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Declaw the Cat or Not?


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Q: I want to have my 6-year-old male cat declawed. I’ve purchased scratching posts, but he ignores them. What else can I do? — D.P., via cyberspace

A: Keep in mind that all cats need to scratch; even declawed cats go through the motions. Of course, without claws, they can no longer harm furniture. However, removing those claws (called onychectomy) is hardly benign; it’s an amputation. A cat’s toe has three bones, and the claw grows from the end of the last one, which a veterinarian removes in declaw surgery.

The good news is, you can teach an old cat (in your case, middle-aged cat) new tricks. Here are some tips:

Location matters, so place a sturdy scratching post (the taller the better) next to the place(s) where your kitty scratches the most. One way to teach your cat where to scratch is by using a clicker to tell him when he’s doing the right thing. Clickers are inexpensive and easy to find at pet stores.

First, teach your cat what the clicker means. Each time you click it, drop a treat on the floor. (For noise-sensitive cats, clicking a retractable pen will do.) Soon your cat will come running from another room when you click because he knows this “click” means food.

Once your cat understands that “click” means “a treat is on the way,” entice him to paw at a scratching post. This might be as simple as you pointing at the post with your finger and pretending to scratch it yourself. Or dangle a toy around the post. Your cat will poke at the toy and simultaneously touch the post. The moment he does touch the post, click and offer a treat.

Or shape your cat’s behavior. Click each time he raises a paw near the post, then click for touching the post, and eventually click for scratching at the post, though this may take several sessions to accomplish. Learning sessions should never be more than five to 10 minutes, or everyone gets frustrated.

For more on clicker training cats, check out “Cat Fancy Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement,” by Marilyn Krieger (Bow Tie Press, Irvine, CA, 2010; $12.95) or my ebook “Good Cat: Practical Answers to Behavior Questions” (Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, 2012; $2,99).

Simultaneously, cut off access to the unacceptable places where your cat is currently scratching. Cover sofas or chairs with plastic rug runners or car mats (nubby side up; cats don’t like the feel). Also, various products are available which offer a static shock when pets walk on them, such as the Sofa Scram Sonic Scat Pad or the ScatMat, available many places pet products are sold. If your cat is scratching at vertical surfaces, cover them with double stick tape or a product manufactured for this purpose called Sticky Paws. Cats don’t like the sticky feel on their paws.

The idea is that the scratching post(s) becomes the best option. Some cats enjoy a corrugated cardboard post (which is inexpensive, and anywhere pet products are sold) in addition to a sturdy vertical post.

Learn more by checking out this free handout, “Think Twice Before You Declaw.” which I co-authored.

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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