Nails aren’t just for shredding furniture!

Scratching is a normal feline behavior. Many people think that scratching is a destructive behavior when it is actually a necessary part of your cat’s physical and emotional well-being. Even cats who have been declawed continue to exhibit scratching-like behavior. Scratching serves many vital functions, as we shall learn.

One important part of nail health is the removal of the dead outer nail sheath so that the new nail growth underneath is exposed. When a cat digs its claws into an object it is helping to pull off that outer sheath (that’s part of the reason many cats love leather couches!). The ability to scratch effectively on an object is also a great way for a cat to fully stretch its body.

Scratching also serves as a marking behavior. Cats leave a visual mark by raking their claws down an object and also leave a scent mark through scent glands in their paw pads. Visual scratch marks allow approaching cats to see the mark at a distance and may help prevent potential conflicts. Cats who come up close will be able to interpret the scent communication.

Scratching is also used as a displacement behavior. An anxious or excited cat will often use scratching to displace some of the pent-up energy. A good example of this is the cat that runs to scratch on something in anticipation of dinner being served or after a tense encounter with a companion cat.

So, how do we minimize the damage to our living space? The best way is having one–or several–dedicated scratching areas (i.e., scratching posts). Scratching areas can come in all shapes and sizes and various materials, depending on your cat’s preferences. Some cats prefer a horizontal scratching area (cats that scratch on the carpeting) and will do well with cardboard or carpet scratchers. Other cats prefer vertical spaces (door frames, backs of couches). These cats do well with scratching posts covered in thicker material, such as rope or leather. Homemade rope scratching posts are easy to make by gluing thick rope around a cardboard tube. Another easy way to help limit damage is to routinely trim your cat’s nails every 4 – 6 weeks. If done properly, most cats can be trained to easily accept nail trimming. If you have never trimmed your cat’s nails and would like to learn how, we can show you how at the clinic. The final way to help deter unwanted scratching is the placement of Soft Paws. These are rubber caps that glue over the nails. They are painless and will naturally fall off after 4 – 8 weeks. We do NOT recommend declawing as a way to stop unwanted scratching behavior. Declawing is not simply removal of the nail: it is amputation of the toe and the closest joint to the nail. It can possibly cause chronic pain, worsen or bring on behavioral issues, or have post-surgical complications.

Again, if you have any concerns about your kitty’s scratching behavior, give us a call at (406)728-0022. We’re happy to help! Hope you’re all having a wonderful Summer!