Cat Scratching Nearly half of all people with cats claim they have a problem with their cat scratching their furniture and other belongings. What people often fail to realize is that scratching is as natural and important to a cat as breathing—it is part of her essence, her “cat ness.”
So while cat scratching is a source of irritation and expense to people whose furniture is getting trashed, it’s essential to understand that your cat does not scratch your furniture to spite you.
She scratches because she needs to scratch, and she makes do with what she discovers in her environment—and once she has chosen a target for scratching, it becomes imbued with her scent and therefore is doubly appealing.
But since all cats scratch, you can’t help but wonder why all people don’t complain about it. How do the households that don’t complain perceive their cats’ scratching? How do they deal with it? Do they understand their cats’ need to scratch and thus provide appropriately for it?
Reasons of cat scratching
The drive to scratch is inborn in a cat and it serves several functions, both physical and emotional. It is so important to understand these hard-wired instincts because it will make you more sympathetic and tolerant of your cat’s strong need to scratch, and it will also help you provide the right kind of cat scratching post to meet this drive.
- Cat Scratching behavior removes the dead outer sheath of a cat’s claws by raking down the long, rough surface of her nail to reveal new growth beneath. The claws are formed in overlapping layers, like an onion, so “sharpening” her claws really means removing the outer layers to expose the new nail beneath it.
- Cat Scratching marks a cat’s territory.
- Cat Scratching behavior is an emotional outlet—a way to expel frustration, excitement or disappointment.
- Scratching allows a cat to stretch out her spine, her back and shoulder muscles, especially upon awakening from a nap.
- Many cats like to scratch while they are waiting for dinner and then again after they have eaten.
Cat Scratching Solutions
(A) Training a cat to utilize the post
Cats get attached to the territorial marker they create with their scratching, and the odor they leave on the scratched area brings them back to it.
For this reason, you should be involved in choosing where that initial cat scratching takes place when your cat first arrives at your home so that she becomes attached to the wonderful cat tree and/or scratching post that you have provided for her.
Even if you have already had your cat for some time before learning the importance of a desirable cat post, you are not out of luck. Later in this section I outline ways to retrain your cat to stay off your furniture and use the post you will have (perhaps belatedly) bought.
1. Don’t hide the post somewhere out of the way
You want the post to be near the frequented area of your house so that your cat can jump right up and use it when the mood strikes her—first thing in the morning or after a nap, before or after meals, when she sees something outside the window (a bird, another cat) or when she has an interchange with another cat in the family that fires her up.
If the post or cat tree is visible, your hope is that she will be more likely to go to it instead of to the chenille covered chair that’s in the same room.
2.Do not put your cat’s paws on the post
It’s natural to think that if we just place our cat’s paws on the post, she will get it—but this can actually backfire because cats do not like to be forced to do things, nor do they like to have their tender feet messed with.
So rather than trying to force your cat’s paws, you want to make the post fun and intriguing so that she’ll want to use it on her own.
3.Make It a game
Dangle a lure toy right next to the post, so that when your cat reaches out for the lure she will feel the texture of the post. Scratch the post yourself with your nails or something that will create a raspy scratching sound, like a fork. Sometimes just hearing that noise will entice a cat to try it herself.
4.If Your Cat Doesn’t Have Any Interest in the Post
Although most cats like tall objects they can climb on, your cat may not be so inclined, which may be why a scratching post does not seem inviting to her. In this case, lay the post on its side and dangle the lure toy all around it so the cat has to touch the post.
(If you have a wonderful cat tree with a scratching post built into it, it will be a bit more trouble to lay on its side, but this is simply a way to get your cat comfortable with the texture, after which it can go back to a normal upright position.)
When your cat paws at the lure toy and jumps on the post, she will then discover the attractive texture and begin to give it a good digging with her claws.
5.Put the post Is in the Right Place
You’ll know you have picked a good place for the post and that it is being used if you see your cat’s crescent-shaped nail sheaths at the bottom of the post where she has shed them.
(B) Kittens and scratching
1.Place the Post in the Middle of Things
A kitten’s post needs to be central to the area she inhabits so that she cannot miss it. This way, when the urge to scratch comes over her, the post is right there.
If your kitten has the run of the whole house, then depending on the size of your house, you would do well to invest in at least one other post so that when she is off playing somewhere and the need to scratch or stretch comes over her, she’ll have no trouble finding a post and then remembering what it’s for.
It’s like potty training and having litter boxes readily visible and accessible: If a youngster has to search from room to room for what she needs, she may just do whatever she needs to do before she reaches that object. Make it easy for her and you’ll build habits that should last a lifetime.
2.Start a kitten out early with a scratching post
If you offer your kitten an appealing cat tree with one or more good scratching posts and she deposits her scent on it early on, then she is much less likely to scratch anywhere else. An ounce of prevention is so much easier than trying to break an ingrained habit once she has dug her nails into various pieces of furniture.
3.Teaching a Kitten to Use a Post
This is actually pretty easy since kittens express a strong drive to get to the top of things, to climb to the highest possible point. You will notice this with a kitten who tries to climb on you or the drapes—and this mountaineering phase will pass, by the way.
But in the meantime, encourage her to climb that scratching post. Its main appeal at this stage may be as a tall object to climb, but it won’t be long before your kitten’s instinct to scratch will kick in, and by that time she’ll already be bonded to the post.
Teach your kitten to use the post just as you would a grown cat. With a kitten, you want to regularly create games around the scratching post to remind her that it exists and make it especially appealing.
(C) Multi-Cat homes and scratching posts
If you have more than one cat, you will probably need more than one scratching post. One cat will often lay claim to a post as her own, and if she is a dominant or territorial cat, she may keep the other cat(s) off, forcing them to scratch in places you do not want.
This does not always happen, but since it can happen without your necessarily being aware of it, it is better to be safe than sorry and have posts or cat trees in multiple locations.
(D) Retraining a furniture scratcher
1.Don’t Try to Scare the Cat
Some people believe you should scare a cat away from furniture she has been scratching by doing things such as taping balloons to the furniture (they will supposedly pop if she accidentally scratches them) or squirting her with a water gun. This methodology is a poor one for a couple of reasons.
- First of all, given the fact that cats are naturally fearful creatures—along with the saying “once scared, twice shy”—it seems like a crummy idea to frighten your cat on purpose, because you will only succeed in making her afraid of you.
- The other reason that creating aversion through fear is a pointless pursuit is because the most effective way to train a cat (in other words, to convince her to do what you want by letting her make the decision) is to give her a substitute behavior. So ultimately, you don’t want to stop her from scratching, especially since scratching is a vital part of her nature.
Instead, you want her to scratch only in the places you are providing for that purpose. The same principle is used to teach a human baby not to touch certain things: You don’t make a big drama about it or yank the object away.
Instead, you “switch and bait,” handing the baby something else that is safe and pleasurable so she doesn’t even notice you’ve removed the forbidden object.
2.Substitute another object to scratch
- Let’s say your sofa or a favorite chair is the object the cat has been scratching. You need to make it suddenly unappealing.
- If she only scratches certain parts of the furniture, you can cover those areas with Sticky Paws, a product that is harmless to fabrics but makes the surface unappealing to cats.
- For a larger area, first cover the piece of furniture with a big sheet or drop cloth that you tuck in all around and tape down at the base (this is a temporary measure, not a redecorating tip).
- A bed sheet is best because you want the surface to be really smooth and therefore unappealing to your cat when she tries to dig her claws in as she did before.
- Now move that couch or chair out of the way to make enough room for a really appealing scratching post that will take its place, for a while anyway.
3.Keep the Furniture Covered for a While
Ideally, your cat will saunter over to engage in some of her habitual furniture mauling, and lo and behold, her favorite piece of furniture is all covered up. But wait! In its place she finds a delightful cat tree and/or scratching post to use instead—much more satisfying for her claws and maybe even perfumed with catnip as a little bonus.
Add to that a few little games played with you around the post, and chances are she will be thinking, “Who needs that old couch anyway?” Keep the furniture covered until your cat has been using the post regularly and is not making any attempts to get at the furniture under the covering.
4.Gradually move the post to its permanent
Spot Although you can slowly shift the post to a place that’s less intrusive for you, it should still remain in the general neighborhood as a visual reminder when the scratching urge comes over her
(E) Cat scratching doorways or room entrances
- Some cats scratch the entrance to rooms and especially the front door, to leave their mark—this behavior has nothing to do with sharpening their claws.
- For these scratchers, put a post next to the “incorrect” scratch target—the door trim, let’s say—and cover that door jamb or doorway with Sticky Paws. Make sure that humans in the household know where this transparent tape has been applied so they do not lean on it and diminish its stickiness.
- If there is no room near the doorway for a scratching post, you have two options. One is to use a sisal scratch pad that is designed to hang off doorknobs. The other is to get a flat scratch pad (or make one) with the back side of a piece of carpet and attach it to the wall next to the marked doorway.
(F) Horizontal Scratchers
Some cats prefer to stretch out lengthwise rather than reaching up above themselves in order to scratch. If you see your cat scratching doormats, rugs, or the top of furniture, then you know she prefers flat, horizontal scratching surfaces and a tall post will not satisfy her.
There are two choices of flat scratching pads you can buy—a disposable cardboard scratcher that can be flipped over and used on both sides before you replace it (kittens love this one) or a flat pad covered with sisal rope made by the Felix Katnip company, which is similar to the first-rate cat tree they make.
And of course you can make your own flat pad quite easily by covering a piece of wood with carpet, nailed down so that the backing is on the top.
Some cats like flat and high, so you can give them a smorgasbord of different angles and planes in their scratching equipment. There is even a wide scratch pad that is on an angle, which satisfies a cat who “goes both ways” in her choice of scratch object.
(G) Plastic Nail Caps
Given what we know about the importance of scratching to a cat, the idea of gluing plastic caps over her nails to put them out of the picture has to make you think twice. But Soft Paws may be a great solution for people who have tried behavior modification (a fancy word for all the scratching post advice above) unsuccessfully and are at their wit’s end with their cat’s destructiveness.
Soft Paws need to be applied by your vet, at the least the first time or two, since your cat may need to be restrained. Also, you can watch how your vet applies the permanent glue, although it isn’t really permanent because the caps fall off within a month or two.
Since nails are growing all the time, your vet will have to remove whichever caps have not fallen off (or been chewed off by your cat) and replace them with a fresh set. However, once applied, you can’t just forget about the caps—you need to check them pretty much every day, since cats are clever at pulling them off. If even one or two come off, a cat can still do a lot of scratching damage with the nails that are now liberated.
These plastic nail covers can be neutral-colored, but they also come in a wide range of colors that look like nail polish. Claw caps are not an entirely comfortable prospect for your cat because she cannot fully retract her claws with the nails on. Also, it must cause her some psychic discomfort to be denied the natural pleasure of scratching and stretching. But if your only alternatives are to declaw the cat or give her away, then Soft Paws is a great resource.
When to discard an old scratching post
Never throw away an old post. A cat loves familiarity and never more so than with her post, which is rich with her marks and smells, and pleasing to her eye because she knows it so well—think of the proverbial man of the house and his attachment to the tattered old Barcalounger in front of the TV.
A cat may not even accept a new replacement. You can recover the old post with sisal and upside-down carpeting, and/or get a new post that’s as similar as possible and put it next to the old one.
If the cat starts using the new post, great—you now have the option of dumping the old one. But because it’s not a lot of extra trouble to re-cover the old post, it seems wrong not to hold on to a beloved object.
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