With or without claws? Ask this question first

Published 2:38 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2011

By DR. FRED SELF / Veterinarian

It is a shame that cat owners looking for a new cat,cannot ask that question of themselves and then look only for a feline friend that fits the bill.

Instead, the process starts with finding a cat that fits the household. Then, once the honeymoon period is over and the cat feels at home, the scratching furniture, climbing drapes and tearing the skin on arms begins.

Negative effects of claws leave owners asking, “If we can breed hairless cats, why not breed clawless cats as well?”

In a perfect world, we could choose claws or no claws. As things are now, we can only deal with the problems related to dagger-like nails after the fact.

It is important to understand that scratching is an important behavioral and emotional part of a cat’s life. From a behavioral standpoint, scratching objects not only marks them as your territory visibly but also covers them in your scent. The marks can tell something about cat size and strength based on their height and depth. Due to the scent glands between a cat’s toes, each scratch also tells something about who specifically did the scratching. Using claws to play is also common between cats. When they play fight, it is not unusual for them to use their claws.

Emotionally scratching objects can have a calming effect and is done sometimes when a cat is happy. Softly scratching an object can mimic the behavior of a kitten while it is nursing. That type of scratching or kneading by a kitten on its mother’s belly encourages the release of milk and is reassuring to both the kitten and mother. This behavior shows up again in adults as inappropriate scratching. There are several options to consider regarding inappropriate scratching. First, provide scratching posts so your cat has a place where scratching is good. Also provide negative reinforcement by spraying with a water bottle when they scratch the wrong place. Consider using claw covers. Made with plastic or rubber they prevent scratching from causing damage. If those options do not work, then surgical removal can help. The cat will still attempt to scratch, but no damage occurs.

Many people are against elective declawing of cats. However, each year declawing keeps many cats from being euthanized or turned into a shelter by owners who can no longer handle the scratching.

Dr. Fred Self is a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic in Columbiana, along with Dr. Charles Thornburg. You can reach them at 669-7717.