A Cat’s Gotta Scratch
Scratching is innate and necessary for cats for a variety of reasons. Check out places where a cat routinely scratches and you’ll probably find the outer dead sheath of the cat’s claws. Scratching helps cats shed those dead claw tips. When a cat
scratches, she also leaves some of her scent on that spot, and labels the area as hers. Cats are territorial creatures and they need to mark their spaces in order to live comfortably there. The act of scratching also provides stretches for the cat’s frame and
muscles. Cats have to scratch; even a declawed cat will continue to paw at furniture and other surfaces.
That doesn't mean that the whole house and every piece of furniture should be fair game for the cat’s claws. Speaking about scratching, Pam Johnson-Bennett, a certified animal behavior
consultant, writes: “It’s not a behavior you can untrain in a cat, nor should you ever attempt to do that…The fact that [your cat] is performing this normal and natural behavior on your sofa is the part we can modify.” There are two parts to modifying a cat’s normal behavior: provide the cat with acceptable alternatives and simultaneously make the cat’s current scratching targets less appealing.
In order to provide kitty with good alternative scratching areas, check first to see whether he chooses horizontal or vertical surfaces (or both), as well as what kind of surfaces kitty prefers. Giving a cat that likes to scratch on the carpeting or the
top of the sofa (horizontal) a tall cat tree (vertical) might not solve the problem. Kitty might like the tree and sleep on its perches, but he might not use it for scratching.
• Try the cardboard cat scratchers for cats that like horizontal surfaces. Some come loaded with catnip that makes them even
more appealing to kitty. Some even come with essential catnip oils for spraying on surfaces, as well as the dried catnip. These scratchers are inexpensive and easy to replace when they are used up.
• Cats that reach up to the top of the sofa to start their scratch will need tall cat scratchers and cat trees. Look for sturdy ones with a heavy base that won’t fall over or tip when kitty throws her body weight into her activity.
• Carpet is okay for sleeping spots on a cat tree, but make sure the tree also has posts made of sisal or rope, which is pretty
irresistible to most cats. Some cats like wood posts as well. Look for a tree that fits the kitty’s particular needs, or one that offers a choice of surfaces for kitty’s scratching pleasure.
• If the home has multiple cats you’ll need multiple scratching options, maybe as many as one per cat. You’re dealing with
territory issues again, and cats may not appreciate sharing.
• Place appropriate scratchers, posts and cat trees in places the cat already enjoys. Cats often enjoy cat trees placed near windows where they can watch birds and squirrels and enjoy the afternoon sun on their bodies. Consider placing posts or scratchers right next to the cat’s favorite targets, at least until she gets used to using them. Don’t hide the scratchers in places the cat doesn’t frequent; don’t actually hide them at all! Cats won’t use that scratcher or cat tree placed in a dark corner away from everything else, and will go back to that living room sofa she
• Introduce kitty to the new scratching places by putting catnip on them, or by using interactive toys, such as fishing pole toys, to lure the cat onto them. You can even leave some small treats on the new cat tree to reward kitty’s explorations.
No Scratch Zones
At the same time as you provide great new scratching options, make kitty’s current scratching targets less appealing. The two-pronged approach is critical if you want to be successful. If possible use methods that don’t associate you with whatever aversive substance you use. You don’t want kitty to think you are punishing her for an activity that is innate to her.
• If backs and sides of furniture are the favorite targets, try one of the double-stick tape options made just for furniture. These
are available at most pet stores, and go by a variety of names, but they are wide pieces of tape that will be easy to remove
from furniture when they’re no longer needed. Place them in areas where the cat likes to scratch, and kitty will get a surprise next time she reaches up with her claws and finds something sticky and icky.
• For flat or horizontal surfaces, like carpeting, place carpet runners, available from hardware stores, on favorite areas. If
the cat chooses tops of sofas or cushions, try placing thin carpet runners bottom side up (prongs up instead of down) to discourage kitty.
• If all else fails, try nail caps. Re-directing cat scratching takes a little bit of work, but both you and kitty will benefit from the effort. You may not like the way tape or carpet runners look, but these are only needed temporarily, until kitty learns how much fun she’ll have with her new scratching surfaces. And the cat gets to keep her all-important claws, and potentially avoid some of the behavioral problems that can be associated with declawing. With just a little bit of work, and perhaps a small financial investment (a cat tree in place of declawing surgery), you’ve got a win-win situation for everyone!
By Sarah Zumhofe