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 such as nail care, communication, and stretching. Scratching removes the worn outer coat over the nail which prevents ingrown or infected nails. Cats communicate through scratching by making visible marks and leaving a scent (pheromone) through glands in the feet.
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.
- The scratching post should be made of a material that allows your cat to sink its claws in but is unlike the materials used in the rugs or furniture in the house (to avoid confusion). Preferred textures include sisal rope, cardboard, and carpet.
- The scratching post should be large enough to allow your cat to stretch out fully and sturdy enough not to tip over during use. Posts with 2-3 levels are preferred, especially for multi-cat households. Also experiment with different types of scratchers (vertical vs horizontal) to find your cat’s preference.
- 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:
- Cats can increase scratching during times of stress, ill health or if they are painful. If your cat has an increase in destructive scratching, make an appointment to ensure that there are no medical ailments.
- Decrease stress in the environment. Provide consistent, positive handling and avoid unsolicited cuddling. Ensure adequate resources for multi-cat households including food and water stations, litterboxes, and scratching posts. See our Anxiety Treatment Options handout for more ideas to reduce stress.
- Make the damaged scratching area unavailable or make it less appealing. Examples include covering the area with thick plastic or sticky tape or spraying a citrus air freshener on the item.
- Put the scratching post next to the damaged area – see steps 2 and 3 above.
- FELIWAY™ contains a pheromone that encourages your cat to scratch and mark the post.
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 and remove the outer layer of nail.
- Declawing is a surgical procedure that amputates the nail and last bone from each toe. We do not perform elective declawing at PKAH.
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.