Cats make great pets. They love to play, they love to cuddle when you’re watching TV or sleeping, and they purr for no reason other than being near you. But they also love to scratch. Unfortunately, the things they love to scratch are often the legs of your antique table, your upholstered sofa, or your expensive stereo speakers. And no amount of reprimanding or pulling out your hair in frustration seems to make them stop. But don’t despair; there are some things you can do.
Scratching is easier to deal with if you understand why cats scratch in the first place. In the wild, cats scratch around their immediate environment to signal their presence to other cats and to claim the area in question. The marking takes two forms: visual and olfactory. The visual mark is in the form of clawing marks and is so obvious that even we humans can recognize it (not that we appreciate its significance). The olfactory mark is subtler, involving the release of pheromones. These are substances secreted from the body to be picked up by members of the same species, causing them to alter their behavior.
Cats secrete pheromones from superficial glands in the skin of the cat’s paws through the process of kneading. The message is invisible to all creatures and is undetectable unless you have the right equipment (a super sensitive nose) and are close enough. A competitor coming up to the site will see the scratch marks and then smell the message: another cat has already claimed this place. One thing’s for sure; the signal is not a friendly one.
Scratching has additional functions, too. You might think your cat scratches to sharpen his claws, but it more likely it provides your cat with a form of physical therapy for the muscles and tendons of his paws. It also assists in shucking off old nail husks.
The Domestic Situation
Healthy and natural to your cat, scratching can become a real problem for the owner. Even your fairly secure housecat will occasionally feel the need to leave his mark by scratching, and the most usual target is your furniture.
Faced with this problem, many people consider declawing surgery. Many veterinarians believe declawing is a painful and unnecessary surgery and refuse to do it for humane reasons. Instead, they advocate training your cat to use a scratching post. However, some veterinarians still believe declawing is a safe procedure.
Alternatives to Declawing
There are several good options to declawing. These take the form of training your cat to use scratching posts, trimming the nails, and nail covers.
To persuade your cat to use a scratching post, you have to understand some basics:
Several deterrents are available and may help.
A few years ago an excellent product was introduced to reduce damage from furniture scratching humanely. “Soft Paws”™ (or Soft Claws) are plastic nail caps that can be super-glued to a cat’s claws following a preliminary nail trim. The results are often spectacular, with damage to furniture practically non-existent while the nail caps remain in place. The manufacturers recommend a complete replacement every month or so, but replacing lost nails individually as they fall off also works (and involves far less work).
Damage to furniture can be reduced if the cat’s nails are kept well trimmed. It helps to learn how to do this yourself and to have a sharp pair of nail trimmers made specifically for cats (don’t use human trimmers). It is sufficient to remove the sharp points so that the nail ends are squared but take care not to cut into the “quick” – the vascular and sensitive part of the nail. Ask your veterinarian to teach you how and to recommend some good nail clippers.