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Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, since 1877

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Scratching, Biting, & Declawing

What You Should Know About Scratching, Biting, & Declawing

Cats usually bite and scratch when they become overly excited playing with their human friends. You can teach a cat to retract her claws by stopping playtime whenever the claws come out. If your cat does retract, praise her and resume playing. Perhaps even better is to learn your cat’s tendencies for clawing, and to stop play before the cat gets overly excited.

If kitty does bite, let her know she is hurting you by saying, “Ouch!” End playtime and walk away. This effective deferent works because kittens and cats love to play with their owners. Ending playtime teaches your pet that rough behavior is not acceptable.

Your cat has a predatory nature. Giving her toys to play with instead of hands and feet helps her act this out and expend her energy. A scratching post can be an invaluable tool. By giving your cat active and regular playtime, she will be less likely to scratch you.

Even if you have exhausted all possible methods of training your cat not to scratch, declawing your pet is not the solution. Declawing is not a simple removal of the claws. It is a surgical amputation. In addition, a declawed cat suffers both physical and psychological repercussions as a result of such amputation. Removing the claws causes pain in her paws, as well as a distrust of humans and a tendency to bite. Patience and consistency, not surgical procedure, are the keys for a well-trained cat.

Redirecting Claw Action

Scratching is a natural and important behavior for cats. It helps them stay limber and aids in the shedding of their claw sheath, like a snake shedding skin. But when cats turn their claws on furniture or carpets, this behavior is annoying and destructive. Luckily, there are effective and humane ways to modify and redirect a cat’s need to scratch.

Although it may seem to be the only permanent solution, declawing cats is neither humane nor effective. The surgery involves cutting off the entire first joint of the toe in a painful procedure that has long-lasting physical and emotional effects on cats. Declawed cats can develop debilitating arthritis as they age. Having lost their first line of defense, they are easily stressed and often become biters. Many also stop using their litter boxes because of the pain they feel in their paws while trying to cover up their waste.

A much better alternative is to give your cat a scratching surface that is agreeable to both of you. A good scratching post should be sturdy and at least three feet tall to allow the cat a full stretch. Place the post near your cat’s favorite sleeping area. If you have the space, your cat will appreciate having more than one post to use. Look for posts covered with the backside of carpet, thick burlap, plain wood, or a durable help-like material called sisal. Avoid the ones with carpet or upholstery fabric, exactly the surfaces you want your cat not to claw.

Make the post irresistible by sprinkling or spraying catnip on it, and by tying on a favorite toy for the cat to play with. It is important to praise your cat when she claws in the correct place, and if she scratches something inappropriate, distract her with a loud noise, such as pennies in a soda can. Never use physical punishment; it may cause your cat to fear you and to avoid the problem area only when you are around. You can distract her from inappropriate areas by spraying a deterrent or placing strips of double-sided tape on the areas. These products can be purchased at your local pet supply store. If your cat continues to scratch in an inappropriate area, place a post there. Another option is to use plastic nail coverings called Soft Paws. They can be purchased and applied by your veterinarian. This is a humane alternative to declawing your cat.

You can also clip your cat’s nails regularly. This procedure is easy, and when done correctly does not hurt the cat. It is easy to condition your cat to accept nail trimming, but you must have patience and pick the right time. The very worst time is when the pet is alert and active. Handle the paw very gently, use a sharp pair of trimmers, and quickly take off the tip of the nail. Don’t cut into the pink area of the nail, as this will cause it to bleed. Give your cat a treat when you are done. You may only get one nail done at a time until your cat is comfortable with the process.

With patience, praise, and love you can redirect your cat’s clawing action in an effective and humane way.

Behavior and Training Department

If you would like more information on training or have a behavior question you can email the Behavior and Training Department at training@spcaLA.com or call the Behavior Helpline at (888) 772-2521, ext 260.