go back to the page you came fromgo home buy stuff and help me pay for my websitesthe table of contentssend me email

How To Keep Your Cat Happy and Still Maintain Your Furniture and Sanity Intact

By Dr. Christianne Schelling

Your sofa and your nerves are in tatters.
You're scolding your cat, knowing all the while that it's futile. This is not a cocker spaniel you're dealing with. This is one of nature's most pragmatic and self sufficient creatures. Worse, you're well aware that your cat considers your behavior aberrant. She looks at you as if you've gone slightly mad. "Why the fuss?" she seems to say. "What are you raving about? I'm simply doing my thing--what's with you?"

You're at an impasse. What to do?

Reasons to consider alternatives to declawing.

Declawing is an irreversible surgical procedure that involves amputating the last joint of the cat's "toes." It is a painful procedure with potential for secondary complications. Also, a cat's front claws are it's primary defense. Once declawed there is no replacement or regrowth of the claws. You may think, "My cat never goes outside." But what if your cat accidentally gets outside and you can't find her? She is now defenseless in a potentially harmful environment.

For many of us, declawing is not an option for the beautiful, loving creatures that depend on us. At the same time that does not mean we have to live in a shredded environment. This article is here to provide simple and effective solutions.

Remember: Knowledge is power.

Understanding the situation is half the battle. You and your cat are about to teach each other some valuable lessons.

Lesson 1- Scratching is a natural behavior for cats.

This isn't exactly a revelation, since you probably have the evidence everywhere--in the tattered corners of your sofa, the shredded drapes, your frayed nerves. Though kitty's natural propensity for scratching may not be big news, it is a fact that you'll need to take into account if you're to make any headway in winning the battle to keep her from scratching in places you consider undesirable.

Lesson 2- You can't keep your cat from scratching.

What you can do is stop her from scratching those items you value and want to keep in their relatively pristine state.

Bear in mind Mark Twain's advice, which applies universally: Never try to teach a pig to sing; it frustrates you and annoys the pig. Translate this bit of wisdom to your dealings with cats and you'll avoid a good deal of futility and frustration.

You can't make a cat do anything she doesn't want to do. Get clear on that. And getting her to stop something she enjoys is just about as difficult. Therefore you have to think smart and re-channel her desires.

A word about punishment--Don't do it!

Cats don't understand physical punishment. In addition to it being wrong to hit your cat, punishment simply doesn't work and is likely to make your situation worse. Clever though Kitty is about many things, she won't understand that you're punishing her for scratching the couch. She will only compute that sometimes when you catch her she is treated badly. This may make her insecure and stimulate her to scratch more or develop other undesirable behavior problems.

Eventually you will break the trust and security that is the basis for your cat's relationship with you, and you will find it very difficult to catch her for any reason at all.

Cats have excellent memories and hold serious grudges.

Lesson 3- Why do cats scratch?

More to the point, why do they scratch your prized possessions? Understanding your cat's need to scratch is more than just an act of charitability on your part. It's the key to channeling Kitty's efforts to more acceptable areas.

Marking their territory

Scratching is a territorial instinct by which cats place their mark and establish their turf. Through scratching, cats mark their domains with more than just the visible signs of claw marks. Cat's paws also have scent glands that leave their own special scent on their territory.

And this is why they mark the most visible portions of house. It's Kitty's way of adding her own personal touch to your ( and her) home. Her version of interior decorating.


Scratching also serves to keep your cat in shape. The act of scratching stretches and pulls and works the muscles of a cat's front quarters--a cross between a feline gym workout and Kitty Yoga.

Sheer pleasure

Hey! It feels good to scratch.

So give up the idea of reforming Kitty's desire to scratch. Rechannel her into scratching where you want her to. You'll both be happier.

Lesson 4- Provide your cat with an appropriate scratching post.

Since your cat brings you so much joy, you decide to buy her the softest, prettiest and most luxurious scratching post you can find. You take it home and your feline friend gives you a blank stare and walks away. This activates your parental guidance mechanism and you decide to show her how to use the post by taking her front paws and making scratching motions at the post. She of course struggles till she gets free of you and then treats you with utter disdain for the rest of the day.

Never make the mistake of trying to "show her how" to scratch anything. You'll only offend her. She knows perfectly well how to do it. She just reserves the right to scratch when and where it suits her.

Lesson 5- Remember, we said appropriate.

Bear in mind that your idea of desirable and Kitty's may not coincide. Cats like rough surfaces that they can shred to pieces. (The exception of course is your velvet couch, which has its own particular appeal.) The scratching post with the most aesthetic appeal to your cat is often a tree stump, though this is a bit unwieldy in a one-bedroom apartment. Whatever post you choose, it must be tall enough for her to fully extend her body, and most important, it must be secure. If it topples over even once, she won't go back to it.

Sisal scratching posts are ideal for releasing Kitty's primal urges. This is a material she can shred to pieces with great satisfaction. Be sure not to throw it away when it is shredded, since that's when she's just broken it in satisfactorily, and she will not appreciate your tidiness.

The reverse side of rugs provides a good, satisfyingly resistant texture for clawing. You can place a piece of rug material over an area of carpet where Kitty has already been scratching. However, it must be stationary. Secure it so it doesn't move by duct taping the edges or placing it under furniture. You can also staple pieces of rug to a wall or post.

Lesson 6- How to get Kitty to prefer the post.

Remember that an important part of scratching is the cat's desire to mark a territory, so a scratching post should be in an area that's used by the family, not hidden in a back corner. After a time you can move the post away to the periphery of the room, but you'll need to do this gradually.

Initially, put the post where your cat goes to scratch. This may be by a sofa, a chair or wherever Kitty has chosen as her territory, and you may need more than one post to cover her favorite spots. Security is a major factor in making the post appealing to your cat. If it topples or shakes, she won't use it. It should either be secured to the floor or have a base wide enough and heavy enough to keep it stable.

Encourage Kitty to use her post with clever enticements. Feed her and play with her by the post. Rub dried catnip leaves or powder into it. Make all the associations with the post pleasurable. Reward her with a favorite treat when she uses it. Have her chase a string or a toy around the post or attach toys to it, which will result in her digging her claws into it. Eventually she will learn to love it and regard it as her own. It's also a good idea to put a post where Kitty sleeps. Cats like to scratch when they awaken, especially in the morning and the middle of the night. If space permits, a scratching post in every room of the house is a cat's delight. The most important place is the area of the house in which you and Kitty spend the most time. I have many sisal posts in my house, yet often in the morning my cats line up to use the one in the living room.

If at first Kitty is reluctant to give up her old scratching areas, there are means you can use to discourage her. Covering the area with aluminum foil or double-sided tape is a great deterrent. These surfaces don't have a texture that feels good to scratch.

Remember too that Kitty has marked her favorite spots with her scent as well as her claws. You may need to remove her scent from the areas you want to distract her away from. You will find pet odor removers in pet stores and many supermarkets as well.

Cats have an aversion to citrus odors. Use lemon-scented sprays or a potpourri of lemon and orange peels to make her former scratching sites less agreeable to her.

If Kitty still persists in scratching the furniture, try squirting her with a water gun or a spray bottle set on stream. Another option is a loud whistle or other noise-maker. You must employ these deterrents while she is scratching for them to be effective. The point is to establish an aversion to the spot you don't want her to scratch.

Lesson 7- Start them young.

If you are starting with a kitten, consider yourself fortunate. It's much easier to initiate good habit patterns than to correct undesirable ones.

From the beginning teach your kitten the appropriate place to scratch. Use the methods already described, especially playing around the scratching post to capture her interest. Take advantage of your kitten's desire to play and attach toys to the post. She will soon "dig in" to catch her toy and discover how good it feels to scratch this surface.

Do not take her paws and make her scratch the post. This is a major turn-off and will only inspire a bratty "you can't make me attitude." Even at an early age, cats refuse to be coerced into doing what they don't want to do.

If she starts to scratch an inappropriate object, immediately place her in front of her scratching post and begin petting her. Some cats will begin kneading when petted, thus digging their claws into the desired surface and establishing this as a fine place to scratch.

Cats are creatures of habit. Start them off with good ones.

Alternate solutions

Trimming your cat's nails.

You may defray some of your cat's potential for destruction by carefully trimming the razor-sharp tips of her claws. You will find this endeavor more easily accomplished by two people, one to hold Kitty and one to trim her nails. Though she enjoys other forms of pampering, Kitty will not find a manicure soothing.

Gently hold Kitty's paw in one hand and with your thumb on top of the paw and forefinger on the pad gently squeeze your thumb and finger together. This will push the claw clear of the fur so it can easily be seen. You will notice that the inside of the claw is pink near its base. This is living tissue that you do not want to cut. Trim only the clear tip of the nail. Do not clip the area where pink tissue is visible nor the slightly opaque region that outlines the pink tissue. To be safe, trim just half the distance from the tip of the nail to the pink tissue, approximately three millimeters away from the pink tissue. This will avoid cutting into areas that would be painful or bleed. The desired effect is simply to blunt the claw tip. Many different types of nail trimmers are available in pet stores, but I find human toenail clippers easy and effective to use.

If by now you're rolling on the floor laughing because you know your cat isn't about to let you trim her claws, here are a couple of guidelines that will help make this a possibility: Patience and preparation.

Rushing into a full-scale claw trimming is a foolhardy move unless you're really into operatic drama and traumatic events. As you well know, some cats hate to be restrained. And some don't like you fooling with their paws, which comes across as threatening. After all, their claws are a major tool for survival, and Kitty may consider your motives suspect.

This is where preparation comes to the rescue. For approximately a week before her manicure, begin making Kitty accustomed to having her paws handled. While petting and soothing her, start massaging her paws, especially on the under side. Gently press on the individual pads at the base of her claws. You may want to give her treats to reward her for not protesting. (Or as in the case of my own cat, to distract her from doing so.) The point, of course, is to make the process reassuring so that she will eventually feel comfortable enough to let you handle her paws without protest.

Next, be patient. Don't attempt to trim all her nails at once. Trim one or two at a time, reward her with affection or food, and then let her do as she wishes. Cats are not strong on patience or restraint. As the creature theoretically higher on the evolutionary scale, that's your department. Don't attempt to change your cat. Instead make it tolerable for her. Eventually trimming will become a completely non-traumatic experience.

Soft Paws* An excellent alternative

If all of this is too time consuming and you have a strictly indoor cat, you have another very desirable option: a wonderful product called Soft Paws. These are lightweight vinyl caps that you apply over a cat's own claws. They have rounded edges, so your cat's scratching doesn't damage your home and furnishings.

Soft Paws are great for households with small children, as they guard against the child getting scratched. They are also extremely useful for people who are away from home all day and simply can't apply the watchfulness necessary to train a cat to use a scratching post. An important caveat here, however: they should be used only on indoor cats, since they blunt one of the cat's chief means of self-defense.

Soft Paws last approximately four to six weeks once Kitty becomes accustomed to them. At first they will feel a bit strange to her and she may groom them excessively, causing them to come off sooner. She'll get used to them quickly though, and thereafter they will last longer.

Soft Paws come in a kit and are easy to apply. Just glue them on. They are generally applied to the front paws only, since these are what cause most of the destruction to your home. A kit will last approximately two to three months, depending on your cat. After applying the Soft Paws, check Kitty's claws weekly. You'll probably find one or two caps missing from time to time, and these are easily replaced using the adhesive included in the kit. To make application easier for both you and your cat, follow the instructions on accustoming your cat to having her paws handled that are discussed here in the section on trimming your cat's claws.

The great majority of cats tolerate Soft Paws well. The brattiest of my own cats, a princess who is hyper-fastidious, wears them with aplomb. They are perfect for her, since she must always be an indoor cat after an injury that has left her less mobile than before. On her, by the way, one Soft Paws kit lasts close to four months.

Soft Paws are not available in stores. You can, however, order them on the SoftPaws Web Site.

As a checklist, here are the pertinent things to remember:

1- Understand your cat's need to scratch.
2- Forget punishment--it doesn't work.
3- Provide a suitable place for your cat to scratch.
4- Make the scratching post attractive to Kitty--i.e. use sisal posts.
5- Make the place she's been scratching unattractive-physical or scent related deterrents.
6- Whenever possible, start cats young.
7- You may want to trim your cat's claws.
8- For indoor cats, consider Soft Paws as extra insurance, or an easy alternative.

Dr. Christianne Schelling     Copyright 1998 All Rights Reserved

Learn more about Soft Paws (FAQ's)

E-mail comments to: vet@thegrid.net

Please visit our messageboard
Educate!! Don't Amputate!!
Any email sent to me regarding declawing will be posted on the messageboard

website design by

visit the cathouse catcams