Help With Claws

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Help With Claws

Post by shippy » Sun Oct 20, 2019 10:27 am

I have a small female cat who is about 10 years old, her name is Cookie. She is only 7.5 lbs but she can be dangerous.

She has always been a aggressive even since she was a kitten but i was managing it with regular play time and slow, careful introductions to any new people or animals. She peacefully lives with another cat that belongs to my roommate, and sometimes lets the roommate pet her.

In the last year or so, she no longer will let me clip her claws. I used to be able to do it one or two at a time here and there without her even noticing, but now she goes into a panic soon as I touch her paw.

When I say “she doesn’t let me” I don’t mean she just doesn’t like it. She goes into full fight or flight mode, hissing and snarling. She thinks she is fighting for her life, and doesn’t even seem to recognize me anymore. She will bite into me so hard, one time she broke a blood vessel in my hand and it was really bad. I’m afraid I will end up in the emergency room if I force it. I’m also afraid it will traumatize her and undermine the trust I’ve built up between her and our roommate situation.

So I took her to the vet, and even with two people in full protective gear, they had to net her and sedate her to avoid her hurting someone or herself. The whole experience was traumatic for both her and for me, so I doubt I’ll bet do it again. Not to mention it would be expensive, and probably a bad idea medically for me to get her sedated every time she needs a clip.

I also tried claw caps one time to see if she would find that less scary, but it didn’t work. The vet put them on while she was sedated, after they clipped her. Although I was relieved of her claws for a while, she was nervous the whole time and started losing patches of fur. So I decided not to do it again.

It’s been about 6 months since the last clipping attempt. Her claws are so long and sharp that she hurts me even when she’s just happy kneading.

That’s the main issue. Her long claws don’t seem to be getting ingrown or bothering her. The problem is that she scratches me up constantly. She is a very needy and affectionate cat. When she wants food, treats, attention, pets, anything, she crawls up and puts her claws right on my neck or in my face. She has even stuck her claws in my eyes while I was trying to sleep.

When she does that, it isn’t like she is trying to angrily swipe me. She puts her paw on me and slowly extends the claws a little more and a little more until I react. She doesn’t understand that she is hurting me, she just knows that I stop ignoring her if she puts her claws on my exposed skin.

It isn’t as if I ignore her a lot, either. I work from home and I spend most the day in the same room with her, I take breaks to pet her and play with her and she can sit in my lap while I work. She sleeps in bed with me. She even follows me into the bathroom and I talk to her while I take my showers. But she is constantly wanting more attention and pops her claws when I don’t give it.

I have got the kitty calm spray, the pheromone plug-in, I gave her food the vet suggested, and all kinds of stuff to try to make her more calm and it did help with her anxiety (patchy fur is gone at least), but this behavior continues.

The short version is: my cat freaks out if I flip her claws, but she also uses her claws to demand attention from me.

I would like help either discouraging her claw tactic, the need for quite so much attention, or some ideas for clipping her so that it isn’t so dangerous when she does do it.

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Re: Help With Claws

Post by fjm » Sun Oct 20, 2019 11:09 am

Pippin is a kneader, and those claws can hurt! He will also use his claws, quite gently, to get my attention - I have found the best way of managing it is to only give him attention when he is very gentle. Teaching an alternative, and incompatible, behaviour may be the best way for Cookie. I would try a toy with a bell - patting the toy to ring the bell gets attention; digging claws into you means being gently lifted down and ignored - if necessary you leave the room. Every time claws come out offer the toy to be patted, then treat/stroke/play etc. Have several of them, so there is always one to hand, and be both consistent and persevering - she has a long, long history of being rewarded for digging her claws in, so it will take a while for her to realise the rules have changed. Giving in will just mean she learns that she needs to claw you harder next time. You may even experience an extinction burst, when she does it more and more to try and make it work. You will need to wear thick clothes for a while, but if you reward the bell every time, and never the claws, eventually she will adapt. Probably... Cats can be determined creatures...

I also had a cat who was an anxious attention seeker. She had been hand reared, and I came to the conclusion that she had never experienced that stage of maternal love when the mother cat basically tells her kittens to b*****r off and leave her alone! Every time she leapt on me I gave her just a few seconds attention and then put her down. She had lots of stimulation and companionship, access to acres of safe land, and all sorts things of nice things to do that did not require 24/7 access to my lap, so I did not feel too badly about withdrawing a bit. It did work to a certain extent, and she became less needy, but never as relaxed and confident as my cats who were raised by capable feline mums.

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Re: Help With Claws

Post by Mollycat » Sun Oct 20, 2019 11:53 am

Controversial comment coming up. I don't clip cats' claws at all, unless they snag them when they walk on carpet, and I'll explain why.

A cat's claws should (some cats have problems and that's different, I'm talking about normal) should be razor sharp and retract enough not to touch the floor when walking. Extended, they are big things and lethal weapons. They grow in layers and the outer layer gets a little blunted and is shed like a bit of dead skin, only a lot sharper and all in one piece, hence the things you find around the house or sticking out of a scratch post.

To keep them in tip-top condition, the cat needs to scratch for two important reasons - to shed this dead layer, but more importantly to keep the tensond and ligaments that hold the claws retracted toned and strong. If the claws are trimmed and shorter, the cat's retracting gear can get lazy and weak, and because the tip is missing, not come off properly when scratching. This can lead, ironically, the overgrowth of the soft underside of the claw and cause ingrowing claws. It also means the cat has less control over its claws.

So if your cat's claws seem very long after 6 months unclipped, it's very likely she is still re-learning to retract them fully. I get what you say about kneading, I used to keep a pet fleece blanket handy to protect my legs for when Bobby wanted my lap as he had the same problem, having been clipped all his life. He also responded well if I gently tapped his paw when he got too carried away.

I wouldn't keep trying, it can only get worse. I would aim for minimising the damage to you by rewarding gentle and ignoring the claws. Encourage lots of scratch post use, catnip spray really helps if she is a bit reluctant at first, lots of different kinds of scratch post and mat materials etc. In time maybe another 6 months or so she should have learned to retract fully and toned up the muscles, and got used to her natural feet.

As for you reacting, well you know the answer there - cats will keep pushing buttons until they get the effect they want. If it hurts too much to ignore, get up and put her down firmly and walk away and ignore her. The very worst thing you can do with unwanted behaviour is ignore ignore ignore ignore and give in, they only lean not to give up. Either respond immediately or not at all ever, nothing in between.

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Re: Help With Claws

Post by shippy » Mon Oct 21, 2019 12:48 am

Thank you both!

My cat was also raised by hand. I got her from a couple that found her in the woods and nursed her. She never had litter problems (in fact she is teaching my roommate’s cat to bury) but the attention thing has been lifelong.

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Re: Help With Claws

Post by Ruth B » Mon Oct 21, 2019 7:34 am

My first thought was 'why did she suddenly stop wanting you to touch her paws?', can you think of anything that might have happened to make her wary of having her paws handled. I would suggest you do try and work with her to see if you can get her to let you handle her paws, but it does sound like it is a case of going back to square one and when she is wanting fuss slowly running your fingers down her legs until she starts giving signals that you have gone far enough. If there are treats she likes then you can always reward good behaviour and her letting you get a little further down the leg with a treat. Take it slowly and hopefully she will learn that you handling her paws isn't something to be scared of. I wouldn't suggest trying to clip the claws for a long time yet, not until she lets you handle her paws and spread her claws out with out protesting, but at least if you can get to handle her paws you can make sure there are no problems developing.

From my experience the one claw that causes the most problems is the dew claw (the one that is separate from the rest on the side of the front paws), I have had one cat who, as he got older, had a dew claw that grew very thick and curled around, he also didn't like having his claws clipped when we got him, one time when we asked a vet to do them, we ended up with two nurses coming in to see what was happening, from the sound you would have thought he was being mutilated, and he was normally the most laid back cat you could imagine. I also know of another cat whose claw was allowed to grow long and actually did grow into the paw, while the vet was able to clip it and extract the tip it must have been painful for him.

Remember to only take the tip of the claw off whenever you do manage to clip them (hopefully you will be able to again at some point), like fingernails if you clip too far down you start to hit the quick and if you have ever broken a nail low you know how that can hurt, I always wondered with Blue if his previous owner had clipped his claws and clipped them too low once or twice causing him to associate it with pain.

Try and get a good scratching mat or post, I went through a load of different ones before I found a couple that mine will use, one is a cardboard lounger style that the cat can sit on and use there own weight to hold it down while they pull at ti with their claws, the other is a board covered with a rough type of carpet which is screwed to the wall, again something that doesn't feel flimsy when they pull against it.

Finally if you have some old towels you can leave in places where she is likely to try and get on your knee and knead that way when she comes looking for attention you can put one across you where she sits and hopefully the towel will prevent the worst of the damage from her claws to you. My current lad loves to get on my lap then crawl up my chest and knead there (while trying to bite my nose for some reason), he too has very sharp claws and the skin there is soft and sensitive, fortunately he has learnt to that if he comes and sits in front of me with that look on his face I will get the towel and put it across me, which is his signal to get up and knead to his hearts content. If I don't get the towel he will get up any way after he feels he has given me plenty of opportunity to, and then it becomes a battle to try and stop him turning me into a pincushion. He may have trained me well, but I feel it is for my own protection.

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