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Dealing with Destructive Scratching

Scratching is a natural activity for felines (cats and kittens) to both sharpen claws and mark territory. It is also a means of stretching. Unfortunately, some felines can be very destructive with their claws.

Owners now have several options for dealing with a feline’s tendency to scratch:

Our first recommendation is to attempt to TRAIN the feline to scratch in certain acceptable locations. This may be a scratching post or scratching pad (commercial or homemade) displayed in a prominent location in you home. If a post is used, it should be sturdy and tall enough for the feline to stretch while scratching. As soon as a kitten or cat displays its scratching behavior, quickly move it to the post or pad. Positive reinforcement will encourage scratching in this new location. Be prepared: It may take several weeks of training to be successful!

  • Furniture can be made unacceptable by using plastic or even aluminum foil to cover the target pieces.
  • Spray-on antiperspirants can be sprayed on the furniture as a repellent.
  • Treats or catnip can be used to attract the cat to the scratching post.

Cats can be punished for furniture scratching attempts, but it is important that the cat not connect the punishment with the person administering it, otherwise the cat will simply learn not to scratch while that person is watching. Yelling, spanking, or shaking a can with pennies in it is too directly associated with the person rather than the act of scratching. A water bottle can work but only if the cat does not see where the squirt comes from. Booby traps can be set up using balloons.

Our second recommendation is to regularly TRIM the feline’s claws to remove the point of the nail. This is not a painful procedure and would need to be done every 2-3 weeks. A good quality, sharp animal nail trimmer works best.

Our third recommendation is to place nail caps on the claws. “SOFT PAWS” are plastic caps that are glued onto the trimmed nails. The caps generally last 6-8 weeks before replacement is necessary. “Soft Paws” can be placed on the front and/or back claws of cats and kittens. The procedure is non-painful and very effective for many felines. The hospital staff will place the first set, but future placements can be done at home by the owner if desired.

Our fourth recommendation to control scratching behavior is to have DECLAW surgery. The surgery involves removing the nail, nail bed and the attached bone to prevent regrowth of the nail. This procedure is best done on young cats because recovery time is short. We recommend declawing the front feet only. Declawed cats live normal, pain-free lives.

Declaw: the Disarticulation Method
This procedure involves the delicate disconnection of all the tiny ligaments holding the third bone in place. The entire third bone is removed in its entirety. The foot pads are all left in place and not removed.

What to Expect/Possible Complications:

  • Either sutures (absorbable) or surgical glue is used to close the incisions.
  • Some spotting of blood is normal from the toes during the first few days at home.
  • Shredded paper or pelleted recycled newspaper litter (such as Yesterday’s News) is needed for 10 days after surgery. Conventional litter can impact inside the tiny incisions and cause infections.
  • Pain medication is a requirement. The amount of weight carried on the feet is the biggest factor in post-operative pain. We recommend oral narcotic meds for post-operative pain after declawing for all cats.

Mercy Pet Hospital does not recommend the surgical procedure of declawing the rear feet of kittens or adult cats. The procedure permanently makes the cat more defenseless (unable to climb a tree in an emergency) and it is our feeling these cats are more likely to develop biting behavior problems in the future.

The actual procedure is more painful and has a longer post-operative recovery time than front foot declaw surgery. In addition, there is an increased chance for healing complications as compared with front foot declaw surgery.