I have five cats and they all have their claws. I know many people, veterinary personnel included, who think declawing cats really isn’t a big deal. In fact, most of the cats and kittens I’ve seen come through our clinic seem to recover quite well after the surgery. But, I think if we asked cats their opinion they would vote “NO” to declawing! Based on the conversations I’ve heard and participated in, 99.9% of the time declawing is done only to benefit the needs and desires of the owner, not the cat.
In fact, it seems that many pet owners assume that any cat that lives indoors MUST be declawed for some unknown health reason. Often times I get phone calls from people who are more interested in having their cat declawed rather than having him neutered. The phone conversation usually goes like this:
Kitten owner: “Hi, I have a 10 week-old kitten and I was wondering how much it would cost to have her declawed.”
Me: “I can look that up for you in a minute but let me ask you some questions first. Have you tried trimming the nails or training her to use a scratching post yet?”
Kitten owner: “Oh yeah, we tried that and it didn’t really work out that well. We were just hoping to get her declawed. How much does that cost?”
Usually, the owner of the kitten has already made up her mind that declawing is the only possibility. The extent of training a kitten how to use a scratching post usually involves the owner purchasing the cheapest scratching post they can find at the dollar store and plopping it in the middle of floor. Big suprise–when the kitten jumps on the scratching post it falls over and lands on his head–scaring him half to death. He’ll never want to go near that thing ever again!
I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of having your cat declawed here, but I will say that I think too many people are declawing their cats. Certainly, in special cases some cats need to be declawed for the protection of themselves and the people who care for them. I don’t think declawing should be made illegal as that will probably cause even more problems for cats. The answer lies in educating pet owners that scratching is a necessary and healthy activity for cats. We should actually be encouraging cat scratching behavior, not abolishing it!
Not to mention that trimming a cat’s nails is relatively easy to do. In fact, many times all it takes is a simple nail trim to cut down on a cat’s “destructiveness.” It amazes me that people are very willing to learn how to trim a dog’s nails but won’t do the same for cats. Trimming a cat’s nails is so much easier!! One of the most discouraging things for me to see is a cat that still goes through the motions of scratching, even though his claws are gone. He certainly knows that something isn’t quite right.
So Why is Scratching Healthy and Necessary for Cats?
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. Despite what many people think, cats don’t scratch objects to be destructive or just because they don’t have anything better to do. A cat also doesn’t scratch to “sharpen” his claws. As I just mentioned, even when cats are declawed, they still go through the motions.
There are basically three reasons why cats scratch:
1. To shed excess layers of claw “sheaths”
2. To mark his presence
3. It feels good
A cat’s nail grows in layers, which needs to be shed periodically, kind of like a snake skin. As the layers start to fall off they become slightly itchy, causing the cat to scratch. You’ll often find pieces of these layers on the floor. Cats will often chew off the layers from their back claws.
When a cat scratches he also leaves a scent undectable to humans via the scent glands on his paw pads as well as a visual mark for other cats. This is your cat’s way of saying, “mine.” When a cat scratches, it also stretches and tones many of the muscles in his body, especially if he likes to stand on his back legs and reach up as he scratches, as many cats like to do. Other cats may prefer to stand on all fours and scratch on a horizontal surface, shifting weight from their back to front legs. Either way, this movement of the body and the resistance created by the claws has a similar effect to what happens when people lift weights. It helps keep your cat strong and in shape!
How to Choose the Best Scratching Post for Your Cat
You may find a wide variety of cat scratching posts available at pet stores and super shopping stores like Walmart and Meijer. Sometimes while shopping I’ll take a look and see what different types are available. The majority of the time I’m quite disappointed with the selection. Most of the scratching posts are too small. If you’re lucky you might find a deal at Costco or Sam’s Club but often your luck will be hit or miss because the bulk stores go through their stock so quickly.
You want to find a scratching post that is sturdy and tall enough so that your cat can stand on his back legs and stretch out his entire body length while he scratches. I wouldn’t buy a vertical scratching post less than 3 feet tall. You also want to make sure that any vertical scratching post you buy has a wide, sturdy, solid base. I can pretty much guarantee that any cat will not be impressed with a scratching post that rocks or isn’t level. If possible, prop the scratching post up against a solid object like a wall or a piece of furniture to help ensure stability. Some cats, and especially kittens, have a tendency to run at scratching posts at lightning speed, and you don’t want the whole thing to topple over!
I like scratching posts that have a carpeted base, rather than a wooden one, just because it’s one more surface for your cat to scratch that isn’t your carpet or a piece of furniture. Out of my five cats, I have one cat that prefers scratching on a horizontal surface and I always find her using the base instead of the post. A wooden base is probably more attractive for your decor, but if you’re a die-hard cat owner, decor is probably not tops on your priority list. The way I see it, my cats live in the house 24/7 while I can come and I go as I please. Even though I pay the mortgage, they pretty much own the place.
Different cats will like different types of scratching posts. Your cat or kitten has probably already developed a preference for the type of material he likes to scratch. While you certainly don’t have to break the bank when shopping for a scratching post, you should realize that this is going to be a long term investment for you and your cat. You can go all out and purchase one of the many different cat trees and jungle gyms available for sale. These structures which contain different levels of platforms, perches, and levels can perform many different functions from scratching, climbing, napping, bird-watching, and people-watching. Or you can stick with the basics and purchase a vertical sisal post that was designed just for scratching.
Depending on the size of your home and the number of cats you share it with, you may need to purchase several scratching posts. I live in a tri-level with five cats. I have two cat trees and one scratching post. I really need to get a second scratching post but haven’t gotten around to it yet!
How to Train Your Cat or Kitten to Use the Scratching Post
Once you purchase a cat tree or a scratching post it’s time to teach your cat or kitten how to use it. Chances are your cat will be quite interested as soon as this new object comes into the house! However, you can make it even more appealing by sprinkling it with a bit of catnip. If your cat is currently using a piece of furniture for scratching you should place the post in front of that area where he likes to scratch. The goal is not to make the cat stop stratching entirely, but to only use the post, not your furniture. Gradually as he becomes accustomed to using the post you can move it to a more desirable location. Although the act of scratching is already rewarding to the cat, you should verbally reward your cat whenever you see him use the post.
If you see him scratching in an undesirable location there’s no need to scream at your cat or get upset. You simply need to interrupt the behavior by distracting or startling him with a loud noise. Of course, the best way for this to work is to be consistent. If your cat decides to scratch the furniture while you’re at work it will probably take you a lot longer to train your cat using this method.
Once you have your cat distracted and he’s no longer scratching the inappropriate object, you should re-direct him towards the scratching post. If he decides to scratch it, you should reward him with whatever he likes best–a scratch behind the ears, a pat on the butt, a verbal “Kitty-Kitty-Kitty!”, or a treat. Or, if he’s anything like one of my cats–completely ignoring him is what he likes best!
As I mentioned, to increase your odds of success you should have more than one scratching post. A good place to keep one is close to where your cat likes to sleep. Most cats enjoy a good stretch and a scratch as soon as they wake up from a nap. If you put a scratching post close to where they like to sleep they will be more likely to use it. This is another reason why cat trees seem to be so popular.
And don’t become discouraged if your cat doesn’t seem to go for the scratching post. Some cats prefer sisal while others prefer the tight-weave material that seems to be on a lot of the “fancier” scratching posts these days. If the post is still in good condition you should probably be able to get a refund. If you order online, you should check to see what the return policy is. However, sometimes all it takes is a little interaction from the owner to encourage a cat to become more interested in a scratching post. You can purchase interactive cat toys like the Cat Dancer, Cat Charmer, or Da Bird and play with it around the cat post. Dangle it over and around the post so cat has to jump or climb the post in order to get the toy. This helps to associate the post with good times, exercise, and positive attention from you!