Scratching or clawing is a natural behavior for cats. Even cats that have been declawed have the urge to scratch. Cats don’t scratch up your furniture to spite you or to be destructive, but for specific reasons, one of which is communicating. Scratching makes visible marks and also leaves a scent through glands in the feet. Cats also scratch to sharpen their claws, during play, and to relieve stress.
Cats tend to pick a small number of conspicuous objects in their environment to scratch such as the corner of the couch, door jams, etc. It is easier to prevent problem scratching rather than to try to change your cat’s preference after it has become an established habit.
Some pointers for establishing good scratching habits in kittens and newly acquired adult cats:
- Put out several scratching posts in 2 or 3 areas your cat uses the most. Places include where your cat sleeps, rests, and plays.
- Make sure the scratching post is made of a material that allows your cat to sink its claws in, but one that is not similar to the materials used in the rugs or furniture in the house (that can be a little confusing). You can make your own scratching posts rather than purchasing them, but be sure the post does not tip over if your cat fully stretches up on it.
- Don’t put your cat’s paws on the post and force it to scratch. You can’t make a cat scratch this way and you may make your cat fearful of the scratching post.
- Do encourage scratching on the post by playing with teaser toys on or near the post, scenting the post with catnip, using praise and food rewards when your cat scratches the post, or even scratching the post yourself to stimulate your cat to scratch.
For cats that have an established scratching problem:
- Make the damaged scratching area unavailable or cover it with thick plastic or sticky tape so that it feels different and is less appealing.
- Put the scratching post next to the damaged area and be sure it is covered with a material that is acceptable to the cat. See steps 2 and 4 above.
- Because cats like to scratch in prominent areas of their home, you may need to leave the post in the area where the cat prefers to scratch. Your cat may not scratch a post located in the back corner of the basement.
Some other alternatives for scratching behavior:
- Soft Paws are plastic nail covers. They are glued onto each nail after a nail trim and may last for a month before needing replacement.
- Keep nails short with frequent nail trims. This helps to limit the damage that scratching causes and can help decrease the impulse to sharpen their claws.
- Declawing is a surgical procedure that amputates the nail and last bone from each toe. Special care after declawing will be necessary for a week and residual nerve (ghost) pain can be a side effect. If you are considering declaw surgery, there will be a faster recovery if the procedure is done while your cat is small and young.
Most cats can be taught to scratch a post and not damage other things. If these ideas do not resolve the problem, talk to your veterinarian about other options.