Why Do Cats Scratch and Bite?

Most biting and scratching problems are due to a simple misunderstanding of the cat's basic needs. They do not intentionally try to ruin the furniture or the carpeting. They merely see those items as convenient and desirable things on which to groom their claws and stretch their toes. It just feels good. Even a declawed cat will "scratch" on things.

Biting: Cats who become biters quite often are those that have been declawed. Take away one means of defense and they hone the ones they have left. With no claws, they will become very good with the tooth approach, if they feel threatened. That is the key. If they feel threatened. Shelters are full of cats that have been surrendered because they "just started biting the kids." The biggest percentage of these offenders have been declawed. Also, most of them are guilty of simply trying to defend themselves from the kids in the home. Imagine being tiny and frightened, then having your toes cut off, then being harassed by beings who are enormous compared to you, and, well, what would you do? The best solution to this problem is to help the cat feel safe and secure in the home. A contented cat is not going to bite anybody. (If your male cat is biting other cats in the home, make sure everybody is spayed and neutered. Sometimes this behavior is related to mating approaches. Or, it could be a territorial problem. Be sure each cat feels welcome in the home and has their own space. Feeling left out can make them try to get rid of the others, to make more space for themselves.)

Scratching: It is natural for cats to stretch their toes and shed their claws as they grow - sort of like humans clipping their nails as they grow. People see this as "sharpening their claws." The claws do become sharper, but only because it's the new nail coming in when the old one is pulled away. Cats are not scheming to do damage with this; it's instinct that drives them to groom their feet this way. After all, they can't run down to the store and buy clippers or nail files. If you don't want them scratching you or the furniture, you will have to develop some new routines or options for them to accomplish this personal task. Offer a scratching area, such as a post, or a board with a nifty scratching surface, for example. You will have to experiment to see what works best in your home. As with humans, cats have different personalities, personal preferences and habits.

Declawing, pros and cons: Certainly, declawing will save the furniture, your slacks, the carpet, and other things at home. This subject is fraught with controversy, though, and the arguments abound on both sides of the issue. Declawing is mutilation; the last digit of the toe is surgically removed, leaving the cat with a very painful recovery phase, which we have seen to last as long as a year in some cases (large cats, in particular, because of their weight). They learn not to trust you, become more fearful, and may become accomplished biters. If they are teased, taunted, harassed or "played" with too vigorously, they become very afraid and WILL bite. If, on the other hand, the cat is supported by loving attention and gentleness, they will not bite. Several of our declawed cats are gentle, loving kitties and have never bitten anyone. But we can guarantee they have never been handled too roughly by humans. Our policy with adoptions is that if the cat can be guaranteed a loving home, and declawing is the only way they can have this home, we do not object. (We cry, but we do not deny the adoption.) Another option is to apply claw covers, such as Soft Claws. Also, many cats can learn to accept having their nails clipped. Just be sure you do it correctly. Never clip into the vein, for example, or it will bleed and can be painful.

Copyright 2009 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat