance, follow these steps to ensure a proper and painless kitty pedicure:
If your cat gets overly agitated, take a break and try again later — or have a second person hold him while you trim. You can also wrap the cat "mummy style" in a towel to restrain movement. The more regularly you clip the claws the less anxious the cat will get. Cats learn through positive reinforcement — as a reward when you're done, give the cat a treat or have a play session with him.