Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Cats That Scratch: What Are Your Options?

Pet Column for the week of July 23, 2001

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

Many cat owners face the heartache of slashed drapes, slit sofas, and shredded carpets. Fortunately, there are options for controlling kitty's craving to scratch.

Dr. Gary Brummet, an Urbana practitioner and adjunct faculty member at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, says, "Sometimes the simplest method for controlling this problem is to attempt to change the animal's behavior. In addition, keeping nails trimmed can greatly reduce the amount of damage the cat is able to do."

Cats hate water; therefore, a very persuasive tool in getting your cat to stop scratching is the squirt gun. Any time you see your cat scratching the furniture, squirt it. If you are consistent in doing this, the cat may eventually stop. It is also a good idea to give your cat a scratching post as an alternative to the sofa. Rubbing a little catnip on the post may also encourage the cat to turn its attention to the scratching post instead of the furniture.

Nail capping involves attaching a plastic tip to each nail with superglue. When the caps are all on, it can be a very effective method to prevent scratching. It may be difficult to maintain; however, because the caps will fall off eventually and must be reapplied every 1 to 2 months. Cats may dislike having their paws handled in this manner and restraining them to apply the tips may be a challenge.

Declawing, a procedure to prevent scratching, is an amputation surgery that involves removal of the last bone of each toe. Unlike most animals, cats walk on the second bone of each toe, which means that the last bone can be removed without causing problems with mobility. Declawing is controversial because it can cause a great deal of pain and may not be necessary.

Dr. Brummet says,"When it is done at a very young age, it does not appear to be very painful. I say that because kittens tend to bounce back very fast from the surgery and as early as the next day will be running around as if nothing happened. It is recommended that the procedure be avoided if at all possible, but if you find that it is necessary to declaw, perform the procedure only on cats under a year of age."

Cats older than one year have a much harder time recovering from the procedure. An adult cat that has been declawed may display signs of pain for days to weeks after the surgery and may have difficulty getting around during that time.

After the pain from the surgery has subsided, cats do not seem to notice that the claws are gone. They still use their feet in the same ways as they did before the surgery; however, their ability to defend themselves will be significantly reduced. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that cats that have been declawed be kept permanently indoors.

A new alternative to declawing is a surgery called a tendonectomy. It is performed by making a small incision on the pad side of each toe and removing a piece of the tendon that allows the claw to be extended, thus preventing scratching. A tendonectomy can be performed on cats of any age. It is much less painful. Even older and overweight cats walk fine the day after surgery. There is also much less bleeding because no major blood vessels are severed.

With a tendonectomy, the nails will continue to grow, but because the cat can no longer scratch, the nails will not be worn down. If the nails are not trimmed, they could grow in a circle and eventually grow into the pad of the foot, causing pain and possible infection. Owners who choose a tendonectomy must be willing to keep the nails trimmed so that this does not happen. Otherwise this procedure is just as effective as declawing.

If you are having a problem with scratching in your household consult your veterinarian for the best solution for you.