You can redirect your cat’s unwanted behavior of sharpening her claws on your household furnishings and carpet. Scratching, by the way, is one of the most frequently-heard complaints on cats. It is also one of the easiest to correct with most cats. Never forget the fact that this behavior is an instinct with your cat. It can’t be stopped, but it can be redirected to a scratching post.
Cats tend to repeat behaviors that are rewarding to them. (The same is true for humans!) If the cat doesn’t find a behavior rewarding in some way, that behavior will diminish and eventually disappear. Therefore, you reward the behavior you want and make sure those you don’t want never get rewarded.
NOTE: Physical punishment just doesn’t work with cats. They only learn to fear you. The behavior you punish them for will simply continue when you are not present.
Cats enjoy scratching very much. The cat derives benefits from scratching. These include marking her territory with a scent from her foot pads; removing the dead outer sheaths in her front claws; reducing her stress level; and getting muscle-stretching exercise. Cats’ claws do not wear down as a dog’s do, but new claw tips lose their edge during normal activity. Cats sharpen their claws by scratching hard surfaces. Sinking front claws deep into soft surfaces and pulling downward strips away the dead outer layers on their front claws. Nibbling and biting removes outer claw layers on the rear paws. That’s what your cat is doing when you see her biting her hind feet nails.
You just need to allow your cat to scratch without shredding your furniture and carpeting. How?? Simply redirect the scratching to a scratching post. Cats are very smart and will learn quickly to redirect scratching to a scratching post only.
You must provide your cat objects for scratching that are appealing and desirable to the cat as well as located in a convenient place for your feline. The location of her scratching post is important. It needs to be in a place most convenient to your cat–not off in a corner, out of sight. To help you in finding a scratching post your cat will be drawn to and where to place it, start by observing the physical features of the objects your cat is scratching. The answers to the following questions will help you to understand what your cat prefers. It is important to answer these questions if you want to be successful in redirecting destructive scratching.
Where is your cat scratching? Prominent objects, objects close to sleeping areas and objects close to a room’s entrance are often favorite locations.
What texture do these objects have? Is it carpet, rough texture, coarse or soft textured, etc.
Are they flat, angled or straight up and down?
How tall are the objects? Cats like to stretch out when they are sharpening their claws. Height is important in upright objects.
After answering the above questions, you will now be able to substitute similar objects for your cat to scratch. Place the substitute scratching post close to the area she is already using. Be careful that your scratching post is solid and won’t wobble or fall over (or move around if flat on the floor). Your cat won’t use it unless it is stable.
Ideally, you should begin training your cat to use a scratching post when she is still a kitten and hasn’t learned to use your furniture or carpeting yet. Don’t get discouraged, though, since cats of all ages can generally be trained to use a scratching post. It’s just easier and quicker to do with a kitten.
The best scratching posts have the following qualities:
They must be sturdy, since cats really enjoy bracing themselves and tearing into whatever they scratch with vigor.
Height is very important. A scratching post must be tall enough for your cat to use (without reaching the top). Many posts found in stores tend to be on the short side. Cats will use them but it is wise to provide another, taller scratching post (like a thick branch, three to four inches thick). Remember, cats like to stretch upward and then pull down when scratching. Look back to your answers to question #4 on the previous page. That will tell you what height your cat likes. Then simply get a scratching post at least that height.
Cats love horizontal grains on their scratching posts. Rugged carpet is fine but a post wrapped with the carpet backing to the outside is much preferred. By facing the carpet to the outside, you teach the cat to like the feel of carpet. Not a good idea. Having the backing facing outwards allows the cat to have a lot of resistance when she scratches which is necessary for her to have a good workout for her claws and muscles. If the fabric covering on the post is too “fluffy” your cat will abandon her post for something that provides the resistance she needs. She’ll most likely find it on your furniture or carpet. Your best bet on selecting a good scratching post is to have a covering on it similar to the inappropriate object she has been scratching.
NOTE: Some cats like vertical scratching posts, while others prefer horizontal posts, or posts at an angle. Some cats like sisal rope (a harsh, scratchy hemp product) posts, others favor carpeting (backing side out is best) or cardboard. All types are available at pet stores. Our cats like a log or thick branch (at least three to four inches thick) with the bark on, angled against a wall and secured so it won’t fall over. Sometimes, they like one that lays flat on the floor. The branch will cost you nothing. Just go outdoors and find one. It should be tall enough for your cat to stretch out and not reach the top–about the height of your sofa or chair arm! It should also be at least four inches in diameter.
You can also make your own scratching post. Just nail a piece of two-by-four board to a one-foot square base and cover both pieces with carpet remnant (a tightly woven pile is best). Be sure the carpet is securely fastened and that whatever fasteners you use, nails, staples, etc., are large enough and set in far enough that your cat won’t dislodge them and become injured when using the post. A pulled-out nail or staple could be swallowed, causing the need for expensive emergency surgery. A strong adhesive, like Liquid Nails, may be a good alternative to a lot of nails and staples. You can also tack a scrap piece of carpet to a wall corner at cat height and/or wrap a piece of carpet around the end post of a chair railing. Remember, cats prefer the backing side of a piece of carpet.
Regardless of what kind of scratching post you use, you should lavish praise and special treats when your cat uses her post.
Now that you have determined what your cat needs as a scratching post and have brought the post home for her, you need to teach her that this is the best place to scratch.
First place the post near or next to the area your cat has been inappropriately scratching. Take your cat to her scratching post several times each day. Immediately after she awakes from a nap is a good time, since cats like to scratch after waking up. Watch your cat closely. Whenever she appears to be considering a workout on your furniture or carpet, promptly take her to her scratching post.
To make the post more attractive to her, be sure to place a post next to her favorite napping spot or near her food bowl (cats also enjoy scratching after eating). Ideally, a post in each of these spots is best to help in discouraging inappropriate scratching. Cats don’t want to go any further than they have to in order to enjoy a good workout.
Don’t place the post in a remote part of your house that is “out of sight” (and out of mind!) for your cat. This is a big mistake. Your furniture will promptly move back to the top of your cat’s list of favorite scratching sites.
The scratching post can be made more desirable to your cat simply by attaching a catnip mouse to it. It also helps to sprinkle some catnip on the post and its base. This will work great with most cats. About one third of all cats won’t react to catnip so simply suspend a favorite toy either from the top of the post or just over it, so your cat can reach it and play with it. (Some posts already have a toy attached to the top.) Placing a favorite treat at the base of the post will help draw your cat to it. The idea is to make the post more desirable to your cat than your furniture or carpet.
Play with your cat around the scratching post. Pull a toy (or piece of string, ribbon, etc.) up to the post then play with your cat against and around the post. Your feline will love it! The post will become a fun area for her and your cat will be drawn to it.
NOTE: If you discover your cat busily having a good workout on your furniture or carpet, quickly distract the cat by a loud sound (clap your hands, blow a whistle, or shake a soda can filled with some marbles or small stones) and sharply say “NO!”. A squirt gun or spray bottle is also very effective since cats dislike water sprayed on them. (Super-soakers are not so good. The stream of water is too forceful and could damage a cat’s eyes if you aim poorly.) You just want to get her attention and stop the behavior. Keep your intentions and actions positive.
Do not hit your cat or punish her in any way. It just won’t work. Cats are very smart and will promptly learn to scratch on your furniture when you are not home. Your goal is to make the scratching post their favorite (and only!) scratching spot.
Gently, guide (or carry) your cat over to her scratching post and encourage her to scratch it. You can gently hold her front paws up to the post and move them in a scratching motion. She’ll get the idea. If she responds by scratching the post herself, give her plenty of praise and petting. Each time you see her at the post, praise her greatly. It will enforce with her the desirability of using her post for scratching.
NOTE: To ensure that your cat doesn’t return to your furniture scratching site, use an enzyme odor remover on the site she’s scratched on to remove and eliminate the territory scent she left there from the scent glands located in her paw pads. Next spray the spot with a pet repellent sold at pet supply stores. A product called “Feliway” is one of the best on the market. It is expensive, but very effective. A small amount (it comes in a small spray bottle) goes a long way. This product is also used for inappropriate urine marking behavior and can also be used to calm a nervous cat down. Some veterinarians will even spray some on their hands before examining a cat, to relax her during the exam.
There are several things you can also do to discourage any inappropriate scratching.
Covering the piece of furniture your cat likes to scratch with a furniture throw over the back and/or arms is quite effective, yet looks attractive too.
Use some 4 ml. thick, clear plastic and cut it to fit over the areas the cat is scratching. Cats dislike the way the plastic entangles their claws and will avoid it. We use this method with great success. It works particularly well on the back side of a chair or couch. We have also used vinyl scraps (left over from redoing our kitchen) instead of the plastic; it looks great, and our cats leave it alone. It’s stiff enough that you only need a couple large-head tacks in the corners to keep it on. You can find small rolls of floor vinyl, six by five or six by nine feet, at stores like Menards or Home Depot, etc. that have nice wood patterns in various colors. Just be careful if you’re doing the back of a recliner chair; when deciding how to fasten the covering, watch how the chair back moves compared to the frame, or the first time someone reclines the chair your backing will be pulled off! We usually use one piece over the back itself, and a separate piece for each side on the frame so they move with the chair.
You can block the cat’s access to the spot she likes with another piece of furniture (if it is the back or side she’s using); or place a waste basket in her way.
Use double-sided sticky tape, such as “Sticky Paws” (see Give Your Cat A Manicure), or you can attach some visiqueen on the sides and back of the furniture (cats dislike the feel of it).
Also effective is a piece of plastic carpet runner, turned over with the pointy side up, in front of the area she’s using. The points are very uncomfortable for her to stand on.
You can give her favorite inappropriate scratching spot an unappealing (to the cat) odor by attaching cotton balls containing perfume, scented bath oil, or a muscle rub. (Cats really dislike citrus odors.) These scents should repel your cat as long as the odor lasts. You do need to be careful with using odors. You don’t want the appropriate scratching post so close that it too absorbs these odors. The cat won’t use it if it does!
WARNING: The use of double-sided strapping tape is not a good deterrent to use. If a cat gets caught up in the tape, she will become terrified and potentially she can injure herself as well as you if you attempt to free her.
When your cat begins to consistently use her scratching post, you can then begin to slowly remove your deterrents (furniture covers, scented cotton balls, etc.). Do this gradually. Cats will generally give up inappropriate scratching in approximately three to four weeks (some sooner) if you remain consistent in training them on a daily basis.
Any behavior change takes time. Be patient. It’s not accomplished overnight. A new behavior must be established. Behaviors become ingrained with repetition (it works the same way for us in changing a behavior). Eventually the new behavior, if repeated enough, will become automatic. Just be patient. Your cat will use her post without even considering your furniture or carpet.
NOTE: after a period of time, a well-used scratching post becomes very shabby-looking, and you will probably want to replace it. Keep in mind, some cats prefer their shabby posts, so you need to keep the old post around in case your cat rejects the new one.