By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
This is the third in a series of blogs written about our fabulous felines for Adopt-A-Cat Month.
I just finished fostering a litter of six kittens. Having them was a delight, but also a responsibility. I enjoyed every minute I could spend watching them cavort about in my spare room, but knew my job was to raise them to be good pets in their forever homes. So I took having the kittens — right down to their toenails — very seriously.
Promoting proper scratching
Lucy, the mother cat, liked to scratch on my sofa, so I purchased a sisal scratching mat for her at my local pet emporium and worked to redirect her scratching to the mat. I taped the mat to the floor with duct tape since cats like to feel resistance against their feet when they scratch and the mat wrinkled if it was not taped down. I also sprinkled the mat with cat nip and taught her to sit on the mat for a treat, making it a popular cat hangout. Lucy also liked to scratch cardboard boxes, so I kept one or two in the cats’ room for that purpose. Once they were old enough, the kittens followed their mother’s lead.
At about one week of age, the kittens’ toenails were like razors. To protect my skin and their devoted nursing mother, I clipped 24 feet’s worth of kitten nails. Approximately every week after, I clipped another round of 24! By the time the kittens were ready to go back to the adoption agency to be spayed or neutered, I could clip all the nails without a struggle as the kittens learned to accept nail clipping. My hope is their new families will be able to continue clipping with ease.
Cat scratch behavior
Scratching is normal behavior for cats. Scratching sharpens the claws and helps to shed the outer layers of the claw. It also help a cat mark their territory by leaving behind both a visual and olfactory mark for other cats.
I realize not all cats get the right start in life with regard to scratching behavior and nail clipping. In addition to working to modify scratching behavior like I did with Lucy, one solution to protect your family and furniture is to use nail covers. Cat owners attach these colorful covers to their cat’s nails with special glue. Your family and furniture are protected while your cat can safely exercise his desire to scratch.
Declawing a cat is considered a last resort to controlling scratching behavior. An alternative procedure is tendonectomy, also called tenectomy. This surgical procedure severs the tendon responsible for extending the claw. Cats still have nails, requiring trimming, but cannot injure family or damage furniture since the nail cannot be extended. Cat owners must commit to weekly clipping of the nails or they will grow very long and possibly injure the cat’s delicate foot pad.
When clipping cat nails, I prefer to use a human nail clipper or a special nail clipper for cats that looks like a small scissor with curved cutouts in the blade. Ask your veterinarian for additional tips on how to clip your cat’s nails, or have your veterinarian or groomer do it for your cat.