Pet Connection

Claw and Order

With the right motivation, cats can learn to use scratching posts and other scratching items instead of furniture or carpets

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Last month, Denver became the first city outside of California to ban the declawing of cats. In September, the American Association of Feline Practitioners strengthened its position on the procedure, stating that it strongly opposes declawing.

Declawing (onychectomy) has been controversial for years, but the procedure, surgical amputation of the toe bone -- think having your fingers chopped off at the first knuckle -- is increasingly under fire. Potential complications include claw regrowth and bony remnants that cause pain or lameness.

Cats scratch. It’s not only a normal behavior for them, it’s an essential one. Just as you “mark your territory” with art, photographs or furniture of a certain style, cats lay claim to a place through scent and visual markers. Scratching performs both functions by leaving gouges -- the higher the better -- in the scratched item as well as depositing scent from glands in the cat’s paws. Both signals tell other cats that yours is a force to be reckoned with and help cats feel comfortable in their environment. Scratching keeps claws sharp and removes the dead outer layer of the claw. And we can infer from our own experience that stretching -- a big part of scratching action -- feels good.

“Scratching has a communication function, it has a grooming function, it has a comfort function,” says veterinary behaviorist Debbie Horwitz in St. Louis. “It isn’t really in the best welfare of cats to declaw them, to remove their digits, simply because it’s easier than us doing something else to stop a normal but unwanted behavior.”

It can be frustrating when a cat scratches an expensive carpet or piece of furniture, but a little feline psychology and feng shui go a long way toward solving the problem. Teaching a cat where to scratch involves not only choosing the right size and type of post but also placing it in an area that gives your cat the most bang for his communication buck.

Cats scratch in both vertical and horizontal positions. A vertical scratching post should be at least 3 feet high with a sturdy base so the cat can stretch out to full length as he lets loose with his claws. Ceiling-height posts encourage climbing as well, which is good exercise and allows cats to enjoy a high vantage point where they can feel safe and survey their surroundings. Horizontal posts don’t have to be long, but cats will appreciate sturdiness and texture.

Placement is important. Cats like to show off their scratching prowess. If you shove the post down in the basement or some other out-of-the-way area, no one can see his masterpiece. With the number of attractive and stylish cat trees available, there’s no reason not to have one front and center.

“I have one in my kitchen (that) is a big platform so he can look out the window,” Dr. Horwitz says. “I have one in my family room, which is where I spend time watching TV, and I have one in the dining room.”

Placing a post in areas where you spend time and next to items that your cat might otherwise scratch encourages its use and allows you to notice unwanted scratching and redirect your cat’s attention to the post. Run your fingers up it -- he’ll be attracted by the motion and sound. A product called Feliscratch uses pheromones and catnip to entice cats to use the post. Its blue coloring enhances the visual message of the scratch marks.

Teaching a cat scratching manners protects our belongings, but it has a deeper benefit, Dr. Horwitz says. Preserving the natural, instinctive behaviors of cats enhances their well-being.

“They have a lot of natural behaviors that are objectionable to us, but we should give them alternatives to do those normal behaviors in a way that they’re not objectionable to us or other people.”

Q&A

What to do when

dog eats glass

Q: My friend’s American Eskimo dog bit down on a glass Christmas ornament and swallowed some of the pieces. Should she have induced vomiting?

A: Dogs are equal-opportunity eaters. If it smells or even looks edible, they won’t hesitate to ingest it. I never cease to be amazed at the things dogs will put in their mouths and chomp down on. That includes glass ornaments and lightbulbs.

The real surprise is that biting down on a glass ornament is typically less dangerous for dogs than it might seem. Most often, dogs appear to realize they’ve made a mistake and don’t swallow the shards. They still run the risk of cutting their tongue or lip, of course, with the resultant bleeding. If it’s severe enough, the dog may need a trip to the veterinarian for treatment.

When dogs do swallow the pieces, your veterinarian may feel it’s safer to let the glass pass naturally instead of trying to bring it back up by inducing vomiting. I have heard of people who have induced vomiting in cases like this, but we usually don’t recommend it. The dog runs a greater risk of injury bringing back up sharp items such as glass or needles.

If you know that your dog has swallowed something dangerous such as glass, call your veterinarian immediately for advice. If your dog isn’t showing signs of choking -- gagging or pawing at the throat, for instance -- your veterinarian may suggest giving bread, pumpkin or mashed potatoes to help encase the glass as it passes through the intestinal tract. Any signs such as straining to defecate, lethargy, blood in the stool, lack of appetite or abdominal pain call for an immediate trip to the veterinarian. These signs may indicate a blockage or damage to the intestinal tract that requires surgical repair. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Research shows hope

for cats with FIP

-- Trials of two antiviral drugs show promise in treating feline infectious peritonitis, a fatal disease caused by a type of coronavirus. It is most common in large groups of cats, such as those in shelters and catteries, and is the leading infectious cause of death in young cats. In the abstract of one study published in May 2016 by the journal PLoS, researchers wrote: “We found that antiviral treatment led to full recovery of cats when treatment was started at a stage of disease that would otherwise be fatal if left untreated. Cats returned to normal health within 20 days or (fewer) of treatment.”

-- Does your town’s disaster plan include pets? It should, especially if you live in an area that’s prone to natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes or tornadoes. Most high-population areas have pet issues covered in the event of evacuation or other need for rescue, but locales with smaller populations often lack the training, expertise, equipment and shelter needed to rescue, manage and house pets and livestock when emergencies strike. To improve their communities’ emergency preparedness response, veterinary professionals and humane organizations can obtain the Community Animal Disaster Planning Toolkit from the Colorado State University Extension website at extension.colostate.edu.

-- Christmas trees, candles and other holiday accoutrements offer ample opportunity for pets to show their naughty side, leaving you to scramble to save the tree, the trimmings or the roast beast. To keep holidays safe, fun and happy for all involved, adapt your holiday decor to the realities of life with pets. Use pet-safe ornaments -- no tinsel or glass, please -- avoid poisonous plants such as lilies and mistletoe, and set plates of food out of reach of a counter-surfing dog or cat. The holidays will be easier and less stressful on all of you! -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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