Claws and Scratching

Mimi's big claws.
Mimi’s big claws.

Sunny afternoons are now warm enough to visit outside, after an icy winter and Mimi has been busy letting all trespassing cats know, with lots of cheek rubbing and scratching to leave her scent and her mark, that all the things in this yard belong to her.

For scratching Mimi prefers wood, the harder the wood the better, and often can’t decide which she wants to scratch first when she flies out the front door (on her leash, of course): her “live scratching post”, the river birches with their rough and peeling bark, or her favorite ancient rocker with oak boards at every angle she could desire aged hard as stone. When she’s outside she also has her solid cherry tree stump at the edge of the porch, and at the other end of the front porch the elderly wicker chair. And that’s just the front porch area. Mimi has marking spots all over her territory, front, back and sides.

Mimi scratches her cherry log outside.
Mimi scratches her cherry log outside.

Where I can go about two weeks before I have to clip all others’ claws in the house, Mimi has hers as sharp as pins in days. She’ll tell you wood works best for cleaning her claws, loosening and removing old layers, and undoing the careful paw-icure I’ve recently given her. She has also gotten a good stretch straight up as far as her paws can reach, and then a flex of her back and all four legs as she moves from one scratching area to the next.

Now that's a cat tree!
Now that’s a cat tree!

The oak rocker is at the corner of the house, a prime place for marking by all goers, and especially cats, including Mimi, as they move from the front yard to the side, to the back, noting at each point that they were here with a cheek rub or a claw scratch, or, in the case of the still-intact (but not for long) male cats, a little dab of fragrance. It’s a constant communication area for all of them.

It’s quite the production, and it all helps to keep 15-year-old Mimi in purrfect physical condition as well as emotional condition. Without a good outdoor scratch on all her things at least once a week Mimi is just not the same kitty, even though indoors she also has a maple tree stump at the doorway between my office and the kitchen, a section of my old elm tree with lots of rough bark at the foot of the stairs, a cardboard scratcher that’s near a napping spot, and sisal sections of the cat trees. All items are placed at intersections or entrances to rooms or areas that are likely marking areas and in constant use.

Having a good scratch on the way to the kitchen.
Having a good scratch on the way to the kitchen.

Mimi lived her first four years as primarily an outdoor cat, producing kittens, hunting for food, attracting intact male cats and fending off aggressive cats, dogs and other species in her outdoor territory. Despite the hardship she liked it, and still enjoys her outdoor time. To survive out there as such a small cat and raising kittens Mimi must have been a fierce contender and her habits of marking her territory may be more deeply ingrained in her daily life than other cats, though it is representative of the biological need for cats to scratch.

Mimi’s scratching is for the same purposes whether inside or out: communication, exercise, marking the possessions within her territory, and the boundaries as well. Indoors her housemates have also passed by her maple stump and the elm tree section and rubbed their faces on it and had a little scratch, and the cardboard scratcher is used by all who awaken from a nap in that spot, famous for piles of cats by the furnace vent.

It’s absolutely necessary for cats, especially in a multi-cat household, to be able to work out who was where and when, and what they share. And it’s also necessary to do a good bit of this by using their claws, for the exercise it gives them as well as the communication. It’s just how it is with cats.

Now imagine taking away their claws. Not just trimming them, but removing their claws entirely, down to what would be our first knuckle, with tendons and muscles and blood vessels and nerves attached.

This essential communication would not happen.  They could still rub with their cheeks, and even their paw pads would still leave a scent, but leaving their mark is just as important because other cats and animals can see that from a distance.

And the communication isn’t only in the scent and the marks. I liken it to my own communication through creating my artwork, which is all in my head until I let it out on some surface using some medium, and I do that with my fingers, with my fingertips, sometimes applying and very often blending the medium with my fingertips, holding pastels and brushes and pencils so that I can make my mark with clarity. It’s all about communicating my idea in a way that others can understand without words, and it has to be done with fully intact fingers. When I go without that experience of communication I am certainly unhappy and stressed because I feel as if I’m gagged, unable to speak, and I can easily veer toward depression.


Cats are often declawed because their scratching becomes destructive to human things. That people find it destructive is completely understandable, but the decision to declaw is not. When I was a child and drew on walls and furniture my mother did not cut off my fingers. She gave me things to draw on. And understanding the importance of scratching for cats, we should do the same thing for them. It goes even beyond avoiding the reprehensible surgery to the fact that we can and should understand what our cats need and do our best to provide that. We find out what they like to scratch, and look at where they scratch, determine why they are scratching in that spot, and find an acceptable thing for them to use.

So Mimi gets all the wood she needs to scratch, Bella gets the inside of an old pair of rubber gardening shoes, Hamlet gets the upright sisal section of the cat trees, and so on.

In more and more cities in the US and beyond and countries around the world declawing surgery is seen as an act of cruelty, undertaken only for medical reasons in the cat’s best interest.

I began writing about the need for cats to scratch a couple of decades ago in shelter newsletters and on a few early websites for cat-themed products and gifts. Much of that is still pertinent today, and in many ways this is one area where we haven’t moved very far forward. We’ll learn more about how to meet a cat’s need to scratch and keep peace in our houses in upcoming articles.

You won't take my claws away.
You won’t take my claws away.


Here are a few things to read about declawing:

“Declawing of Domestic Cats”, AVMA policy statement

Onychectomy, Wikipedia

“Declawing Medical Facts”, Pet Health Network

“Declawing Myths vs Facts”, City the Kitty

“Stop Scratching without Declawing”, Dr. Marci Koski, Cat Behavior Consultant

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day book with cat portraits
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One thought on “Claws and Scratching

  • March 4, 2018 at 8:45 am

    Bernadette, this should be given to everyone who adopts (or, shudder, buys) a cat. Brilliant advice.
    Long, long, long ago, in the beknighted days, I knew two young indoor-only cats who lived together and were front-paw declawed at the same time. One was resilient and rebounded immediately; the other had a complicated healing, languished emotionally, and displayed symptoms of having had his soul more than a bit crushed. What a life-long tragedy it was.
    Declawing should be illegal everywhere!


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