“This is why we can’t have nice things.”
Whether it’s said in response to Kitty Katrina scratching the couch or Fido the Fearless’ submissive urination (on your carpet), this is a too-common refrain in pet-loving households. But the truth is that a little management and a few cat-friendly concessions can go a long way. Last week, we tackled the indoor-outdoor cat debate and looked at a few ways to help your cat stay safe and happy. This week let’s look at furniture scratching, what drives it and some declaw alternatives that your cat will thank you for.
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Why cats scratch furniture
From domestic house cats to lions in the wild, all cats scratch. And they don’t scratch at the corner of the couch to upset you — though it does a good job at it. They actually scratch for good reasons.
Cats need to scratch in order to trim their nails, stretch and say, “This is mine.” Did you know cats even have scent glands in their paws that reinforce this territorial marking as they scratch? “The scent glands in his paw pads get used when he scratches on objects for marking” notes cat behaviorist and author Pam Johnson-Bennett in her article on scent communication. “In addition to leaving a visual mark from his claws, he leaves an olfactory mark through the scent glands.” Thus, scratching is literally for their physical and mental health!
Declawing can make things oh-so-much worse
Unfortunately, here in the U.S., declawing is suggested by some as a possible way to save your furniture. (It’s actually considered inhumane and illegal in places like the U.K.) However, too few people are aware of the real physical and behavioral side effects declawing can cause before they do it — side effects that are often a lot worse and may be permanent.
For example, when you declaw a cat, you take away his first line of defense, leaving biting as the only remaining solution for some. “People who are worried about being scratched, especially those with immunodeficiencies or bleeding disorders, may be told incorrectly that their health will be protected by declawing their cats,” notes the Humane Society website. “However, infectious disease specialists don’t recommend declawing. The risk from scratches for these people is less than those from bites.” In my 16-plus years working in the animal welfare industry, I’ve seen and known too many cats who lose their bite inhibition after declawing, causing a much more serious problem in the household.
The experts over at PetCoach have seen other serious declawing difficulties as well. “There are many complications that can happen [after declawing your cat], from lifelong pain, regrowth of the bone tissue which can cause deformation and lifelong behavioral issues. Many cats who are declawed become biters and stop using their litter boxes due to the pain in their feet.” Often, cats who develop these issues will end up surrendered to shelters or euthanized for behavior problems that were not present before declawing. (Having other misbehavior problems? Check out the “7 Common Mistakes Cat Owners Make.”)
Remember, even if a pet parent opts for what’s touted as the more “humane” laser declaw, the same side effects are possible.
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Saving the sofa, your cat’s claws and your sanity
So, if declawing is off the table (which I hope it is), is it possible to save the sofa and actually have nice things as a cat mom? Yes! The trick is making some concessions to your cat’s natural need to scratch while managing where that scratching happens.
- Scratching post/mat: The yoga pose Cat Stretch didn’t get its name for nothing. It earned it! Those little carpeted posts at many pet stores are not always enticing. Vet Jennifer Summerfield suggests you select a scratching post “at least 3 to 4 feet tall so that the cat can stretch all the way out when scratching. It should also be heavy and solid — if the post feels flimsy or tips over when the cat scratches, he won’t want to use it. Finally, most cats prefer rough coverings like sisal rope or something similar rather than carpet.” And don’t worry, not all scratching posts are ugly. In fact, the folks over at Hauspanther have a selection of gorgeous cat scratchers preselected from all over the web.
- Location, location, location: Placement of your scratch equipment is a big consideration. Cats will often want to scratch after naps or pick a few choice spots around the house. Place the scratching posts or pads near here to give your cat a better choice. When you see kitty going to scratch appropriately, treat and praise like crazy.
- Couch treatments: Sprays and fabric fresheners can be repulsive to cats. Orange and lemon are particularly disliked by many. These scents can deter your cat from scratching, and bonus, your couch will smell great!
- Spa day: Trimming your cat’s claws can help reduce the damage done to anything your cat does scratch. Learn how to properly trim your cat’s claws at home.
- Double-sided furniture-safe tape: Your local pet store should have a special tape you can add to your cat’s favorite corner of the couch. The tape is safe both for the cat and the fabric of your couch. The stickiness is annoying to your cat and will encourage him to scratch elsewhere. Once the scratching has been relocated, you can take the tape off.
- Nail cap: For those of you who really want no chance at all of scratching but want to keep your kitty feeling secure, consider asking your vet about nail caps. These work sort of like acrylic nails. A nail cap is a vinyl cap that is glued to your cat’s claw. This still allows cats to use their claws, but without the sharp edge that can cause damage to furniture or skin. They even come in a fun assortment of colors.
In all, making just a few adjustments to help your cat learn where scratching is allowed can help keep your kitty happy and your couch looking great and avoid some serious issues down the line.
Have a question about kitty’s scratching? Ask the experts at PetCoach below.
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