9539 Liberty Road, Frederick, MD 21701
Phone: 301-898-4009 ~ Fax: 240-668-3664
Gentle, complete veterinary care for the felines in your family
Link map for Frederick Cat Vet for directions, hours, bio of the veterinarian and staff, veterinary services offered and a tour of the veterinary practice

Claws & Paws: Questions & Answers

Why do cats like to scratch on things with their front claws? All cats instinctively do this normal behavior for three major reasons. It is an excellent way for cats to stretch out and loosen up the front legs and shoulders. They are also renewing their claws by breaking off the loose, older claw material, thereby sharpening the claws. Lastly, they are marking their territory by leaving clues to other cats about their presence.

Should I have my cat declawed?
We do not recommend this surgical procedure and do not perform it at Frederick Cat Vet. It is a very painful procedure and it is difficult to achieve comfort in every cat short-term and long-term. Short-term concerns include excessive bleeding, severe pain that restricts mobility, radial nerve damage and infection. Long-term pain is less common but some cats become more hostile afterwards, especially when their paws are handled. The surgery involves partial amputation of the claws and is analogous to removal of our fingernails and the top portion of fingertips. Whether the procedure is done by laser or scalpel blade, the above concerns still remain possible.

How do I stop my cat from destroying the furniture?
The average couch is an ideal scratching post - it is very sturdy, always remains in the same spot and has a surface that is great for scratching. The best way to prevent this problem is to provide a better alternative and give your cats their own piece of furniture, a scratching post. The three favorite scratching materials are carpet, cardboard and wood. The post should be heavy enough so that it doesn't move and provides good resistance to clawing action. It should be tall enough (at least 24" to allow a growing cat to stretch out against it. It also needs to be in a very accessible location that your cat enjoys playing on and around. Cats can quickly be taught to exclusively scratch on what they are supposed to, despite having similar materials and textures on your floor, curtains or people furniture.

Encourage vigorous play on the scratching posts and reward this behavior immediately with lots of attention, especially head and neck massage. If they are very wound up and try to bite or scratch you, respond with a very quick no and walk away. This correction and ending of playtime quickly reinforces exactly how they should play and what they are allowed to bite and scratch. When they make any attempt to scratch on something else, the response should be equally quick and with the word no or other startling noises. Physical correction is counter-productive and usually gets cats more wound-up or makes the fearful of you. Another good correction is use of a compressed air canister used for cleaning keyboards. The short burst of air is a very startling noise and frustrates their playful activity. After this, comfort them and quickly move them to the scratching post, encouraging them to use that.

But, wouldn't it just be easier to remove their claws, since lots of cats have had this done and seem to be doing fine?
The long-term side effects of this procedure have not been fully worked out, but there are a number of potential problems. Some cats experience 'phantom pain' long-term, a condition involving nerve stimulation after amputation that intermittently produces discomfort. Also, cats that are unable to scratch with their front claws aren't able to completely work out their muscles and joints and may be prone to degenerative joint problems earlier than cats that have claws.

Cats seem to relish scratching and if they donā“ have this outlet for activity, they may become destructive in other ways, particularly through biting. Without front claws, they likely feel more vulnerable lacking the natural defense mechanism of front claws. Scratching is part of 'environmental enrichment', which is essential for all cats. Naturally curious and intelligent, cats need mental and physical stimulation, without which they can develop behavior problems.

Aren't there serious concerns about infections and wounds from cats scratching people?
A cat scratch can inflict a serious wound and infection to a person, and this occasionally warrants a hospital visit. This type of activity can be avoided through early and consistent training to avoid rough play that would cause such an injury. The teeth of a cat usually cause more damage and harbor more bacteria than claws, so declawing alone does not eliminate this potential. Regular trimming of nails is important to keep cats' claws from becoming too long. When the back claws are regularly trimmed (every 2-4 weeks), this prevents furniture damage from that when cats use sharp claws for traction to leap off.

What are Soft Paws and are they helpful?
Soft Paws are small nail caps that are placed on each claw with an adhesive. For a small number of cats, this can work quite well to avoid declawing. Many cats will chew off the caps, and they need to be replaced regularly, as the nail will eventually puncture and grow through the cap. With an infant or young children that are still learning how to interact with cats, this is a potential short-term solution.

-Mike Karg, DVM