Dr. Nichol’s Blog – The Damage of Cat Scratching

Declawing is so ‘90s (actually ‘60s)

There is a definite calming influence that comes with having a cat sharing my home. They are delightful creatures but even the best-behaved kitty isn’t perfect, though, is she? When I list the reasons for this love affair, like companionship, affection, entertainment, and a great example of living in the moment, I recall the sacrifices that the cat-crazy among us conveniently forget – like our shredded house. There are aspects of cat-parenting that we must accept but modern science can make things better.

The Nichol family has 2 cats who don’t damage their people and who have been, sort of, pretty good with our furniture. We’ve set them up for success by providing appropriate outlets for their destructive proclivities. They have fireplace logs along with scratching posts built into their tall climbing tree. But sadly, the chair I’m parked in as I write this missive has suffered injuries at the paws those naughty boys.

Exposing the private life of a specialist in veterinary behavior medicine could put my hard-earned reputation at risk. Shouldn’t my pets be examples of cordiality and manners? Shouldn’t they respect our home? Well, do MD psychiatrists have perfect families? I don’t think so. Are any of them just a little bit crazy themselves? Well, OK, then. I hope I’ve made my point.

So, my cats do a bit of furniture scratching and they engage in the occasional brawl. And my dog digs holes in the yard and treats our excellent UPS person abominably, although only verbally. I’m sure the poor man suffers emotional abuse when visiting our house. But at least the wellbeing of the Nichol family furniture is improving.

Veterinarians are often asked for simple solutions to vexing pet behaviors that are actually quite normal. I was recently contacted by a 72 year old man who explained that he’d had cats his entire life. He and his wife had recently lost their cat and, as he put it, he felt lost without another companion. But, there was a but. His wife insisted that any new cat in their home be declawed. He told me that he just couldn’t agree to that.

Well, gee, getting into the middle of a marital brouhaha is not part of my job description. But (there’s that word again) I had to tell this man that I feel the same way about removing normal anatomy. His concerns are common. There are those who insist that cats be spared a painful procedure on one hand and proponents of a non-shredded house on the other. The two Nichol family cats remain clawed, despite having carved their initials into my nice desk chair.

It would seem logical to correct or punish a home wrecking cat but these apparently nefarious acts are actually part of the normal feline behavioral repertoire. Not only do kitties need to sharpen and shorten their nails they must molest their surroundings to communicate. In the wild, the marks they leave on trees remind their competitors that “Kilroy was here”. Cats are social creatures in their own, feline-specific ways. Trying to stop them from scratching is like telling them to quit breathing.

There’s more. We now know that pheromones, called semiochemicals are secreted from specialized glands between our cat’s toes. Cats spread these substances in the wild to leave messages for other cats. Never mind that some kitties are only-pets. A cat must do what a cat must do.

We really hate it when we catch our cats wrecking our stuff, don’t we? But hurling insults, using a cat as a shoe-throwing target, or spraying water won’t make a positive difference, unless, of course, your cat has caught fire. Instead of breaking your relationship or deforming your cat with declaw surgery you can redirect this natural feline proclivity.

May I expound for another moment on the concept of domestic contentiousness? The accelerating changes in our society have been accompanied by increasing discord. We’re becoming tribal. Too many of us wear scowls, ready to pop-off at the slightest affront. There is a growing number of people who live lonely, disconnected lives. Having a loving cat is really good self-care. Our bonds with them are precious.

For many of the pet parents I have been privileged to help in the management of their wayward cats, behavior problems can be a huge source of conflict. The pets who could be helping them feel better sometimes cause them to feel worse. There aren’t simple solutions for every challenge but furniture and curtain wrecking, I am delighted to report, can be relegated to the dust bin of history – without surgery.

Feliscratch is a synthetic analogue of the scratching pheromone that cats feel compelled to spread around their territories. Applying liquid Feliscratch, where you want your cat to scratch, will make you the top cat, the conductor of the feline orchestra in your home, communicating in cat-speak that you actually want scratching and this is where you want it.

Making it easy for a kitty to succeed is good pet-parenting and better for the spirit than angst and frustration. Locate at least one scratching post, a couple of corrugated cat scratchers, and a fireplace log near the furniture you don’t want defiled. Then, treat these surfaces with Feliscratch. You cat will read the message and do the rest.

And don’t forget that cats are operant learners; what gets rewarded gets repeated. When you catch your cat doing something right be sure to say something nice like, “I love it when you’re a good kitty.” Avoid exuberance, applause, and Mylar balloons. Cats don’t need a political rally to bolster their self-esteem. A kind word will work just fine. Repeat hundreds of times.

I hope you find this information useful. You’re welcome to share this blog with any of your cat-loving friends. If they are considering having their cat declawed or if their fully equipped kitty is ripping up their furniture, well, they’ll be glad for the advice.

Each week I share a short video, a podcast, or a blog to help bring out the best in pets. You can sign up at no charge on my website, drjeffnichol.com. And when you do, I’ll send you my free at-home pet first aid and CPR guide.

Thanks for your dedication to your pets. I’m Dr. Jeff Nichol.