Addressing your Pet’s Behavioral Issues

Animal Files Column, Diane Blankenburg

Reno Gazette Journal

No one knows for sure how many homeless pets there are at any one time. In the past several years, estimates have run as high as 60 million homeless cats and dogs in the United States. Nationally, an average of 12 million cats and dogs enter animal shelters each year, and many of them (roughly five million) are destroyed. In the summer months, many shelters – including here in Washoe County – receive large numbers of animals each day, every day.

Nevada Humane Society has set the goal of creating a no-kill community in Washoe County, where homeless animals are no longer routinely killed for population control. We believe that a key piece to making this a reality is to provide resources and advice so that people will have the ability to work through problems and make sure that their pets can continue to live out their lives in the home where they are comfortable and loved.

Bonney Brown and I will be doing a series of columns over the next few months that address common, but solvable pet problems. We’ll be tapping the expertise of Beata Liebtruth, our Animal Help Desk Manager, to give you the best possible information. If you would like to present a particular problem or question, please send it to

HELP – my cat is tearing up the furniture!

Your sofa and your nerves are in tatters. You’re scolding kitty, knowing all the while that it’s futile. She looks at you as if you’ve gone slightly mad. You’re at your wits end. What do you do?

Above all, don’t declaw. The reasons to avoid declawing are compelling. Declawing is an irreversible surgical procedure that involves amputating the last joint of the cat’s “toes.” It may lead to severe physical, emotional, and behavioral problems. It results in thousands more cats ending up in shelters because their owners are unable to cope with the new problem behaviors that develop.

Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. Scratching is a territorial instinct by which cats place their mark and establish their turf. Cats’ paws have scent glands that leave their own special scent on their territory. At the same time, it exercises their front quarters and – oh yes – it also feels good. You can’t keep your cat from scratching, but you can and should channel kitty’s efforts to acceptable avenues.

Although it may be tempting, do not punish or scold her. Cats don’t understand physical punishment. In most cases, the guidelines below should take care of your kitty’s needs and will save your antique velvet sofa from becoming one of kitty’s own prized possessions.

➢ Forget punishment – it doesn’t work.

➢ Provide a suitable place for your cat to scratch. Options range from inexpensive cardboard scratch pads to more elaborate scratching posts. Try different textures to find one your cat prefers – some cats love cardboard and others prefer carpeted posts, sisal or wood.

➢ Make the scratching post/pad attractive to your kitty, put it in a prominent place, and rub it with catnip.

➢ Make the place she’s been scratching unattractive – using physical (sticky scratch strips or even a throw blanket can work) or scent related deterrents.

➢ Trim your cat’s claws regularly.

➢ For indoor cats, consider Soft Paws, soft plastic caps for the claws.

➢ Don’t declaw your kitty as it often leads to other more serious behavioral problems.

If you’ve already tried these ideas and your cat still prefers your antique velvet couch to her scratching post, please contact the Nevada Humane Society Animal Help Desk. Depending on your cat’s personality and your living situation, we’ll help you work out a battle plan to persuade kitty otherwise.

Questions or issues regarding your pets:

Contact the Animal Help Desk at or 775- 856-2000, ext. 200.

Want to adopt a pet or make a donation?

• Nevada Humane Society, 2825 Longley Lane, Reno, NV 89502, 775-856-2000

• SPCA of Northern Nevada, 840 East Fifth Street, Reno, NV 89512 775-324-7773

• Pet Network, 401 Village Boulevard, Incline Village, NV 89451, 775-832-4404


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