Save the Claws!

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It is best if you do not declaw your cat. If tigers can be trained to jump through hoops of fire then surely we can teach our domestic cats to use scratching posts instead of destroying our homes. However, as in the case of the tigers, training a cat does take effort.

The first thing you need to realize is that scratching is a normal, even healthful, behavior of cats. Cats scratch to help shed old claw tissue, to stretch their limbs and spine (kitty yoga), to alleviate stress, and to sharpen their claws. Furthermore, there are scent glands in the feline foot and scratching is a way for these territorial creatures to claim the area they call home.

Your cat will scratch things – you can’t train it out of her. The only question is what will she scratch? Guiding feline scratching behavior requires a two-pronged approach – we need to reward desired behavior and discourage unwanted activities.

The first step is to provide appropriate scratching implements. Posts wrapped with sisal rope work well for many cats. Other felines may prefer wood and still others might favor a horizontal surface for scratching.

It is best to offer a smorgasbord to cover all the bases. An old stump can be used in case your cat is wood-seeking. There are also corrugated cardboard pads that can be taped securely to the floor. Whatever you use, be sure the structure is solid and does not move, wobble, or fall over.

You must realize that just because the labels say “Scratching Post” does not mean that your cat will instinctively prefer them over your couch. Play with your cat near the structures by having her claw at toys that you dangle up and down them. You can also sprinkle the surface of the scratching post with catnip to encourage her to “do the right thing.” Reward appropriate behavior with praise, petting, and treats.

If your cat slips up and scratches in the wrong place, punishment is not likely to help much. First of all, if you hear her scratching in the other room and rush in to stop her, she is likely to stop before you get to her. In that case, she may think that you are punishing her for stopping. “I need to do a better job next time,” she might think.

Even if you are successful in catching her in the act, she will associate you with the punishment. She will quickly learn never to scratch the lounge chair… when you are there. Unless you are constantly home to guard the furniture, that tactic is doomed to failure.

Instead, make the areas of the furniture that your cat is attracted to less appealing. Sticking double sided tape to the area or covering it with aluminum foil works well. Cotton balls sprinkled with a drop or two of lemon essential oil is also said to repel cats. You will not have to use these methods forever as long as you are encouraging the good behavior as outlined above.

To minimize the damage your cat does, you can learn to trim her toenails. Ask your veterinarian to show you how. This procedure is made easy if you train you kitty from the start to let you handle her toes.

To help your cat enjoy her pedicure requires two people. One person holds her comfortably but securely while offering the kitty her favorite treats. The other person carefully trims her toenails. The success of this approach is enhanced by doing it before her meal time when she is extra hungry and the goodies are especially valuable.

An additional level of protection to your furniture can be gained by the use of a product called Soft Paws. Soft Paws are plastic sheaths that are glued onto the freshly cut toenails. They further blunt the nail tips and stay on for about one month.

Living with another species in our homes requires truly understanding their needs and honoring their uniqueness. Cats are wonderful creatures and I can’t imagine living in a house without a feline friend. There are always challenges associated with sharing our live with others. I hope these simple tips help you enjoy your time with your four-legged family member.

What have you found helpful for scratch training your cat?

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