When I play with my cat Bo’s feet, he gets quite irritated with me. I didn’t adopt him until he was six years old so I wasn’t able to teach him to let me touch his feet. The pads of the front feet are rich with sensory receptors. The front cat paws are used in and hunting and manipulating food so need to be very sensitive. Between the pads there are the highest densities of nerve endings in the whole body. They produce tremendous sensitivity to speed and direction of movement across the pad.
In addition to all this innervation in the pads and feet, there are highly sensitive and specialized cells in the soft tissue at the bases of the claws. These produce signals about the degree of extension and sideways displacement of each claw completely independently of the others. It is almost possible to think of the feet as sense organs in their own right. This degree of sensitivity may explain why many cats appear to dislike having their paws touched.
Between two and seven weeks of age is the sensitive period for socialization of kittens. At that time we can begin to teach them to tolerate things we may need from them later. Trimming nails can be an important activity especially for indoor cats who might not have as much opportunity to hone them. Unfortunately, many of our veterinary patients dislike having their feet touched so much the clients ask us to trim their nails.
Unlike the lesser species (dogs), cats don’t seem to be motivated by pleasing us. Most training of any kind should be done with food, high-value treats only given when a successful task is performed. Bo loves freeze-dried chicken; he would do just about anything to get some. Training is quite mentally stimulating for your cat and enhances the bond between you and your cat. It may also be useful in reducing some of the negatives of keeping a cat indoors.
Cats need to express their natural behavior, and many owners understandably object to the damage to household furnishings that their cats unwittingly cause when sharpening their claws. Training your cat to claw only in specific places can be important to human members of the household. Cats seem to have a preference for certain textures. Some are also more inclined to scratch on horizontal over vertical objects and vice versa.
Scratching is a form of marking as well as preserving the condition of the claws. In the wild the scratched sites on trees act as combined visual and scent signals. Cats mark within their range along habitual paths rather than defining the edges of their territory. Our homes become the territory for cats housed indoors. Places for scratching must be provided that are acceptable to both cat and owner. Rewarding use of the appropriate spots ensures that no furniture will be sacrificed.
Regular nail trimming won’t reduce destruction to the same extent that the right cat tree will. The feline facial pheromone spray maybe helpful in acclimating to a new tree as well as rewarding the behavior you wish to see.
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Cat Hospital of Portland.