Scratch That!

The tide is turning regarding declawing of cats.

Denver recently became the first city outside California to ban declawing surgery.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) updated its position statement regarding declaw, which begins, “The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) strongly opposes declawing (onychectomy) as an elective procedure. It is the obligation of veterinarians to provide cat owners with alternatives to declawing.”

Frustrated cat owners have previously chosen declawing, perhaps unaware that this isn’t simply a matter of clipping a cat’s nails but an amputation of the third phalanx, or toe bone. The last part of each bone is removed.

According to the AAFP statement, “There are inherent risks and complications with declawing that increase with age such as acute pain, infection, nerve trauma, as well as long term complications like lameness, behavioral problems, and chronic neuropathic pain.”

If declawing is acceptable, cats lose.

Behavior modification is a better and more humane option than painful declaw surgery. And cat owners who are concerned about destructive scratching have a new alternative to painful surgery. A product called Feliscratch naturally attracts cats to exercise their claws on vertical scratching posts.

But first, why do cats scratch? When cats scratch (an innate behavior), they send an aromatic message via the pheromones delivered by glands in the paws, as well as a visual message: those long claw marks.

The ability to offer this aromatic and visual communication is important –- if not downright necessary –- for cats to feel secure in their environments.

Feliscratch works by encouraging cats to scratch in acceptable places. The blue liquid is applied to a vertical scratching post. It contains a synthetic copy of the natural pheromone cats deposit from their paws when they scratch, as well as catnip to attract them to the post. The blue dye serves as a flag, a visual indicator that the post has been scratched.

According to one study, the product works for eight out of 10 cats already scratching (where you don’t want them to), and nine out of 10 newly adopted kittens. Its use speeds the process of attracting cats to scratching posts. Even better, it has the potential to save lives, because cats who scratch in the right places are less likely to be given up to shelters or booted outdoors.

In addition to using Feliscratch, bring your odds of success up to scratch with the following tips to encourage cats to scratch right:

Choose a scratching post that is not only sturdy but also tall enough for your cat to reach up high for a good stretch.

Cats have individual preferences of desired scratching materials, but sisal wrapped around a vertical post is often a favorite.

Ideally, have one vertical post per cat and at least one horizontal post. If you have more than two cats, it’s best to have one horizontal post for every two cats.

Position the post (treated with Feliscratch) near the area or item a cat may be currently scratching inappropriately, such as a sofa.

Reward with praise or a treat when kitty scratches where you like.

Make the place where the cat is scratching inappropriately uncomfortable or unpleasant.

For example, if the cat is scratching at stereo speakers or the side of a chair, deter him with double-stick tape or a similar manufactured product called Sticky Paws. Cats don’t like it when their paws feel sticky. If it’s an entire sofa or a large chair, cover it with upside-down car mats (nubby side up). Cats don’t enjoy walking on that type of surface, and it’s impossible to scratch. Offering a nearby scratching post treated with Feliscratch to attract the cat is key. Without a suitable alternative, the cat will just scratch somewhere else you likely won’t appreciate, such as a sofa in another room.

In a multi-cat home, if there’s tension between cats, use Feliway Multi-Cat in addition to Feliscratch, and consider consulting a veterinary behaviorist, veterinary technician certified in animal behavior, or a certified cat behavior consultant.

The above techniques encourage cats to scratch where you want and discourage behavior you don’t want – all without resorting to hollering at the cat, and certainly not by physically punishing the cat, which can fracture the human-animal bond.  Most important, remember that scratching is a perfectly natural cat behavior.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT