Your couch is in shreds. Your carpet is constantly getting ripped up. You’re about ready to get rid of your cat or have her declawed.
Wait. Take a deep breath and relax. Suppose I told you that there were alternatives to getting rid of your cat or declawing? It’s true, and I promise you that by the end, your house won’t look like a kitty battlefield.
Why You Don’t Want to Declaw
Before I get into training, let’s first look at what declawing is all about and why you shouldn’t do it. Although many people still have their cats declawed and many veterinarians still declaw cats, the truth is it is a barbaric practice. To declaw your cat, the veterinarian must amputate the cat’s toes to the first knuckle. It can be painful, and the pain can last for a long time, depending on how the nerves react. Although there aren’t many studies on it, many cat behaviorists see aggression, litterbox issues, and other problems with cats that have been declawed. I’ve seen this first hand with a kitten who grew up to be a psycho cat after he was declawed. This cat would bite anyone and everyone, and he would grab onto you arms while raking them with the intact rear claws. Nasty.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) disapproves of declawing, except in the instance where the owner could be severely injured by the claws, such as in the case of immunity-compromised conditions such as HIV and cancer, or in the case of bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia.
The reality is that most veterinarians who perform this surgery do it because the pet owner feels he or she has no choice and will euthanize the cat for what is a natural cat behavior. But the reality is that the surgery can cause other undesirable behaviors when simply training the cat ends the problem altogether.
First, before we talk about stopping scratching, we must talk about the behavior. Cats scratch naturally. There is absolutely no way for you to stop a cat from scratching. Even if you declaw your cat, your cat will continue to scratch, just without claws. And in some cases, she can still use her rear claws to scratch.
Don’t want a cat that scratches at all? Don’t get a cat. Scratching is exercise, stress relief, and downright enjoyable to the cat. It helps keep her nails short and gets rid of excess nail. It helps your cat mark her territory. Furthermore, her claws are her primary defense. If she accidently gets out or is a cat who goes outside, she needs those claws to keep her safe from other animals.
Teaching Your Cat Not to Scratch Inappropriate Items
So, you now know you can’t stop your cat from scratching. But, you can stop her from scratching items you don’t want scratched. The trick is to teach her to avoid places you don’t want scratched while teaching her to scratch the correct objects. Those correct objects are cat scratchers, of course. And, while you may have one or two cat scratchers, it is unlikely that they are enough for your cat, and they’re probably not in the right places.
The trick to teaching your cat to scratch the right items (scratchers) and not scratch the wrong items (your couch, for example) is to deter your cat from scratching the wrong items and encourage scratching the right items. The trick is to how to do it.
How to Set Your Cat up for Success
Let’s say your cat has already made it clear she wants to scratch your couch. That requires discouraging her from scratching it. What you need to do is purchase some double-sided sticky tape made for discouraging cats. I prefer the brand Sticky Paws® because it is harmless to cats and most furniture, but you can try whatever works. Just be sure you can remove it from your furniture when training is done.
The double-sided tape acts as a deterrent because cats hate the sticky feeling. That will keep your cat away from where she has been scratching. Your next step is to put a cat scratcher right next to the couch. No, not in a corner of the room away from the scratched side. Right beside where she has been scratching. Make it interesting with catnip rubbed on it. If she’s scratching vertically, give her a vertical scratcher. Occasionally, you can use a horizontal scratcher nearby, but choose wisely. Scratchers come in all different sizes, shapes, and materials. Larger is better than smaller. Pick up several and choose the one your cat finds most enticing.
By discouraging the couch, the scratcher she loves is going to look mighty appealing. She should start happily scratching away.
Moving the Scratcher
Once you have your cat using the scratcher reliably, you can start moving it to where you want it. You start by shifting it over maybe a few inches at first, and let your cat get used to that for a few weeks before moving it a foot away from the couch. Get her used to that. Then, move it a foot every few weeks until the scratcher is in its final position.
More than One Object
If your cat scratches the couch, a chair, and the rug, guess what? That’s right – you need to have deterrents for each of those objects and a scratcher next to them. For rugs, get a Scat Mat or one of the other pet training mats. The Scat Mat emits a mild, harmess static pulse to keep your cat off the area you want to train your cat to avoid. The other training mats have hundreds of raised bumps that feel uncomfortable when stepped on. Then, put a horizontal scratcher right by it. When the scratcher is being used consistently and moved to its final place, you can then remove the carpet protection.
What to Do in the Meantime
There are several short term ideas to keeping your kitty from scratching while you train her to not scratch inappropriate items. First, learn how to trim her nails. Have a veterinarian trim them, or you can learn how to clip them. You may then want to use a nail cap product such as Soft Paws® or a similar product that covers each of your cat’s front claws with soft plastic. I’ve had a veterinarian put them on my cat’s nails. They come in a variety of fun colors, and they do fall off in a few weeks, so plan on having them done a few times while training progresses.
Chances are, if you follow my instructions, you’ll have a happy cat with her claws and furniture that is no longer being destroyed. And, isn’t that what we want?
View more articles written by Maggie Bonham.