Why Do Cats Scratch?

Cats are a regal and cozy influence on a household. Stately or energetic, rotund or robust, cats tend to oversee the household and make it run on their schedule. We feed, change the litter and open doors for them at their request. If you are lucky enough to have a lap cat then you have a constant companion whenever you are seated.

Cats have at least twenty claws and they use them for several reasons. Claws help them climb up trees and other vertical objects. Claws are used for defense and to catch prey. Claws are extended while marking territory with pheromones from their pads. Who knew that interesting factoid? Claws are sharpened on logs, furniture, rugs, and fabric to release the old sheath and sharpen the claw underneath. Claws are extended after a catnap as they stretch their limbs and knead the rug or bedspread.

Most people do not want their cat clawing up their furniture wallpaper and clothing. The solution is definitely no longer declawing. It is clear that amputating the digits up to what would be the first knuckle in humans is cruel and traumatic for the cat. Even if done with a laser and even just cutting the tendon to the claw is not condoned. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that every AAFP cat-friendly certified (CFP) animal hospital educate their cat owners about the reasons cats claw and how to decrease clawing behavior or divert it to a more appropriate object.

If you want to discourage clawing behavior in our cat first look at the home environment carefully for anything that might cause anxiety and increased marking behavior with their paws. An outdoor cat lurking in the yard may make your indoor cat nervous. If you have multiple cats, you may decrease territory wars by supplying water and food bowls for each cat in a different area. It may be subtle, but stress can occur if one cat can see smell or hear another cat while eating. They also compete for litter boxes. Supply one more litter box than the number of cats in your household.

A bored cat with no mental stimulation is more apt to mark and claw for entertainment. Feeding toys, puzzles and building vertical space in your abode can provide entertainment. Make a perch where your cat can look out the window at the birds, clouds, and trees. Sometimes you need to supply the entertainment with cuddle time or play time. Other times another cat is the perfect solution for entertainment.

Veterinarians suggest a cat scratch area or two for cats in your home. A stable cat scratching post that they can climb is fun. You can put their favorite treats on the shelves to encourage them to climb it. If a post wobbles or swings the cat will not use it. The ones that hang on doorknobs are usually ignored. A soft pine two by four is a great scratching post if nailed to a vertical surface. Our cats love the pine board that holds up the staircase railing in the basement. Some cats love corrugated cardboard or sisal rugs. Our Snowbell and Max found a broken suitcase they loved sharpening their claws on last winter. A thickly woven rug is also a good surface for them to claw.

Entice the cats to the area with attention, catnip and special food treats. When they go near the area say the bridging word “good” and give a treat. You can “shape” the cat’s behavior by using this technique any time the cat takes a close pass near the area. Negative reinforcement such as spray bottles or shaking cans of coins to scare them when they scratch in unwanted locations is not recommended anymore. You can discourage the cat from clawing your furniture by temporarily placing a material on it that the cat hates such as tinfoil or very thick plastic.

The locations of the scratching areas can be near the cat’s bed so she can stretch and claw as soon as she wakes up.

Remember that regular nail trims make the cat’s claws less damaging. They can be trimmed every 4 to 8 weeks. You can also apply synthetic nail caps after trimming the nails so kitty has no chance of scratching. These need to be replaced every 8 weeks. Most owners can apply these on their own. Don’t worry about adopting a clawed cat into a home with a declawed cat. They will get along fine and the declawed cat will not be at a disadvantage.

As always consult your veterinarian if your kitties are clawing in an unwanted location. We’ll help you figure out a way to decrease the behavior and save your furniture and your sanity.