By nature, cats have a need to scratch objects in their environment. We know that cats leave their scent behind when they scratch things and that this is a means of letting the world know that they’re there… whether it is to warn another cat away or to invite them to play. They tend to go back to the same spots and scratch those spots repeatedly for this reason; it’s another way for them to mark their territory. Even cats who have been declawed will try to scratch things for this very reason! Scratching also happens in play, as a way to stretch, as a greeting to their owner, a way to relieve frustration, as a method to shed the outer layer of their nails or simply as a way acknowledge fondness for items or people.
What we absolutely know is that this is an instinct that can’t be removed from their behavior. When a cat scratches destructively, she’s not trying to be mean or spiteful, she’s doing it because that’s part of being a cat. As an owner, we have to identify her needs and act accordingly, so that her behavior can fit into our lifestyle.
Step 1: Watch and learn
What is an acceptable object? Certainly not the couch, carpet, or banister. Let’s look at the what, when, and how of cat scratching.
What do cats scratch? Anything with a nubby, course, or textured surface, something they can really sink their claws into.
When do they scratch? When they wake up from a nap, when they want to mark their territory, or when they’re excited about something, like you coming home from work.
How do they scratch? Some cats like to stand up against a vertical surface; others get horizontal and stick their butts up in the air for a good stretch. Some cats enjoy both angles.
Declawing is NOT the solution – Please see Declawing Handout for more information.
Step 2: Don’t scratch here
Once you’ve figured out your cat’s preferences, you’re halfway to the finish line.
- Cats are all about texture, so cover the “naughty” spots with things yours will find unappealing on her paws, like double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper or a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up.
- Many cats don’t like the odor of citrus or menthol. Try attaching cotton balls soaked in cologne or a muscle rub to the “bad” patches.
- You may have to keep these items in place until your cat is using the scratching posts consistently, which could take weeks or months. Then, remove them one at a time.
- As you’re making the inappropriate surfaces undesirable for your cat, place an approved scratching item next to that surface, giving your cat an option once she realizes her old favorite is no longer a good choice.
- You can also spray the pheromone spray, Feliway, on the spots where your cat is scratching and use the product Feliscratch on their appropriate scratching posts to further encourage them to scratch there.
Cats just want to have fun
There are many things that can satisfy your cat’s need to scratch.
- A sturdy rope-covered upright post, a flat scratch pad of corrugated cardboard, the back side of a square of carpet, even a small log with the bark still on (be sure it hasn’t been treated with chemicals before bringing it inside.)
- A scratching object can be free-standing, lie on the floor, or hang from a doorknob, whatever your cat desires. Some cats don’t care, just as long as they can scratch, so why not have a variety?
- Rub a little catnip into the post or attach a toy to the top to make it even more attractive. You can also try feeding your cat near the post to really bring it to their attention.
- Praise your cat for using the post or any other object that is acceptable to scratch.
Step 3: Location, location, location
Put the posts where your cat wants them— focus on the areas she was previously scratching and make them appealing to her with new, cat-safe things to scratch. Cats like to scratch in prominent places in the home; she may not use a scratching object hidden in the basement. Put a post on each level of the house so she doesn’t have to go far to indulge.
Where it’s at
Scratching posts and pads are available in all shapes, sizes, and materials at pet stores and on the Internet. If you’re industrious and want to make it yourself, you can find building plans online. Managing Scratching
Scolding your cat only works if you catch her scratching off-limits. If you correct her after the fact, she won’t know what she’s done wrong and could learn to be afraid of you.
Never yell at or hit her as punishment. The same is true of using a squirt bottle. She may start to avoid you altogether.
If you do catch your cat shredding a “naughty spot,” redirect her scratching to one of the acceptable items. Do this consistently to teach her “sofa bad, post good.”
Indoor cats don’t wear down their claws as quickly as outdoors ones do, so they can overgrow. Untrimmed, claws can grow into the cat’s pads, leading to infection, pain, and difficulty walking and using the litter box. Check your cat’s claws every couple of weeks to see if they need to be clipped. See Trimming Cat Claws for more information and directions.
Important Reminder: cats can also scratch out of frustration or boredom! Making sure that your cat has plenty of routine interactive play with her people, as well as plenty of environmental enrichment available when you’re not home could really help to curb inappropriate scratching, as well.