How to Deal With a Destructive Cat

Is your cat shredding your furniture? Tearing your wallpaper? Whittling your banister? Most cat owners have experienced the frustration of having Fluffy use all the wrong things as scratching posts. Some owners get so fed up that they resort to the extreme practice of declawing their cat. But this is totally unnecessary; in fact, it is quite cruel. Imagine how you would feel if someone wanted to pull all of your fingernails out? "Oh, do not worry," they would say. "It's not so bad. We'll put you under a general anesthetic first."

No problem right? Of course not – you would suffer terribly after. In fact, you've probably been emotionally traumatized by the whole experience. Can you see that your cat would feel exactly the same if you were to let someone do this to them? Many cats never get over this trauma; some even become psychotic; all suffer tremendous physical pain afterwards. Luckily, it's not necessary. As with people, cat's nails can be trimmed. I have found it easiest to start with them as kittens, and gradually introduce them to the practice. However, I have successfully introduced adult cats to this practice, as well. They will of course squirm a bit and meow a lot, especially at first. However, most eventually became assigned to it, once they learn that it does not hurt. The secret to success is patience, and persistence. You must not push them to far too fast, especially at first. Here are some practical tips:

  • Remember, only the front paws need to be clipped. These are the nails that cats do the most damage with.
  • Start by just getting them used to having their front paws handled. As you cuddle and pet them, get into the practice of first petting, then later holding, their paws. As they get more and more used to it, move on to pushing gently on the pad to expose the nail. It is vital to you successfully reach this stage before you attempt to clip the nails.
  • Start by clipping only one nail per day. You can still keep ahead of new growth, and even get some time off before they grow back. Some people say that the best approach is to bend the front paw at the knee, so that the pad faces up and under the armpit, since it's harder for the cat to see what you're doing, and so gets less stressed. You might try this, though I admit, I have had more success with a light touch and paw gently stretched forward.
  • Cuddle and reassure your cat before, during and after clipping each nail. Take care to clip only the very tip of the nail – just barely enough to take the point off. It is vital not to take too much, or you might cut the quick and cause great pain and bleeding. I use regular nail clippers and have never had a problem, but some vets say that they can damage the nail and so recommend special nail cutters. These can be purchased from a pet supply store, or even from your vet.
  • It's okay to have another family member help you by holding the cat, as long as you do not go so far as to restrain your cat. Remember, a light touch is essential. If you get into a struggle with kitty, s / he will develop a negative association with the practice and you'll have blown any chance of being able to do this ever again, let alone regularly.

Although many cats eventually become quite ambivalent about having their nails clipped, I have come across a small number that just can not be conditioned to accept it. They will scream, howl, struggle and scratch the second you try to hold their paw for too long. Do not let it get to this point. You're pushing it way too far if this is the reaction you're eliciting. In these extreme cases, take your cat to the vet and have them glue on nail covers. These are little rounded tips that blunt the end of the nail. They are a very effective alternative, and though more expensive than just clipping them yourself, it is much cheaper than replacing your furniture, and ultimately more humane than declawing your cat.

Finally, do not forget to provide kitty with a proper scratching post or two. You can even buy a catnip spray to attract kitty to it. And what about that wallpaper that kitty has already shredded – what to do about that? Well, get rid of it, of course! It's 2009 – wallpaper is passe!