What is the solution with a cat that clawing the furniture?
only to house soiling, destructive clawing of furniture, drapes, and other household possessions by kittens and cats is a common complaint from my clients. Occasionally, the complaint about a cat’s indiscriminate use of its claws comes from an elderly person or a cat owner with an immune-compromising disease who cannot risk being scratched by a pet cat. In all cases, the question of whether to declaw a kitten is full of ethical and practical considerations.
To Declaw or Not to Declaw?
Let me begin this discussion by saying that I am fundamentally opposed to declawing of cats for a number of reasons. Foremost among these is my strong belief that almost all cats can be trained not to damage home furnishings. Only rarely does an owner who is willing to train a kitten or cat have to make the choice between having a cat with claws or having intact furniture. I do not declaw my own cats and I require that those who adopt my Ocicat kittens sign a contract in which they agree never to declaw the kitten they adopt from me. When clients ask my opinion about declawing, I always say that this behavior can be very transient in a young cat’s development and I strongly suggest alternatives to surgical declawing.
The natural exploration behaviors of kittens four to sixteen weeks of age include the experimental use of claws in various types of materials in their environments. It is during this time that a kitten learns how to use those claws to climb, defend itself, entertain itself with toys, and sharpen its claws for future use. The destructiveness of clawing behavior can be diminished greatly by clipping the tips of the claws on a regular basis. Once-weekly trimming of at least the front claws will keep them blunt and teach the youngster to accept this procedure without the struggle. If you are not comfortable with performing nail trims on your kitten, have your veterinarian show you how to do this and practice regularly. Mastering this procedure will save you, your cat, and your home furnishings inestimable grief over the life of your cat.
Owners must also provide good alternative surfaces for the natural scratching tendencies of the kitten. Scratching posts wrapped with sisal rope should be distributed around the house. Cats also love to scratch carpeting, so providing cat trees with carpet coverings will attract the cat to these surfaces and away from the furniture. A sharp “No!” whenever a kitten starts to scratch at forbidden areas can be quite helpful along with these other measures. Kittens generally avoid disapproval from humans, and as long as that disapproval does not include physical punishment, there is little danger of causing fear or aggression behaviors in response.
My own home sees a variety of cats of all ages living underfoot with access to all of my furniture. Despite this, even my oldest furniture is in excellent condition, with only a few strands of scratched fabric here and there as evidence of some errant kitten’s experimentations. I keep my kitten’s claws trimmed and have many tall, carpet-covered cat trees around my house. I have also learned that leather-covered furniture is much less attractive to cats as scratching objects than are fabric-covered pieces. For some reason, the smooth finished surface of the leather is less appealing for sharpening claws, so I have mostly leather furniture. Leather can also be more resistant to stains, another advantage to this kind of furniture around animals (as well as children and sloppy adults).
Of course, owners must discourage the kitten from scratching people as well as furniture. I have had clients complain to me that their kitten scratches them often during play, only to learn that some members of the family roughhouse with the youngster. Humans should not engage in play with a cat that elicits both uses of claws and biting by the kitten. One of the most important lessons for the kitten is that humans are not to be bitten or scratched. It is impossible to teach this lesson if owners allow rough play at some times and not at others. Rough play with simulated fighting occurs naturally between a young cat and its fellow animal playmates, but the biting and scratching of humans are not permissible. When a kitten begins to play rough with family members, play should stop immediately accompanied by a stern “No!” The young cat will quickly associate this undesirable result with bad behavior, extinguishing that behavior.
As a kitten becomes an adult, the training provided by regular nail trimming, ready access to lots of authorized scratching areas, and regularly reinforced disapproval of unauthorized clawing, including the scratching of humans, will produce a pet that has an excellent set of scratching behaviors. In almost every case, the question of whether to declaw or not to declaw need never even arise. In some rare cases of especially stubborn scratching tendencies, a product known as Soft Paws nail caps may be the answer. These soft plastic nail covers, held on with glue, fit snugly over the trimmed nail and can last several weeks before they need to be reapplied. In situations where immune-compromised humans or elderly family members simply cannot risk even the occasional accidental scratch, I find these nail covers work very well. They are usually applied in the grooming shop or veterinary clinic, but owners who have good cat-handling skills can learn to apply them at home as well.
There are several techniques for surgical declawing of kittens and cats. All of these techniques, even the newest techniques using a surgical laser rather than a stainless-steel scalpel blade, cause pain and mutilation of the cat’s paws. No decision to declaw a cat should be made lightly or before all other efforts to limit the objectionable behavior have been completely exhausted. In some cases, these efforts might even include finding a new home for a pet where the objectionable behavior is more easily tolerated.
There is considerable social disapproval of declawing of pet cats today, and rightly so. This is the same social disapproval that has caused dog owners to start rethinking the long-standing traditions of ear cropping and other elective cosmetic surgery for their canine companions. Just as we are obligated to feed our cats the foods that they are designed to utilize, not the foods we humans find most convenient, we are also obligated to act responsibly when we consider making drastic and mutilating alterations to a cat’s anatomy for our own purposes.