That is the question…

With our new kitten Liza in the house, Violet has had to make some adjustments. The relationship between Violet and Liza is quite interesting. At times, there is the beginning stages of playing and enjoyment, but largely it is still adversarial. They stare each other down waiting to see who will back down first. Happily, this has not turned into anything more than a game of chicken. Fingers crossed, there’s been no actual physical fighting. Violet is strong of mind and of will, avoiding physical confrontation with Liza is well played on her part for a very important reason: Liza has something that Violet does not … claws. The claws are retractable but can easily come out given the right situation. They can also cause considerable damage to another animal’s skin, ears, eyes. Claws are a powerful weapon.

The subject of claws is quite controversial. They’re not only a source of protection for a cat, they’re also a potential source of aggravation for a cat owner. I’m talking about scratching furniture, scratching other animals in the house, and even scratching their human companions. Declawing, which was once considered a reasonable step to take, is now considered an absolute last result to avoiding claw issues. Declawing is a surgical procedure that amputates the third phalanx, which is the bone that a cat’s nail is attached to. Unfortunately, this procedure is extremely painful and has a relatively prolonged recovery. The procedure itself carries the risk of hemorrhage, post-surgical infection, and temporary limb paralysis. In additional to the significant post-operative pain, it can lead to chronic pain issues that result in persistent lameness. Declawing may also result in social and psychological problems for the cat. It has been suggested that stripped of the ability to scratch, cats become more prone to biting as a means of protection to real or perceived threats. Finally, it has been suggested that scratching is a natural behavior that helps to eliminate stress and without the ability to scratch, that it can lead to feline depression.

In a position statement from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), declawing should only be considered in extreme circumstances. This document stated that “Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents a zoonotic risk for its owner(s).” (Zoonosis is a disease or infection that can be transmitted from an animal to a human.) The AVMA considers declawing a reasonable alternative to euthanasia or abandonment in cases that these are steps that an owner is considering to avoid scratching behavior. The statement also recommends that a full discussion of alternatives to declawing be conducted prior to the procedure. Many countries – including England, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Spain, and Portugal – go further than just discouraging declawing. In these nations, it is illegal to declaw domestic cats.

The alternatives to declawing are both behavioral and physical. Behavioral approaches to avoiding scratching behavior are best started early in a cat’s life. Behaviors are easier to set and establish in a young impressionable feline mind. First and foremost, start training your kitten to have his feet touched and his or her claws trimmed. Making this a fun interaction rather than a stressful one is of utmost importance. Using positive reinforcement and treats, practicing often, and not getting frustrated are the hallmarks of being successful in this endeavor.

Next, have acceptable scratching areas. This includes multiple scratching posts that are tall, stable, and are in favorable locations that the cat is comfortable with (such as near windows or close to sleeping or feeding areas). The scratching post should be made as enticing as possible. Using the cat’s favorite material and frequently applying catnip make the post enjoyable for your feline friend.

One physical approach to avoid scratching includes the placement of “Soft Paws” or an equivalent product. These are claw covers that do not interfere with the cat’s natural ability to extract or retract its claws. They are lightweight and the vast majority of cats do not object to the covers. The cat’s claws need to be kept trimmed at all times to use claw covers. They do need to be replaced frequently as each application will only last for about four weeks before the cover falls off. Happily, if your cat is well trained enough to have his claws clipped, applying claw covers is an easy next step to take.

Another physical approach is to make the subject of the scratching as undesirable as possible. This takes more work as it means covering your furniture in material – such as double-sided tape or aluminum – at all times that the cat is not directly being supervised. Finally, there is a pheromone product called “Feliway” that has been proposed to reduce unwanted feline behaviors such as scratching furniture. This is proposed to be a feline facial pheromone that gives a cat a sense of well-being and by extension reduces the undesired behavior.

Happily, Liza has quickly become accustomed to having her nails clipped and having her “Soft Paws” applied. Connor has made it a bonding experience between the two of them. They cuddle up on the couch enjoying some cuddling and some down time, which Connor then transitions to gently holding her paws and trimming the nails. He then quickly and painless slips the cover on. Treats are given afterward. We have a happy cat, safe furniture, and we don’t have to worry about Violet or the other dogs being a victim of a cat scratch. Everyone wins!

Please feel free to write Violet’s Vet with any pet questions–