Cats normally scratch to remove the outer dying sheath of their nails, marking territory and stretching and strengthening their body for hunting and climbing. It is a normal part of being a feline! However if they are scratching you or your things, it can be frustrating to say the least.
Up to 42% of reported behavior problems have to do with undesirable scratching and may be one of the main reasons other than aggression that a cat is relinquished. With cat parent education and cat training, we can avoid undesirable behavior, protect you and your couch all the while allowing your cat to perform their normal behaviors and avoiding declawing (SEE Should I declaw my cat?)
The key to training a cat is to let them think that they came up with the idea all on their own and positively reward only this good behavior. First things first! Find out what and where they like to scratch and give it to them by buying or building something appropriate for them to scratch.
All too often at the Cat Clinic of Plymouth, our veterinarians are approached with this problem behavior. After some questioning, veterinarians learn that either there are no things for the cat to scratch, the appropriate scratching post is in the corner in a room the cat never goes in, the appropriate scratcher is the same one that was purchased for the 3 pound kitten who is now 16 pounds or the worst…. The appropriate scratcher was the old chair that no one cared was a scratching post that was replaced by new furniture that everyone cares is getting scratched. All scenarios that is very confusing for a feline.
Choosing the perfect scratcher
The perfect scratcher is the one your cat wants to scratch! Pay attention to what your cat is scratching. What is the material it is scratching, rug, cloth, wood? Is it vertical or horizontal scratching? How big is the item it is scratching? Most cats have a preference and that preference will determine what we build or buy. There should be more than one option in more than one area to keep your cat happy.
The best place to put your cat’s new scratcher is the place that they are scratching! Move the couch or chair over 6 inches and put the scratcher right there or at least in the same general vicinity. We can eventually start to move it to a more desirable location for you once we get the training out of the way.
Training to the new scratching posts
Once the new scratchers are in place, we need to reward positive behavior by getting the cat to scratch it. Enticing the cat with treats, cat nip and toys on the new scratcher should get them interested in exploring the new scratcher. If that is enough and you did a great job researching what and where your cat wants to scratch, then reward the scratching behavior. “Good kitty!”s are great to start but we really need to reward with something great. Food, play and other enjoyable forms of attention will go a long way.
Avoiding inappropriate scratching
Remember what I said about cat training? It goes a lot easier if they think they came up with the idea. So making your couch, your woodwork or your rug unattractive for scratching will help. We want your cat to think, “Why did I ever like scratching this?” Covering with plastic, double sided sticky tape for this purpose or tin foil will change the way the object feels. Putting tin foil or even better clear plastic rug liner where the cat stands to scratch is another way to make scratching less comfortable. Remember the clear plastic runners that used to protect those beautiful green shag rugs in offices of the seventies? They have the little nubbins underneath to hold them to the carpet. Well they still sell those things off the roll by square foot in many home improvement stores. Cut them to where your kitty stands to scratch the woodwork or chair nubbin side up….very uncomfortable on paw pads.
Resisting negative training
Scratching is fun! You know what else is fun? People hollering in high pitched voices, games of chase and water bottles. I know you think that these actions are applying the stick in the carrot and stick rule but, trust me, for most cats it does not. Most cats find this attention exciting and rewarding not the opposite!
While you’re training
Behavior change is hard for all of us whether we bite our nails or twirl our hair. It can take some time to make these changes stick. In the meantime, we can do some things to ease the transition. These include
- Keeping the nails trimmed
- Nail Caps that glue onto the nail to prevent damage when scratching
- Facial pheromone diffusers or sprays
- Environmental Enrichment (see Enriching Your Environment for Cat Happiness)
With time and consistency, you will have your furniture and wood work back in no time! Good Luck!