Cat Scratching Behavior
Why do cats scratch?
Scratching is a normal part of feline behavior. The most commonly known reasons for this behavior are to shorten and condition the claws. However, the behavior also serves to mark territory and to stretch. Cats mark the territory visibly as well as through scent glands in the foot pads. Sometimes indoor cats can become bothersome to owners when using the claws to scratch furniture or walls, as well as to climb up drapes. Claws can also present a problem when they cause injury to people or other pets in the house through rough play. With a good understanding of cat behavior and a little bit of effort, it should be possible to prevent or avoid most clawing problems, even for cats who live exclusively indoors.
How can I stop my cat from scratching?
It is not practical and unfair to expect cats to stop scratching behaviors entirely. Indoor cats will need outlets for their normal scratching and marking behaviors. These outlets should provide direction for the scratching, climbing, and play that will keep the cat and family happy. Using an appropriate scratching post, providing a daily routine of social play, object play, and exercise, and avoiding potential problem areas will usually be adequate to deal with most scratching problems.
How do I design a scratching area?
Bear in mind that cats use their scratching posts not only to sharpen their claws, but also for stretching and marking. Thus posts should be placed in prominent areas, with at least one near the cat's sleeping area. The post should be tall enough to allow the cat to scratch while standing on the hind legs with the front legs stretched out. It should also be sturdy enough that it will not topple when scratched. Some cats prefer a scratching post on a corner, so that two sides may be used at once, while others prefer a horizontal scratching surface.
Surface texture is a key component. It is most important to use a material that appeals to the individual cat. Many cats prefer a loosely woven material that allows claws to hook and tear during scratching. Carpet may be acceptable, but it must be combed out prior to use to make sure there are no tight loops which may cause injury. Some cats prefer sisal, corrugated cardboard, or even bare wood.
How do I get my cat to use its post?
Placement is important when trying to entice your cat to use a scratching post. Because scratching is a marking behavior, most cats prefer if the post is placed in a prominent location. It may be necessary to place the post in the center of a room or near furniture that the cat was trying to scratch until the cat reliably uses it and then move it to a less obtrusive location.
Another good way to get your cat to approach and use a post is to incorporate it into a desirable play center. Perches to climb on, toys mounted on ropes, catnip treats, and even placing a food bowl nearby will entice the cat to use the scratching area. For some cats, multiple posts in several locations will be necessary.
Treats may be given if your cat is observed using the scratching post appropriately. It may also be helpful to take the cat to the post and gently rub its paws along the post in a scratching motion, and then give it a food reward. However, this technique should only be attempted if it does not cause anxiety or fear.
What can I do if my cat continues to scratch my furniture?
Sometimes, the scratching problem is related to anxiety due to a change in the household, such as the introduction of a new cat, moving, or a change in the family's schedule. Other signs of anxiety such as a change in appetite, a change in social behavior, or onset of urine marking may also occur.
If the scratching is not anxiety related, but is undesirable for the owner, a little time and effort may be necessary to curb the behavior. For instance, partial confinement of the cat to only certain rooms of the house may be necessary. It may also be necessary to use feline facial pheromone sprays (Feliway™) on scratched surfaces. Keeping the cat's nails properly trimmed or using commercially available plastic nail covers are useful techniques for some owners.
How do I discourage my cat from inappropriate scratching?
All forms of physical punishment should be avoided since they can cause fear or aggression toward the owners, and at best, the cat will only learn to stop the scratching while the owner is around. Indirect, non-physical forms of punishment may be useful if the owner can remain out of sight while using the punishment. Water rifles, ultrasonic or audible alarms, or remote controlled devices are sometimes useful.
The simplest approach is to cover the undesired scratching area with a material that will deter the cat. (plastic, aluminum foil, or double-sided tape). Booby trapping the area can also be an effective way to punish the cat without involving the owner. For example, motion detector air spray or alarm, odor repellents, or a stack of plastic cups that is set to topple when the cat scratches.