advice for potential new cat person
May 24, 2005 2:21 PM   Subscribe

For the first time in many years I live in a place where I can have pets. I like cats and am considering getting one, though I've never had one before (I've had dogs before).

I also have some nice furniture that I would like not to have destroyed, and my reading suggests that's a significant likelihood. There are a lot of anti-declawing advocates online these days, and they make cogent arguments. I'm aware that there are techniques to try to train your cat not to claw your furniture, but I don't know how well they work or how much furniture you have to sacrifice before the training kicks in.

Should I tell the shelters I only want to look at cats that have been declawed, and if I do will they think I'm Hitler? Should I just accept that periodic visits from reupholsterers are part of the Cat Experience? Should I give up on catness altogether and just bond with my sofa?
posted by bac to Pets & Animals (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's going to be your choice in the end. I adopted two cats, one at a time, and neither has destroyed my furniture (though they have liked to pick at my cheapo carpet).

If you're really worried, I think it's reasonable to only look at declawed cats at a shelter. Please don't get a cat declawed post buying or adoption - I've seen the "surgery" and it's just wretched. When I adopted mine, there were cats that had all four paws or just the front ones declawed; I happened to fall in love with ones that had claws.

I think what you also need to realize is part of the "Cat Experience" is the FUR. My God, the FUR. If I don't keep up with cleaning, people are afraid to sit down in my apartment. I need to stop buying black clothing. And the worst place for the fur? The sofa.
posted by bibbit at 2:30 PM on May 24, 2005

You shouldn't be shunned for wanting a declawed cat. But the risk of destroyed furniture may be exagerated. If you keep the cat's claws well trimmed, it will help cut down on its scratching impulse -- which varies from cat to cat anyway. Some cats aren't all that interested in scratching, others are compulsive.

In my experience, cats will only scratch on furniture they can dig their claws into. So leather and tightly woven fabric are pretty safe, as is most wood.
posted by me3dia at 2:33 PM on May 24, 2005

Make sure you give your cat something really attractive to scratch at that isn't your furniture, and they'll likely leave it alone. In our old house that was, unfortunately, the wall paper. In the new house, she prefers the carpet on the stairs.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:37 PM on May 24, 2005

Most of the shelters I have been to have tags on the cages that indicate the gender, age, and other facts about the animals. They usually indicate whether the cat is declawed or not.

Maybe you could use this to pre-screen without admitting to the staff that you are not interested in cats with claws.

And for the love of god--please keep the declawed cat inside at all times.
posted by Sheppagus at 2:40 PM on May 24, 2005

Instead of telling shelters you want a declawed cat to save your furniture, you could be slightly sneaky and tell them you are doing it because you know you'll be keeping the cat indoors, so you have an opportunity to save an otherwise disadvantaged/less desirable pet. The good part is, this will actually be true, if not your primary motivation.

A cat with its claws does not necessarily have to destroy your furniture, however. Our otherwise surly and uncooperative beast has allowed our couch to remain unmolested, because we provide a tempting scratching pad right next to it. After a couple of weeks of being yelled at every time he made a move on the couch, he realized that it was easier and more fun to just redirect to his Cosmic Catnip Scratching Post.

Provide your cat with other scratching outlets, bait 'em with catnip if you have to, and be prepared to spend the first few weeks being extra-vigilant (a spray bottle of water is an excellent deterent), and it shouldn't be a huge problem for you. If worse comes to worst, there are also upholstery-safe sprays that will make your furniture smell bad to the cat, but not to you.
posted by hilatron at 2:41 PM on May 24, 2005

I have a friend who swears by soft paws. Her cat still scratches, but with the tips on it doesn't do any damage. You'll also want some good hairball preventative.
posted by cali at 2:41 PM on May 24, 2005

If it's shelter that fosters out the cats before they are adopted, the shelter should be able to tell you if the cat is used to a scratching post. If you get a scratching post or even better a cat condo that usually have both wood and wood covered with sisal and carpet, the likelihood that the cat would find a surface to use is VERY good. What I did when I picked up my cat from the shelter (2 year old female) was to scratch on the post to show her and then keep an eye on her so that when she scratched I gave her a treat. They will usually have a scratch after they wake up so that is a good opportunity to put the cat close to the scratching post and reinforce the reward for scratching.

What I ended up with was a cat that, when I come home after work and she woke up, would go to the scratching post, put up a paw on it and then look for the treat ;-).

If you want a ton more information from some very dedicated cat people try here. Or get a cat that has already been mutilated, there is enough of them around. Has to be indoor only cat but so should a cat with its claws be as well. Want the cat to go out? Harness training works on most cats.

I can also strongly recommend clicker training for you and your cat. It will help with the scratching behavior. Google Karen Pryor and Cat Clicker Training. She has a good starter book that you can get from the library. Good for the cat, gets to use his brain, god for you since the bonding with the cat will be so much stronger.
posted by Ferrari328 at 2:44 PM on May 24, 2005

I've adopted many cats from the animal shelter over the years and have never had a problem with them scratching on the furniture (maybe that's because I have leather). I don't think you should pick one cat over the other JUST because it's declawed. You are going to have this cat for a very, very long time and they can have extremely varied personalities. Just because a cat is declawed does not mean he is going to have the type of personality that will mesh well with you and your home.

Get a scratching post, lots of toys, and there are sprays that you can put on furniture that will both deter him from laying on it (cat hair) and from clawing it.
posted by Ugh at 2:46 PM on May 24, 2005

Opps, tons of post while I was writing mine and after reading them I just wanted to add, good quality food will keep the hairballs and the shedding to a minimum. I and the cat like Nutro Natural Choice. Brushing helps prevent shedding.
posted by Ferrari328 at 2:50 PM on May 24, 2005

Sorry if this is a derail, but my cats love to turn leather into suede - it's absolutely their favorite thing to scratch. Am I the only one who has this problem? I've heard many, many people say their cats don't scratch leather.
posted by peep at 2:52 PM on May 24, 2005

I personally would not recommend declawing a cat. Adopting a declawed cat is a different matter, but the whole process to me is unnatural and slightly cruel.

Cats need claws to scratch and groom themselves, climb, defend themselves and catch prey. They will not destroy your furniture, but if you can't handle the small amount of damage they may cause during the training process, then you should probably get a different pet. If you plan on keeping the cat indoors then it will probably need it's claws less, but declawing an outdoors cat will deprive it of it's natural ability to interact with it's environment and other animals, and it's ability to fend for itself (and it may need that one day.)
posted by fire&wings at 3:03 PM on May 24, 2005

So leather and tightly woven fabric are pretty safe, as is most wood.

This is not exactly true (necessarily). I have two cats, and while neither like to claw at my very friggin' expensive leather sofa, they do like to run around. And they have claws. There's simply no way a cat can run around (sometimes on the furniture) and not get their claws in it. Multiply that times a few years, and you start to see hundreds of tiny little holes.

I've tried and tried and tried and tried to get my SO to punish them when they get rowdy on the sofa, unfortunately she doesn't care about it as much as I do, and thus, I have slowly had to come to grips with the fact that my several-thousand dollar piece of furniture is just going to either have to be repaired, or have to be replaced at some point in the future.

On the plus side, our two cats are really, really cool.

I don't think cats can really be educated much because they're such instinctual and strong-willed animals. You can teach them some tricks, sure, but if it's a question of you vs. their instincts, their instincts will win, all the time.

Oh sure, maybe when you're around they won't claw your stuff. But you can bet good money they're getting into all kinds of trouble when you're away. It's the nature of the beast.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:44 PM on May 24, 2005

It's too bad you aren't in the east. I have a declawed cat for whom I'd love to find a new home. I will never, ever declaw a cat again, so if you get a cat who has claws, just put up with the scratches knowing that it could be worse... she could be peeing everywhere.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:06 PM on May 24, 2005

A few random comments:
1. I agree with other posters that declawing is very hard on a cat (even when the vet says "oh, we have this new technique...").
2. I've seen declawed cats that are quite capable of looking out for themselves outdoors and can even hunt birds successfully. That said, I encourage you to keep the cat inside regardless.
3. I've seen leather furniture shredded by cats.
4. Cats seem to pick one thing to use as a scratching post, and it's difficult to reorient them if their preferred scratching post is not, in fact, a scratching post. In my cat's case, she likes to use my Armenian rug. I've written it off. However, she doesn't really scratch on anything else (though she does clamber with her claws).
5. To get back to the original question, which will give you more joy in life: a cat or a sofa? If the latter, don't get a cat.
posted by adamrice at 4:16 PM on May 24, 2005

Don't get the cat unless you're ready to be good to it even if it rips your stuff apart. If you can't deal with it shredding the backs of your nice chairs or whatever it is you are worried about, change your mind and have your nice chairs.
posted by pracowity at 4:32 PM on May 24, 2005

Civil_Disobedient writes "It's the nature of the beast."

That pretty much sums up my opinion. Cats scratch, with a lot effort and training some can be trained not to scratch your sofa, but if you get a cat, you just have to accept the probability that this is going to happen. To be honest, scratching is the least of your worries. I've found fur, spraying, bugging you when you are trying to watch the 24 season finale, walking across the laptop keyboard when trying to reply to a question about cats on AskMe, worrying when they disappear off for whole days without so much as a note explaining where they've gone and when they'll be back - all of these are much more annoying then scratching furniture.
But that's cats. That's what they do. If you're not up for that, maybe a cat's not for you? Clearly you are thinking about this carefully, but note that the very reason I have a cat right now is because a friend of mine got a cat because he could and the moment it didn't fit in with his current life style choice, he offloaded it on to me.
posted by chill at 4:34 PM on May 24, 2005

I'm against declawing because I wouldn't want to have my fingernails surgically removed- I use them for things. I've read in a couple places that in all but a handful of situations, cats can be trained not to claw things they're not supposed to claw.

My cat loooooooves ugly wicker baskets. This, I have no problem with. My boyfriend's cat adores cardboard boxes. This is fine by me too. If either of "the boys" started being truly destructive, I'd have lots of scratching posts to choose from, judging by the suggestions on this thread.

I have plenty of nice stuff in my apartment and the cats have never bothered it. I have a fairly nice couch my cat likes to "knead" but he doesn't do any damage to the upholstery. Magic cat couch!

Actually, the only home-related problem I've had since getting a cat is that I have to sweep and vacuum more often. It's well worth the extra housework.

I encourage you to get a cat- I have been so much happier since Scrabble came into my life. I don't know what I'd do without him! Cats are THE BEST.
posted by elisabeth r at 4:36 PM on May 24, 2005

I may be way off base here, but what about considering a dog? I have a cat and two dogs, and no offense to the cat people out there, but the cat's a pain and the dogs are pure joy.
posted by sublivious at 4:40 PM on May 24, 2005

I'm going to repeat the notion that only the ignorant or cruel have cats declawed, and that if your furniture is more important than an animal's well-being, you probably shouldn't own one. A productive solution: our cat has a corrugated cardboard, um, thing that gets heavy, heavy usage and leaves the rest of our stuff reasonably intact. Further, consistent training will teach the cat that certain items are off-limits.

Cats can be as rewarding as dogs and way less of a hassle. Go for it and you will have a friend for life. (P.S. Thank you for going to a shelter and not a store.)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:57 PM on May 24, 2005

I am going to go against the trend here. Have the poor cat declawed, at least in front, unless you want to let it outdoors. I did this once. I will not say it was not difficult, at least for me. I wouldn't agree to it, opposed it, argued, and ultimately made my wife take the cat to the vet to do the deed. After all my histrionics, the cat did not seem to mind, did not favor her paws and then did not wreck the house. I am probably a minority voice on Metafilter on this subject, but I recommend that you find a good vet who can discuss the pros and cons with you. Many will just cut and never look back. With that cat, the first vet was sort of a farm vet, and the poor cat was sick with something when we brought her home from the shelter. I will never forget the look in her eyes when that fu****g vet anally raped her with the thermometer. I nearly punched him out right there in his office. A better vet later gently declawed this poor cat and her life was better for it. YMMV, but you need to hear the other side.
posted by caddis at 5:10 PM on May 24, 2005

Cats aren't declawed in England so scratching comes as a part of having a cat. My two moggies have a scratching post, about 3ft high, covered in sisal string with a little catnip in there too to attract them. It's their third one in two years (the first cheap 'n' nasty, carpet-covered one lasted just a couple of weeks). Eventually their claws shred the string to nothing and it's time for a new one. It's a small price to pay once a year to keep them away from the furniture.

Cats are wonderful animals. At the shelter, look for the cat who chooses you, the one who approaches you and wants you to pet him/her. You will then be the cat's slave for ever ...
posted by essexjan at 5:15 PM on May 24, 2005

I'm against declawing because I wouldn't want to have my fingernails surgically removed

This is incorrect.

Declawing doesn't just remove their nails. It removes the entire top of the finger down to the joint. Unless declawing technology has vastly improved in the past couple of years.

Look, I abso-fucking-lutely hate it when our cats fuck shit up with their claws. But I could never have them declawed... it's just too cruel.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:35 PM on May 24, 2005

I've lived with this cat for ten years, and never trimmed his nails. I took him to the vet last month for surgery and they did a nail trimming for free -- and suddenly he hasn't scratched anything in a month. Who knew? I'm an idiot. Now I know.

Cats have favored things to scratch -- you can help them find a favorite, and you can transition them off things too. It's not unpossible, it's just sometimes tiresome. (Still working on getting him off the Knoll chairs, dammit...)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:35 PM on May 24, 2005

Another vote for the softpaws or softclaws - we used to order them online, then found some at the local pet supply store. They do fall off after a while, so you need to keep applying them, but if something horrible happened and our little guy got lost outside, there'd be a chance they would shed off and give him his protection back. (yes, I'm sure I'm being optimistic. but it seems a reasonable compromise.)
posted by korej at 7:44 PM on May 24, 2005

A better vet later gently declawed this poor cat and her life was better for it.

Why was her life better as a cripple? It the answer is "we weren't angry with her as often," then that's a problem that you have, not the cat.

Bac, please do not, repeat do not have a cat declawed. It is a Bad Thing.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:50 PM on May 24, 2005

I will simply say this to you: it will be very difficult for you to get guidance on the declawing issue. I researched it prior to having my cat Charlie declawed, and the information out there is extremely polarized. Anti-declawing people not only feel very strongly about this issue, but they feel the need to evangelize their opinion, too, and call you vicious names if you don't agree with their choices for your cat. (I'm saying this not having read this thread, so don't take it personally, anyone who has already commented.)

My perception of the surgery was that if you get a veterinarian who knows how to do the surgery well and actually cares, then your cat will be fine. Get someone who doesn't have any pride in their work, and, yes, the cat can be in pain for much of the remainder of their life, with all the behavioral changes that accompany that. So investigate your vet with your local county's veterinary society, and check your state's licensure board to make sure they have a clean record. Google and/or ask around.

I researched my vet and found that although one nearby was okay, one only a short distance further had a stellar reputation. He took care of Charlie very well, and I never saw him in pain. In fact, he jumped from the windowsill to the floor less than two days after his operation, before I could stop him, and didn't even meow or yelp. And to this date, the little guy has been fine, with none of the earth-shattering, life-altering, pain-ridden, personality-skewing changes the anti-declawing people warned against.
posted by WCityMike at 8:15 PM on May 24, 2005

Just to be a Devil's Advocate, my first cat was declawed by my parents after destroying a beautiful Persian carpet. Her personality changed noticeably, but not in a way I could positively say was "bad" or "good"... it was just different. After the initial shock, the cat got used to it, and lived a long, healthy, happy life.

A cat can deal with physical adversity, much like a hypothetical person who loses their finger in an accident deals with it and moves on. The question is, do you mind being the cause of the physical adversity in the first place? Much like the abortion debate, it's a deeply personal choice that others should probably keep their noses out of. I can understand why people would declaw their cats, I just couldn't do it myself. That's all.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:42 PM on May 24, 2005

If you've had dogs you may be disappointed by a cat. Not much fun, imo.
posted by anadem at 9:00 PM on May 24, 2005

I've asked myself and others this question before, but why do we who get squicked out by the notion of declawing a cat (as I very much do) feel we have free reign to neuter the creatures (as I also do)? Practical reasons aside these are strange lines we draw.
posted by furiousthought at 11:58 PM on May 24, 2005

If you've had dogs you may be disappointed by a cat.

Our cat plays fetch. It greets us at the door. It likes to play chase games. Plus it does all the cat things that people like and we don't have to take it for walks.
posted by pracowity at 3:17 AM on May 25, 2005

Cats are fabulous. They like it when you pet them and brush them. They hate it when you squirt them with a water pistol, especially if the water's got a bit of lemon juice in it. Given a catnip-enhanced cardboard scratching device, they will generally gravitate toward it. With those guidelines in mind, you can gently guide their behavior. They are also totally perverse, so they may in fact not pay your hard work any mind. But they may.
posted by 88robots at 4:13 AM on May 25, 2005

If you've had dogs you may be disappointed by a cat. Not much fun, imo.

If you've had dogs you may also be very pleased by a cat. I know of quite a lot of people who couldn't say one good word about cats before they actually had been living with one. Now, most of them can't stop raving about their kitties.

Some great characteristics of cats:
  • They've got personality.
  • They often are just as affectionate as their canine counterparts, even more, in my humble opinion.
  • They are very elegant and beautiful.
  • They're very clean and almost never smell.
  • They're very independent creatures.
  • They purr. Truly the sound of bliss.
Ok, I got carried away a bit here, but you get the point.
posted by koenie at 4:57 AM on May 25, 2005

Trimming a cat's nails yourself is very easy (in all the cats I've dealt with, anyway), especially if you get the cat as a kitten and start soon, doing it on a regular basis. I did this with my cat (he's now 2 years old), and even though he sometimes lets out a low, closed mouth "come ON dude, I've got some sleeping to do" meow, he always sits still and doesn't try to get away while I'm trimming his nails. Oh, and it takes all of about 90 seconds every week and a half or so. No big thing, really.

He still tries to scratch, but he has nothing to grab on with.

I've also heard rave reviews of Soft Paws (mentioned above) so that may be something worth looking in to.

If you are looking at older cats (which yay! Everyone always wants kittens, I feel bad for the "older" cats that are left in their cages), it may take them a little longer to get used to having their nails trimmed, but have patience - eventually they'll submit!

Don't let the fear of ruined furniture keep you from getting a cat. There are lots of simple, easy, humane ways to keep him from scratching...and who knows? Your cat might never even want to scratch the furniture.
posted by socialdrinker at 5:57 AM on May 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Get used to cat hair everywhere and cleaning out that damned litte box!
posted by TheManticore at 6:20 AM on May 25, 2005

make that litter!
posted by TheManticore at 6:20 AM on May 25, 2005

The litter box is a lot easier than having to take them outside and risking the damnation of your neighbors. But yeah, your black clothes will never forgive you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:01 AM on May 25, 2005

I'll take a stab (no pun intended) at a balanced declawing view.

We had our cat declawed. She was 9 mos-1 yr old when we got her, no-one had ever taught her to keep her claws sheathed when being affectionate, and as she bonded with us, she was literally ripping us to bits. It's hard to react positively to a cat's kneading when she's clawing the skin off your neck. Literally. And she just didn't get it. (Younger cats can be taught pretty easily to keep their claws to themself unless they mean it.)

Since she doesn't have front claws, she does tend to use her teeth more when playing with us. If she gets mad (pills, vet) she can do one hell of a lot of damage with her teeth and back claws. She likes to "itch" her fingers -- both front and back -- on the carpet. Never has caused any claw damage to the furniture with her back claws, though she is perfectly capable of doing so if she wanted to. Damage to furniture is frequently overstated. Wicker baskets and cardboard boxes are a different story.

We'll never declaw another cat. But at the time, we did what we thought was right and have a happy, well-adjusted cat. (Who has funny-furred paw, as she developed a rare infection at the time that required months and months of follow-up.)
posted by desuetude at 7:16 AM on May 25, 2005

Don't declaw a cat. If you want an animal without claws, maybe you can adopt an adult cat that someone else had declawed but if you care more about your furniture than a potential companion animal, I would say you're better off getting a fish or some plants.
posted by jennyb at 7:43 AM on May 25, 2005

If you're keeping a cat indoors, you'll need a litter tray. Use the clumping kind. If you get yourself a huge tray, deep enough to hold litter at least three inches deep (we actually use a storage crate) so the clumps don't hit bottom and stick, it really does work - you only have to take out the clumps and the turds, and hurl in another bag of clay when the level drops enough to warrant it.

Pay no attention to assorted websites telling you that the dust from clumping litter will kill your cat; that's total nonsense. Clumping litter is made of bentonite, which is THE most water-dispersible clay there is; put bentonite dust near a mucous membrane, and all it does is make the mucus ever so slightly muddy.

Flush the turds, but store up the clumps in a bucket with a tight fitting lid. You'll then end up with a bucket full of urine-soaked bentonite - which, if you mix it 1:8 with sawdust or wood shavings, makes THE BEST garden mulch/fertiliser imaginable. Mix it up outdoors in a wheelbarrow, and the ammonia smell disappears pretty much completely as the used clay mixes with the shavings; the urine supplies nitrogen to the wood as the wood rots down, so you're not depriving your soil of nutrients; and as the bentonite works its way into the soil it improves the soil's water-holding capacity.
posted by flabdablet at 8:16 AM on May 25, 2005

My cat grew up in a bookstore and had never seen a couch or easy chair until she moved in with me. She went for them about thrity seconds after she got in the door.

Then I got her a generic cardboard scratching box with catnip much like the one Hilatron linked above. She has never used anything else since.

When I get a new one, with fresh catnip, she has an orgy of scratching and then sleeps on it or beside it with her head pillowed on it for the first day or two.

In fact, he jumped from the windowsill to the floor less than two days after his operation, before I could stop him, and didn't even meow or yelp.

Gee, that's nice but, for a fact, cats don't usually cry or vocalize when they are in pain:

Cats are extremely good at hiding their pain until it becomes almost totally unbearable.

As the Humane Society notes: Educated cat owners can easily train their cats to use their claws in a manner that allows cat and owner to happily coexist.
posted by y2karl at 8:47 AM on May 25, 2005

I don't recommend flushing anything you find in the litter box, especially if you have one of the low-water-flow toilets. I also find that a complete change of litter is occasionally necessary, even if I'm really dilligent about scooping. YMMV.

If you get a cat w/claws try the trimming route (which works very well for keeping furniture and owners and cat happy.) If you're worried about doing it yourself, take the cat to the vet for awhile for a trimming until you get the hang of it.

"Older cat", for the purposes of shelters, frequently refers to a six-to-12 month old cat, by the way.
posted by desuetude at 10:30 AM on May 25, 2005

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