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Cat tales: Start from scratch

July 07, 2012


I love my home. It is safe, cool in hot weather and cosy in winter. It is my domain and there are no other cats that I share my home with. I am the king of the castle.

But some places in my house are dearer to me than others. For example, my human’s mother’s luxurious leather couch on which she spends the evening enjoying her favourite TV shows, the velvet curtains in the living room and the cabinet in the kitchen.

I love to play and cuddle when my human is watching TV, or when she is taking a nap or sleeping. At the same time I enjoy purring and at the height of my happiness sometimes I also like to scratch the nearest table or sofa or even stereo speakers.

So why do I love these particular spots and what is the one thing that my owner yells at me for? For both the questions, the answer is the same. I love scratching in all of these places. I don’t understand why humans don’t like it but all of us kitties enjoy sharpening their claws on something in the house. We sometimes also like to scratch people’s belongings, especially if we love them.

But my human gets stressed when I scratch something that is irreplaceable or expensive. I know that when I was younger I cost my human thousands of rupees when I scratched a newly painted doorway.

Scratching for us cats is natural and it is actually quite healthy. Let me explain that cat nails are just like human nails. They continue to grow throughout our lives. Unlike humans, however, we don’t have nail clippers. When our nails become too long, they become uncomfortable in walking and running and the only way we know to deal with them is scratching. It is an instinctive behaviour. You can think of it as a do-it-yourself kitty manicure.

There is, however, another reason for scratching, which is, believe it or not, a chemical reason. Cat’s paws have glands that release pheromones which are specialised scents that send a chemical message to other animals. When I go about marking things with my claws, these glands get stimulated and release a pheromone which is my way of saying “This is where I live, this is MY turf. STAY OUT.”

Kitty paws are quite complicated. There are many muscles and tendons in our paws that need to be stretched and exercised, and what better way to do it than on your favourite sofa arm?

Some people think that the solution to this problem is de-clawing — no it is not. De-clawing is a surgery that involves removal of the nail bed and often part or all of the last digit (finger bone). Many cats recovering from this surgery suffer from pain as they wake up. In fact, de-clawing is considered such a painful surgery that it has been used in studies to investigate methods of pain relief.

In most cases, the pain appears to subside after 24 to 36 hours. However, during that time your cat will be gingerly walking around the place as if his paws are extremely tender – and they probably are. In other instances the pain lasts considerably longer, especially if there are surgical complications.

There are several good options to de-clawing. These take the form of training your cat to use scratching posts and trimming their nails.

Outdoor cats usually use trees to scratch away so keep something similar like a scratching post in the house. Each scratching post should be tall enough for your cat to stretch up to its full height without being able to reach the top, i.e. about 3 feet high. A wooden piece with a carpet stuck or nailed to it will work but it should be steady. No self-respecting cat will entertain the thought of using a post that rocks or falls over.

Fabric that doesn’t tear or fray will be of no use. Choose an attractive location for your cat, preferably near scratching sites that your cat has selected for himself, then gradually repositioned to less obvious places later.

When I was younger and had not quite learnt that my human doesn’t like me to scratch, my human covered her favourite furniture with plastic sheets which didn’t make my happy at all. Another thing she did was to keep my nails trimmed. If you can’t clip your kitty’s nails yourself with a specially made nail clipper for cats, it is better to take them to the vet. Just the sharp points have to be removed so that the sensitive part remains intact.

Now I’m going to have a good scratch on my scratching post. Meow until next time!