Cats Just Must Scratch!

Why do cats scratch?

Many people assume it is to sharpen their claws, but it is actually vital to the health and well being of the animal. When very young, it aids in the development of his skeletal and muscular structure. Throughout their lives, cats continue to scratch in order to stretch the muscles and ligaments in the toes and feet, as well as to stretch their bodies and to strengthen and tone their muscles.

Cats also do it to mark their territory. There are scent glands on their paws and when they scratch, they leave their own special scent. Territory marking is also visual. What you see as torn and tattered is your cat’s way of visually marking her area. And, a cat’s claws are covered with an outer sheathing that needs to be rubbed or pulled away from the claw, which scratching will do. In addition to these healthy and logical reasons, it just feels good!

The first step to dealing with the problem is to accept the fact that your cat just must scratch. The trick is to stop her scratching the newly upholstered furniture. Enticing your cat to use a scratching post is the ideal solution.

A good scratching post must be tall enough for your cat to fully extend her body. Some experts suggest at least 28 inches. It must also be heavy enough or secured to prevent it from toppling over. Your cat won’t use it if it wobbles. There are a variety of items on the market and you may need to experiment to find one that your cat likes. A log from the woodpile might be the perfect solution.
Cat with scratching post
Initially, you may not be able to hide the scratching post in an unobtrusive spot of the room. It needs to be where your cat likes to be and if that’s in the formal dining room, then that is where it has to be – at least at the start of your training.

You may also need several scratching posts. The money you invest on multiple, well-constructed posts will be far less than the price of new carpeting. Place the posts in the spots your cat already considers his territory – at the corner of the sofa and/or the lounge chair, near the living room drapes, wherever. You can move them later, once the posts have become her territory. But then move it only a short distance. Some suggest move it by only 3 inches at a time. Eventually, you will get it into that inconspicuous corner.

Cats like to scratch when they wake up. Keep one near your cat’s bed, or your bed, if that happens to be one and the same.

You will need to persuade your cat to use the posts. Try rubbing catnip on them or giving your cat her favorite treat whenever she uses one of the posts — but only when she uses the post. You could also leave some of her toys near the post and when you see her using it, reward her –and yourself — by spending a little play time with her.

Cats don’t like citrus odors and you might want to try putting a bowl of citrus potpourri near the pieces of furniture that you are trying to discourage your feline from scratching. You can also dissuade her from scratching the furniture or carpeting by covering them with double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, or sheets of sandpaper.

It is going to take time to retrain your cat, especially if you are dealing with an older feline with well-established habits. Physical punishment will not work and it will make your cat fearful of you. You may use a water spray bottle to discourage your cat when you catch him scratching inappropriate items.

Trimming a cat’s nails will not discourage your cat from scratching. But you should clip off the sharp tips of the claws on her front feet every two weeks or so. This helps prevent them from becoming snagged in carpets and fabrics, or being painful when she takes a playful swat at you.

Declawing a cat is NOT the solution. “Declawing is a procedure whereby a veterinarian amputates the end digit and claw of a cat’s paws—similar in scope to cutting off a person’s finger at the last joint. The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing when done solely for the convenience of the owner. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and can be directed to appropriate items. “ (www.hsus.org)

In addition, declawing a cat causes other problems: personality changes (extreme shyness or aggression) and refusal to use a litter box. After declawing, pain in the toes can cause changes to a cat’s normal gait, which eventually can cause stiffness and pain in their legs, hips, and spine.

When you decide to share your life with a cat, be aware that cat scratching is both natural and healthy for your feline companion. Be prepared to work with your pet to channel her scratching appropriately. Remember – cats just must scratch!

Dog Toys – Never Enough!

When people see the pile of stuffed animals, ropes and balls in the corner of the bedroom they often ask, “Do you have enough dog toys?” My answer is always the same. “No.”

The pile has grown over the last twenty years of dog ownership. Many in the mound have been ripped apart and sewn together, de-stuffed and re-stuffed numerous times, have taken spins in the washing machine and have gone missing for months only to reappear, as if by magic.

Dog Toys

I cannot come home at the end of the day without our black Lab, Cole, running to the pile, grabbing a toy and racing back to me with it in his mouth––often squeaking it the whole way.

Friends visit us with their mastiff, Dixie. She knows where the toy basket is kept, grabs one of the stuffed critters and settles down on the floor for a ripping and de-squeaking fest. Cole often joins her and the carpet is soon covered in piles of white cotton and mangled, plastic squeakers. Fortunately they don’t swallow these innards and the only adverse effect is the need to drag out the vacuum.

Our first dog, Jake, also loved to tear apart stuffed toys. As a new dog owner and having always been taught to take care of my own toys growing up, I was always distraught to see Jake tear apart one of his. At the time I didn’t appreciate the joy and soothing effect that tearing gives to a dog. Sadly, I would put a toy away so that it wasn’t destroyed. I will forever regret doing that.

Toys can bring great joy to a dog and to us as we watch them; they can make us happy as we play a little tug with them, too. Help boost the economy by purchasing a few more toys or think green and start a DIY project–turn unused household items into fun-filled toys for your pets. The pile is never big enough!

Two is Better than One

At a stop sign where I sit everyday, there is a house with a large front yard. It is home to a pair of young Labrador retrievers, one black and one brown. The first time I sat and watched them, they were each tugging on a rope. Being of equal size and strength, neither dominated their game of tug-of-war. On another occasion they were playing with a child’s large ball, running and pouncing, stealing it from one another. Most often I spy them simply rough housing, jumping on one another and benignly biting the other’s neck. One warm afternoon I was delighted to catch sight of them laying back-to-back, heads together with eight paws stretched out as they slept in the sun.

During the long Thanksgiving weekend, I cared for a pair of small dogs with an overflowing toy basket. On successive visits I found more and more of the toys strewn about the house. During one of my visits, I watched Kyra pick up a stuffed ball and Lola chase after her down the hall. I was unconcerned between visits that the pair was either lonely or bored.

Kyra

Kyra is ready to play!

We have almost always had two dogs. It is not that much more work to have multiple dogs and the benefits outweigh the additional costs. Being pack animals, dogs need other dogs in their lives to be happy. When a dog must be left alone for extended periods of time, a companion lessens the loneliness. Many years ago, when our golden retriever passed away at the age of twelve, the presence of our young lab helped ease the pain. On Thanksgiving Day, this once young lab also turned twelve. To celebrate, I took him and his younger brother on an extra long walk.

There are so many dogs in area shelters needing loving homes. There are also many in need of short-term, foster care. By being a foster home, you could also provide companionship to your single dog. The organization Dogs on Deployment helps our military folks find temporary care for their pets while they are away serving our country. They could use your help.

In this new year, I hope everyone considers adding a second dog to their pack of one.

Note: This first appeared as the “Editor’s Notes” in the December/January’13 issue of Pet Tails Magazine.