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Family Matters: Taking care of your cat


Does your cat like to use your couch – or your drapes, or your favorite pillow – as a claw-sharpening device? If so, you may have considered declawing him or her. But before resorting to surgery, you should know that declawing a cat is somewhat of a controversial issue within the veterinary community, and you may be able to alter your cat’s behavior with a few simple purchases and/or behavior modifications.

The American Veterinary Medication Association, the non-profit association representing U.S. veterinarians, recommends that domestic cats should be declawed only after the owners have tried to keep the cat from using his or her claws destructively. Scratching is a way for cats to mark their territory, groom and stretch, and it’s normal behavior in a healthy kitty.

Some veterinarians feel that declawing is unnecessarily painful and may change a cat’s personality and behavior. They argue that declawed felines may feel defenseless and may be more likely to mark (urinate on) their territory, avoid contact with others or become aggressive and change their pattern of vocalization (growling, hissing, or increased crying).

On the other hand, other experts feel that declawing a young kitten will be less traumatic, because young animals are smaller and have less weight to carry on their feet after surgery. They’ll experience less pain and heal more quickly than full-grown animals, and seem to be less affected personality-wise by the surgery. And, some even feel that even adult cats can be declawed without a permanent change in personality.

If you have a cat with a destructive clawing problem, first consult your veterinarian for advice. But here are some steps to try:

  • Provide a few “safe” places for your cat to scratch. This might be a cardboard box, a carpet remnant, an old pillow or quilt, or a commercially produced scratching post. For best results, attach the scratchable material to a fixed object, like a wall or post.
  • Trim your cat’s claws every couple of weeks. This removes the urge in the cat to “groom” its claws, and prevents damage to furniture AND people. You can purchase clippers specially designed for cats.
  • Give your cats plenty of toys and affection, to keep them from being bored and looking for activity.
  • Make their favorite scratching spots unappealing. You can spray these spots with a scratch deterrent. These are often herbal- or citrus-scented, and cats don’t like the smell. Or place some double-sided tape or sticky contact paper over the spot your cat frequents.
  • Use behavior modification: Praise and treat your cat (with liver treats or another favorite goodie) when the cats uses an approved scratching spot. To prevent the cat from using the old favorites, some experts suggest keeping a spray bottle filled with water handy, and squirting it in the cat’s general direction when it appears headed toward a forbidden scratch spot.

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