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ANIMAL CONNECTION: Happy Paws, Happy Cats

September 25, 2018

For our cats to be the happiest and healthiest they can be, we need to let them be cats. That means letting them express normal cat behaviors like kneading, taking cat naps, and yes, even scratching.

Scratching is a normal, healthy behavior for cats. It makes them feel good, helps to keep their nails and paws healthy, and is a way for them to stretch and mark. [1]

It’s good for cats to scratch, but we need them to do it in an appropriate manner. It can be difficult to sit back and watch your beloved cat use your new couch as a scratching post. The good news is that you don’t have to. There are ways to help your cat express her natural need to scratch all while keeping your couch safe and sound.

The first and perhaps most obvious way to prevent your cat from scratching furniture is to provide something she is allowed to scratch. Scratching posts come in all shapes and sizes, and you can even make one yourself. It is best to purchase several scratching posts and place them in different spots around your home.

If your cat does not take notice of the scratching posts and prefers to use her tried and true couch corner, you can try using scented sprays – one type of spray (or catnip) will attract your cat to the scratching post while another type of spray will deter her from the furniture. It’s a good idea to reward your cat when she uses the scratching post to help her form a positive association with the post and build consistency.

Another way to prevent furniture scratching and reduce damage is to keep your cat’s nails trimmed. You can either do this at home or bring your cat to a veterinarian or cat groomer.

If your couch is still sustaining scratches after introducing scratching posts and keeping your cat’s nails trimmed, you may want to consider nail caps. These are exactly what they sound like, small caps usually made of plastic that are glued over your cat’s nails so she cannot scratch but is still able to comfortably walk and flex her paws. Many veterinarians and groomers are able to apply nail caps for you or you may choose to apply them at home. As your cat’s nails grow out, the nail caps will fall off and will need to be replaced. Other than periodic replacement, nail caps are an inexpensive, effective, and humane way to prevent scratching.

Declawing is a practice that is not recommended because it can cause problems for both the cat and owner. It is widely considered inhumane and is illegal in the United Kingdom, much of Europe, and even some US cities.

During the declawing process the last digit of each toe is amputated. Problems that can result from the process include a lifetime of paw pain, infections in the declawed paws, back pain, lameness, and even behavior changes if the procedure is performed later in the cat’s life. If a veterinarian removes too little of the claw, the tissue may try to regrow a claw under the skin. Even when the procedure is performed correctly, the cat must still relearn how to walk with an unnatural gait. [2]

Declawing one’s cat can cause problems for the owner as well. Litter box aversion is one of several problems a cat can develop after the procedure. The owner is then faced with the unpleasant challenge of a house soiling pet. As expected, many of the declawed cats who are surrendered to the SPCA Albrecht Center are surrendered because they have stopped using the litter box.

All cats deserve to live their lives happily at home and not face homelessness for reasons that could have been prevented. Try out some of the alternatives above to help your cat scratch appropriately. She’ll thank you for letting her keep her happy paws!

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