Paws the Vet Trip: What Can Owners Do?

As has been suggested in the prior blogs, it is always best to try alternative methods to correct a cat’s destructive behavior as opposed to, or at the very least before, choosing declawing.

A few of the most common, tried and true methods include but are not limited to plastic nail caps, providing ample scratching posts in a home, clipping a cat’s claws, and behavior modification.

The easiest and least time consuming method is to buy claw caps for the cat.

Plastic Claw Caps; Photo credit PolicyGenius.com

These multicolored plastic claw claps go over its nails with a bit of adhesive. Speaking from experience, I have tried using this method and they work for a little while; however, they only lasted on Morello’s nails for about a week before she ended up pulling them all off. Though she did look pretty cute while it lasted…

As equally important of a method is simply by implementing cat posts inside of a home. By giving the cat a designated place to scratch the risk of them targeting furniture is minimized. The video clip below discusses the various styles of cat posts:

It is important to determine which style of postan up reaching, vertical one or one that lies on the ground—works best for your cat; what works for one may not work for another. Other common objects that can be used include “cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, and carpet or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects,” notes the AVMA.

A method that is known to manage the extent of a cat’s destructive behavior is by maintaining a cat’s nail length. By clipping their nails frequentlybetween every one to two weeksit will hopefully help them reduce the urge to scratch furniture, if not at the very least be less prone to damaging anything.

Lastly, if you are looking to target a cat’s behavior for the long term, training would be the most adequate method. I have gotten some comments when referencing the idea of training along the lines of ‘I didn’t know you could train a cat, I only though dogs could be trained.’ Yes, they can be trained, and it is along the same lines as training a dogthrough operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning can be defined as “…a type of learning in which an animal learns (or, is conditioned) from its behaviors as it acts (operates) on the environment,” according to Sea World. This method plays on an animals instincts and the reinforcement, whether it is positive or negative, will strengthen the recollection of the outcome in the future.

For instance, Sea World states that “When an animal performs a behavior that produces a positive stimulus, the animal is likely to repeat the behavior in the near future,” which is called positive reinforcement. As an example, imagine that you just bought a brand new cat tree that you want your cat to use instead of the couch. Excitedly, you grab your cat and plop it down near the tree hoping it will take on. But of course, since these are cats we are talking about, this is not the most realistic outcome; it is more likely that the cat will just use it as a new, super luxury sitting area…or it won’t, and it will be back to sitting on your laptop when you are needing to get work done.

The problem with this outcome is that you just spent excessive amounts of money on a cat tower that isn’t going to be used…unless you make it favorable to use it. Of course, the cat is going to be a little oblivious to the fact that you want it to scratch here, not there. On the other hand, all hope is not lostthe tower can be made attractive with a little bit of effort. The goal in any type of conditioning is to find the animal’s ‘currency’, or what they find attractive enough to do most anything for. For most animals, this is food. This is seen as a primary reinforcer, or a positive stimulus that the animal doesn’t have to learn to like because it is simply in their nature to like it.

Let’s go back to the cat tower hypothetical with a new mindset and approach. Instead of just setting the cat down on the tower to ‘show them’ where to scratch, try leading them there with a piece of their favorite food. Now that the cat is actually interested in what you are doing take the opportunity while you have itshow them what you want them to do. This is as easy as taking their paws and running it over the surface that is meant to be scratched. Immediately afterwards, reward them with food. Repeat this process a few times in one session, and create multiple sessions dailythe excessive repetitive behavior followed by a positive stimulus is what helps the cat strengthen that if it does a certain behavior it will be rewarded with food.

The other form of reinforcement which should avoid being used is punishment, or giving an unfavorable stimulus when a certain behavior is enacted. For example, if the cat starts scratching on the couch again, the owner may use a squirt gun, scream and shout, or throw something in the cat’s direction to get them to knock it off. Of course, this is the fastest way to get them to stop what they’re doing… but at what cost? Punishment leads an animal to experience fear of the action (or owner), not the behavior they were doing. This concept is described in this video clip:

Now, the downside to training a cat through conditioning is that over time it may experience extinction, or the dying out of a certain behavior if it is not reinforced. To prevent this from occurring it is best to still periodically reward your cat for scratching properly with a piece of food or even affection, such as a pet and coo. This will reinforce in the cat’s mind that it is still a behavior worth repeating because it results in a reward.

Training a cat is the most time consuming out of all the options, but it provides the longest lasting impact (if the pet parent is willing to dedicate a bit of time.) All of the provided options are successful at reducing a cat’s scratching which diminishes the need to get your furry friend declawed.

These alternative methods are highly recommended over declawing if the cat has a behavioral issue; negative behavior can be corrected, or at least minimized, through a little extra work. It takes the dedication of the pet parent to commit to making an ideal living space for both themselves and their cat. As stated earlier in this series of blogs, cats (and most other pets) can take the place of a child in many homes, and what do responsible parents do to children that misbehave? They don’t cut the tips of their fingers off, that’s for sure! No, they take the problem into their own hands and correct the behavior, not ‘fix’ the child in any physical way.

We, as pet parents, need to paws the vet trip and see what we can do before forcing our furry friends to undergo a permanent, potentially painful solution for a temporary, correctable problem.

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