There are lots of good reasons why your cat scratches and claws around the house, none having to do with a desire to destroy your expensive belongings!
Using their claws is a perfectly natural feline behavior and provides a number of positive benefits to the animal. Among them:
- It helps kitties stretch and tone their shoulders and legs.
- It sheds the older layers of nails and keeps the claws clean and smooth.
- Kitties use clawing to mark their territory both visually and with the scent of their paw pads.
- It reduces stress and just plain feels good!
If your kitty seems to have a special fondness for shredding your favorite spots in the house like your side of the bed or your recliner, according to Amy Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant, it’s because she loves you and wants to share her scent with you.
It’s important to understand why your kitty scratches so you can direct her energies toward less destructive use of those sharp little claws.
As declawing of kitties becomes less and less popular -- and thank goodness for that -- people owned by cats and pet product manufacturers are dreaming up ever more creative ways to help your cat do his thing, without destroying your home.
Learn the How, What and Where of Your Cat's Scratching Behavior
Kitties vary in the ways they scratch and the surfaces they prefer.
If you've just acquired a new kitten or adult cat, ideally you planned ahead. You set up appropriate scratching surfaces around your home which perfectly suited her, and your new furry family member is already using them.
But what if that's only what you wish you'd done (or tried without success to do), and kitty is now hard at work on the corner of your sofa or a section of your carpet?
The best thing to do is observe her scratching behavior and try to match your scratcher purchase to it. Some kitties scratch horizontally. Some reach high overhead vertically for a good back stretch. Some lie on their backs and scratch a surface above them like the filmy fabric underside of the box spring on your bed, for example.
Also observe what types of surface your cat prefers to scratch. Some cats prefer soft fabric while others like wood flooring.
If possible, buy or make cat scratchers that will satisfy both your kitty's preferred scratching position and surface. This might involve more than one scratcher design.
Persuading Kitty to Use the Scratcher
When you have your scratching surfaces ready to go, they need to be placed where they'll be used. Remember that clawing is in part a marking behavior for your cat, so it's likely she's returning to the same place to scratch.
It's doubtful your cat scratchers compliment the décor of your home, but unfortunately, they need to be located as close to that sofa corner or section of carpet as possible in order to entice kitty. You can also try locating one in front of the window she looks out of, her feeding area or her litter box.
Sticking the scratchers in out-of-the-way spots your cat doesn't frequent is unlikely to solve the problem.
Like the litter box rule for multi-cat households (one litter box per cat plus one extra), it's a good idea to have one more scratcher than you have cats. So if you have two kitties at home, a good rule of thumb is to have three ‘legal' scratching surfaces. Many cats don't like to share their scratching territory.
Once you've got your scratchers in position, the next challenge is to get kitty aimed in the direction of the new target.
Encourage your cat to explore the scratcher using a lure like a feather toy or a toy with some catnip rubbed on it. Offer praise and treats each time she uses the post and especially when she digs her claws into it.
Pet her while she's using the post, and give her any other kinds of positive reinforcement she responds to. The idea is to make it an appealing experience each time she uses the new scratching surface.
Discouraging Illegal Scratching
While you're training your cat to use appropriate scratching surfaces, you'll also need to make any illegal surfaces he's fond of as unattractive as possible to him.
Depending on what surfaces you want to protect, consider using some or a combination of the following kitty scratching deterrents:
- Aluminum foil
- Double-sided tape (your kitty won't tolerate the feel of sticky tape on his paws)
- Plastic sheeting
- Plastic carpet runners, car or chair mats with the spiky sides up
- Inflated balloons
If you're covering surfaces you need to use frequently, like furniture, you can attach the foil, tape or plastic to pieces of cardboard and easily move them in and out of position.
There are also herbal spray deterrents available that are designed to replace your pet's paw pad scent markers on furniture or other surfaces with an odor that will discourage him from returning to that spot.
If you're still seeing your cat scratch inappropriate surfaces, try associating an unpleasant sensation or sound to the event. As long as she can't see the person behind the bottle, spray her with water when you catch her in the act.
You can also make a loud, startling sound from around the corner or behind the wall. The goal is to connect scratching in the wrong place with an unpleasant consequence like a spray of water or the noise of a whistle, for example.
What you don't want is to have your pet make a connection between you and the unpleasant consequence, because she'll come to believe it's safe to scratch when you're not around.
Clipping or Covering Your Cat's Claws
Clipping the tips of your cat's front claws once or twice a month will make them less destructive when she scratches.
It's best to get your cat used to having her paws handled while she's still a kitten, but no matter your cat's age, start the process by simply stroking your kitty's paws regularly to desensitize her. Incorporate paw massages into your daily routine to keep your cat feeling comfortable about nail trims.
Purchase a set of claw trimmers from your veterinarian or a pet supply store, or just use a regular sharp (human) nail clipper. Do the following:
- With your cat in a calm, relaxed mood, take one of her paws and gently press a toe pad to extend the claw. You'll see the nail on the end (clear or white) attached to pink tissue called the quick (which contains the nail's blood supply). Cutting into the quick will cause pain and bleeding, so you want to avoid this area of the claw.
- Holding the clipper in a vertical position, cut each nail about halfway between the sharp tip and the point where the quick begins. Avoid cutting at a right angle across the nail, as this may cause splitting.
- If you do happen to cut into the quick, don't panic. Just focus on soothing and reassuring your kitty. Any bleeding should stop on its own very quickly with a little pressure or you can also use Kwik Stop styptic powder.
- If your cat is fearful, impatient or uncooperative, try trimming just a nail or two each time. You'll get to them all eventually.
If you want to take the trimming one step further, there's a product available called Soft Paws. These are nail caps you can glue over your kitty's trimmed tips, virtually eliminating the damage she can do when she scratches. Drawbacks are they are tricky to apply, have a tendency to fall off or be pulled off by your kitty, and need to be replaced frequently.