Oh man, if I had a dime for every scratch a cat has given me over the past decade working in veterinary medicine, I could retire early. Cats have weapons on their body, not counting their teeth, they have 18 tiny daggers attached to their feet. Polydactyl cats can have even more. Kitties know how to use their claws from the time they are itty bitty kittens, but do they know those claws of theirs actually hurt?
Of course, cats know their claws hurt
A cat’s claws come into use for many different things that aid the cat in survival. A cat’s claws are a means of protecting themselves. It comes into play in that flight or response when a cat is scared. And can be used in either way of that stress response.
Here in the clinic, cats use their claws in a fighting response when they are scared. Not all behave this way, and we do our best to keep their visit as calm as possible, but there are days where the claws come out. A cat uses their claws against us to protect themselves and it is usually accompanied by a hiss or growl. The cat doesn’t know that the veterinary staff isn’t going to hurt them, so in their mind, they must protect themselves. And boy when they hook you with those talons, you know it. And first aid becomes a priority. This is also why a nail trim is the number one procedure to take place behind the scenes – safety first!
But cats don’t just use their claws as a defensive mechanism either. Claws are useful to catch their prey when hunting mice and birds. A cat needs to be able to secure their prey with their claws. Outdoor kitties need their claws to climb trees and fences, whether to escape a predator or bad weather.
What if my cat doesn’t use their claws?
My kitty Kintla is the epiphany of a daddy’s girl. She will play with him for a half-hour without using her teeth or claws. And I’ll admit I’m a tad bit jealous because she uses her weapons on me. She also doesn’t use the couch or door trim to sharpen these talons, thank goodness.
Now, a few years ago, many cat owners were having their cats declawed because of the damage to their house. These days, most hospitals won’t perform the procedure because it is painful to the cat and the recovery is long and painful.
If your cat scratches furniture, try training them where it is acceptable to use their claws on a scratching post by bribing them with catnip on or at the base of the post. Also, use a water bottle to spray them to help deter them away from using your leather chair as a scratching post. Claw caps are also acceptable to cover those claws and are not harmful to the cat. Kintla wore them for the first 6 months after our move. They are super cute and come in many colors.
Keeping their nails trimmed is also beneficial. Even when the cat has reached seniority and doesn’t use their claws, nail trims are important for keeping their claws from growing into their paw pads.