Cat Scratch Fever

Dear Tabby,

We recently adopted an 8 year-old cat named Boop. Boop is a wonderful girl, affectionate and social. The problem is, she scratches all our furniture, and nothing we’ve tried has gotten her to stop! She’s destroyed one antique chair already and has started work on our new sofa too. She completely ignores the scratching post I put out, and even though she’ll stop scratching if I squirt her with a water bottle, she just goes right back to it later.

My husband is at his wit’s end; he’s threatening to have Boop declawed. I can’t bear the idea, but if I can’t get her to stop wrecking the furniture, this is going to drive a serious wedge between my husband and I, which is pretty awful too. Please help!

Signed, Cat Scratch Fever

Dear Scratch,

OH NOES, as my inferior-of-brain Internet cat counterparts like to say. The scratching thing is a tough one, but there are lots of things to try, and declawing is NOT one of them! As it sounds like you’re aware, declawing is an outrageously brutal act, and not only that, it can actually make a cat’s behavior problems worse, both in response to the trauma of the surgery and from chronic pain post-op. That makes it cruel at best, and cruelly futile at worst.

Scratching is normal behavior in cats, and it’s one you can’t get rid of – it feels good and it’s one way we mark our territory. So, instead of trying to outlaw it, what you gotta do is redirect it.

There are 3 things to focus on. I call them “the three Ls”: Likeability, Location, and cLaws (okay, so, it’s technically “the two Ls and a C;” roll with it).

Likeability: Make Boop’s favorite scratching places really annoying. One great tool for this is a product called Sticky Paws, double-sided tape safe for upholstery. If you’ve ever seen a cat accidentally step on a piece of tape, you’ll know immediately why it works too – nothing makes us kitties more bonkers than tape stuck to our toes! Apply to every inappropriate surface, not just the spots she’s currently hitting (she may move to the other side of the couch, e.g.). This will keep Boop away from those locations while you work on step two.

Location: Give Boop a better spot for scratching! Now that her favorite places are unpleasant, give her new places she likes better. There are many types of scratching posts, not just in material (rope, carpet, wood, cardboard), but also in size and orientation. Experiment! Have multiple posts in multiple places of multiple types. I like really tall carpeted ones – I get a good stretch, like I did on the arm of the couch before I got my bigger post. Some cats like flat surfaces better than vertical ones, some like inclines. Play around!

cLaws: Damage control! Trimming Boop’s nails regularly can limit the destruction while you’re sorting all this out. Additionally, you could try Soft Claws, plastic nail caps for pets. These cover the external part of the nail and make them harmless to your chairs!

I used to be hesitant about recommending Soft Claws, not knowing whether or not they were truly vet-approved. But the Purrfect Pals vet, Dr. Gray, sat me down earlier this month to give me “the talk” (no, not that talk, you guys! The talk about Soft Claws! Sheesh!)

Here’s what Dr. Gray had to say:

For the right cat, Soft Claws is a viable option. However, the nails need to be trimmed before applying, so if you can’t trim your cat’s nails and still want to try them, it would require a trip to the vet whenever new ones need to be put on (grumpy cats may require sedation too). They fall off as the nails grow, often at different times per claw, so if a fancy pedicure with perfect nails is your end-goal, Soft Claws may not be for you.

However, of course, if declawing or relinquishing to a shelter are looming close by, I would definitely encourage the owners to try Soft Claws before considering more permanent options.

In other words, they may require some extra work, but they sure beat the alternatives. And your vet can help if you have any trouble!

To recap: the goal is to make wrong places unpleasant, and right places awesome. This can require time and patience, but if you can lessen Boop’s ability to wreck stuff by keeping her nails trimmed or using Soft Claws, that will make time and patience a little more doable for both you and the mister.

For more advice, or to find links to the items I mentioned above (scratching posts, Sticky Paws, Soft Claws, etc.), check out the Purrfect Pals Cat Behavior Resources page:

Good luck, and keep purrin’!

Love and nose boops,
Tabigail van Purrin’

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