Feb 27 2009

Is your cat the queen of snags & scratches? More tips for taming those troublesome claws

In a previous post, we looked at techniques for teaching your cat to scratch in healthy, acceptable ways.

Here are a few more tips on scratching behavior and how to care for your cat’s claws.

Practice the art of dissuasion
Punishment after the fact won’t change a cat’s behavior, and may cause her to be afraid of you or the environment. It can also elicit defensive aggression. If you attempt to punish your cat, she’ll just learn to refrain from scratching in your presence but will continue to scratch when you’re not around.

Instead of trying to punish your cat, try to dissuade her in a way that she won’t associate with you. When you catch her scratching something she shouldn’t, startle her by making a loud noise (using a whistle, shaking a soda can filled with rocks, or slapping the wall) or spraying water with a squirt bottle.

This approach applies to adult cats as well as kittens, who begin to retract their claws at 28-days-old and begin to scratch at 35-days-old. Eight-week-old kittens are just beginning to scratch when they are adopted into new homes and can be introduced immediately to scratching posts and other acceptable objects to satisfy their natural need to scratch.

Keep your cat’s claws trimmed
Cats keep their claws retracted until they’re needed in order to keep them sharp. As the claws grow too long and become curved, they can’t be retracted completely. To keep them from becoming snagged in carpets and fabrics, not to mention your skin, you should clip off the sharp tips of your cat’s front claws every two weeks or so.

Before trimming your cat’s claws, help her get accustomed to having her paws handled and squeezed. You can do this by gently petting her legs and paws while giving her a treat. Gradually increase the pressure so that petting becomes gentle squeezing, as you’ll need to do this to extend the claw. Continue with the treats until your cat tolerates this kind of touching and restraint.

When your cat is comfortable having her paws handled, here are some tips on how to clip her claws:

  • Use a claw trimmer designed especially for pets. These are better than your own nail clipper because they won’t crush the claw.Apply a small amount of pressure to her paw—with your thumb on top of her paw and your index finger underneath—until a claw is extended.
  • Don’t cut into this pink portion, which is called the “quick” and is actually a small blood vessel, as it will bleed and be painful for your cat.
  • Just cut off the sharp tip of the claw, the “hook,” to dull the claw and prevent extensive damage to household objects and to your skin.
  • One claw or foot a day is enough of a challenge. Until you and your cat are used to the routine, don’t push to do all of them at once, or you will both have only negative memories of claw clippers!

A few words about declawing…
Declawing is a procedure whereby a veterinarian amputates the end digit and claw of a cat’s paws—similar in scope to cutting off a person’s finger at the last joint. The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing when done solely for the convenience of the owner. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and can be directed to appropriate items. Declawing is almost never medically or behaviorally necessary, and should never be considered routine or done preemptively.

This information adapted from the HSUS fact sheet Destructive Scratching.

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