The Cattitude Diaries: Claws

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21.07.2018

Good morning and welcome back to another ‘Cattitude Diaries’ post, I really hope you’re enjoying this little series so far. Today’s post is all about claws, and I actually have plenty to say about this subject. So grab a hot drink and some biscuits and enjoy!

If you were to ask someone who doesn’t like cats why they don’t like cats, I can guarantee that one of their reasons will be something along the lines of “because they scratch you!” and then probably something about them being sneaky and a bit evil.

In my experience of owning cats (and I’ve owned a lot of cats) I’ve never known a cat that would scratch me without giving me plenty of warning signs first. Saying you don’t like cats because they scratch you is like saying you don’t like dogs because they bite you. It does happen, but most of the time it is due to them being provoked and you ignoring their warning signs. Or, in some cases, it’s due to them being brought up by a neglecting owner that has made them unnecessarily aggressive or scared, but that’s a topic for another day!

My point is, please don’t judge cats because they have the ability to scratch. Having sharp claws is essential for hunting and warning off other cats in their territory. Claws have served them throughout their history, but it doesn’t mean they sink their claws into everything when completely unprovoked!

Claw Myths

A common misconception about cat claws is that they are retractable, but this isn’t actually the case. The word ‘retractable’ suggests that the claw is always out, but can be retracted when not needed. Cats claws however, are always covered but can be pushed out when needed, making them ‘pro-tractable.’ Remember this one for pub quizzes!

Claw Growth
Human and dog nails grow outwards and require regular clipping to avoid growing too long and becoming a nuisance. Cats claws however, grow in layers. Once the top layer is old and worn, cats will scratch a tough surface to remove the layer and reveal a fresh, sharp claw underneath. This is known as stropping and is one of the common cat problems that people face.

If you’re a cat owner, you will probably find old claw layers lying around the house, which can be quite strange, especially the first time you find one!

To trim or not to trim?
Many people choose to trim their cat’s claws because they’re scratching their furniture. There are arguments for and against this, and here I’m going to give you my opinion on the matter.

I’ve only ever trimmed the claws of one cat and that was my little Thomas. He’s an elderly cat and suffers from arthritis in his paws and struggles to keep them in good condition. This meant that his claws weren’t growing as they should and old layers were staying on the claw. With this extra bulkiness on his claws, he was struggling to keep them hidden between his toes, so he would get caught on carpets as he walked around.

It was a tough decision for us to trim his claws, but it was clear that he was uncomfortable and since trimming them, he’s a lot more relaxed. At least now he can walk around without getting caught every few seconds. We trim them every few weeks, and while we’re there, we also remove any old layers for him and make sure they’re in good condition.

Trimming claws due to scratching, however, is something I disagree with. Cats need their claws for grooming, climbing, escaping, playing, fighting off other cats and hunting. These are all natural behaviours and by trimming their claws, you’re changing this. Imagine trying to scratch an itch with a blunt claw. Imagine trying to climb a fence to escape a barking dog but being unable to grip it at all. Imagine a stand off with another cat and being unable to defend yourself. There are lots of other options before trimming claws to avoid scratching!

A rather worrying trend that seems to be emerging is using ‘claw covers’ to stop scratching behaviours. This means putting small silicone covers on each claw of the cat to stop them being able to scratch furniture. The trend has really taken off, with many people matching the colour to the colour of their nail polish to take ‘cute’ pictures.

Remember earlier where I mentioned that cat claws are pro-tractable, meaning they’re usually hidden but can be extended out when needed? These claw covers force the claw to stay extended, which isn’t their natural position. Just imagine for a moment how painful that must be and the damage it will cause to their paws. Please, please, please don’t buy these for your cats.

Scratching
This leads us on to the topic of scratching. Now I’ve told you exactly what not to do if your cat is scratching your furniture, it’s time to look at what you can do. As much as it is a natural behaviour for cats to scratch, it isn’t ideal for your sofa to be in the firing line. First of all, let’s look at some of the reasons that cats scratch.

1. Stropping
Keeping their claws in good condition
2. Stretching
Scratching can be used to stretch their entire body, which is essential for good health.
3. Scent marking
Cats have scent glads in their paws, so when they scratch a surface it leaves their scent behind and marks their territory.
4. A sign of stress
Long, vertical scratches can be a sign of stress.

You will never be able to stop a cat from scratching, and I hope that after reading that list you understand that you shouldn’t try. It’s vital for them to scratch. But you can have a say in where they scratch!

Scratching posts aren’t just a fancy piece of furniture, they really are there to help – and your sofa will thank you. It’s worth investing in a really good cat scratcher, don’t just go for the cheapest option because it usually isn’t very good quality. When purchasing a cat scratcher, look for the following:

1. Durable material that can withstand vigorous scratching!
2. Height. It needs to be tall enough so your cat can stand on his/her back legs and stretch all the way up without running out of room. If  it’s too short, your cat won’t bother.
3. It’s sturdy. Give it a good shake! If it wobbles or comes loose, it won’t withstand the force of a cat for very long!

Don’t be fooled into buying a ‘pretty’ scratching post with lots of feathers and nice colours. If it doesn’t tick the three boxes mentioned above, then it isn’t worth it.

It’s best to buy 2-3 scratching posts for different rooms in the house to keep your cat occupied.

My cat isn’t interested!
You would be quite lucky if you put a scratching post down and your cat loved it from day one. Most cats take a bit of encouragement to start using it. Cats are quite suspicious of change, so you need to show them that this post is fun!

Put the post next to the sofa or piece of furniture they have been scratching, this should encourage them to use it instead of the sofa. You can then move it slowly each day until it’s in a location that you prefer.

Catnip sprays can be used on the post to make it more interesting.

Scratching the post yourself can also encourage scratching. It sounds silly, but Lily always scratches her post if one of us scratches it first.

Never punish your cat for scratching furniture, they won’t understand. The cat won’t link the two moments together and learn from it, instead, the cat will associate a bad experience with being around you.

Instead, offer treats when your cat uses the scratching post to encourage this behaviour. This type of positive reinforcement can be used to train cats to use their litter tray and sit on demand. Yes, you can teach a cat to sit.

Other things to consider
If you’ve purchased multiple scratching posts and followed all of the advice listed above, then it might be time to look into other problems.

Could your cat be scratching because they’re stressed? Has something changed in the environment lately that they’re struggling to adapt to? Are they feeling the need to mark their territory? Has a new cat moved into the neighbourhood causing them to feel stressed and threatened? Are they trying to get your attention?

Chances are that your answer to one of these questions is yes, and once you know what the problem is, you can find a solution. This might be a good time to look for stress-relieving products for cats such as feliway.

That’s all for this post, I really hope you liked it! Let me know if you learned anything new! Join me again next week when we will be looking at different cat breeds and their traits!

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