Is your beloved cat scratching items in your home that you don’t want her to scratch? Is it ramping up the stress in your household and interfering with your serenity?
You’re not alone. Inappropriate cat scratching can be a sore point in many cat-friendly homes. The good news is, it’s something you can fix. Read on for some low-stress management and training techniques for cat scratching.
Why Do Cats Scratch Anyway?
It’s totally normal and actually quite healthy for cats to scratch things. They do it for a few excellent reasons:
- Exercise. Scratching helps a cat stretch and work the muscles and tendons in their toes, feet, legs, shoulders, necks, and backs.
- Stress relief. The physical act of vigorously scratching helps cats blow off emotional steam, which can keep them calmer and less likely to engage in other inappropriate behaviors.
- Marking territory. Cats scratch to leave visible marks and invisible scents from the glands in their paws on items they consider to be part of their territory. They like to do this in high-traffic areas of your home, and they do it whether other cats are living there or not. This reason for scratching also ties into the one above. Establishing and marking territory helps cats feel less stressed.
Cats need to scratch to stay healthy, so it’s not reasonable to expect them to stop scratching entirely. Instead, you’ll need to teach your cat which items she is supposed to scratch and which she isn’t.
Make Inappropriate Items Unattractive for Scratching
The first thing to think about when you are trying to keep your cat from scratching an item like your couch, door frame, or a chair arm is how you can make that spot less attractive for your cat to scratch. Here are a few things to consider:
- Cover a couch or chair arm with a heavy blanket which you can tuck in. This should be temporary while you work on the issue.
- Clean the item with an enzymatic cleaner. This step is often missed because we don’t think about cat scratches as being stinky like inappropriate elimination is. However, the areas do have an odor detectable by your cat because of the scent glands in the cat’s paws. Clean the area with an enzyme-based cat mess cleaner to remove that odor and make it less enticing for your cat to mark back over it.
- Use Feliway spray on the item. Feliway is a substance that mimics pheromones that cats produce and emit for calming. Spraying it on an item you want the cat to avoid scratching after it’s been thoroughly cleaned can help encourage your cat to rub on that item and feel peaceful rather than scratching at it.
- Aluminum foil. Some cats dislike the way aluminum foil feels and sounds when they touch it, so wrapping an item in foil can be a deterrent for them.
- Citrus spray. Most cats don’t like the smell of citrus, so spraying an item with citrus spray can keep some of them away. You should always check a small area for colorfastness before trying this.
- Bitter apple spray. This is a similar concept to the citrus spray; cats will usually avoid touching items sprayed with Grannick’s Bitter Apple Spray.
- ScatMats. A ScatMat can be placed next to the item you want to keep the cat from scratching. When the kitty steps on it, they get a tiny static pulse which doesn’t hurt them but often prevents them from returning.
Provide Your Cat with Appropriate Scratching Items
It isn’t enough to communicate to your cat through deterrents what you don’t want her to scratch. You must also have items available that are OK for her to scratch and that are attractive to her for scratching.
- The post must be tall and not wobble. Cats like to scratch in many positions, and small angled or flat scratchers are great to have around. But at least some of your scratching posts need to be tall, so your cat can completely stretch out against them and get a full body work-out when she scratches. And she needs to be able to do that without experiencing any wobbling in the post. If your cat pushes against a post that wobbles or topples over, she probably won’t return to it. Posts that are made of hollow tubes rather than solid wood tend to be less top-heavy and wobbly, and they also make a great sound when cats scratch them.
- The post must be covered in a good scratching material. Cats want a scratching substrate that is rough but allows their claws to move through it without catching. Carpet and sisal rope can both catch a cat’s claws and pull on their toes. Sisal fabric and heavy corrugated cardboard are both great scratching materials.
When you think about what makes a good cat scratching post, compare it in your mind to a tree, the original scratching post. Trees are tall, sturdy, and their bark is rough but allows a cat’s claws to slide through and leave a visible mark.
- You have to put posts in the right spots. When you’re first training your cat to use scratching posts and not other items, you need to place the posts strategically. That means setting them up in high traffic areas of your home because your cat wants his lovely scratch marks to be seen (and smelled) by others. Once your cat is reliably using them, you can slowly move them to areas that are more desirable to you if you wish.
- You need to have enough scratching posts. When your cat gets the urge to scratch, she isn’t going to travel far to get to a post, so you need to have them in every area of your home. Cats especially like to scratch when they first wake up, so keep one near her favorite sleeping spots. They also want to scratch when they get excited, so have one that sits in front of a window where your cat can look out, see birds and squirrels, and scratch right away. Also, the more cats in your home, the more scratching posts you’ll need.
When you first get your new scratching posts, give your cat time to explore them on her own. Give her gentle, encouraging words when she approaches, and a treat can help with positive reinforcement, too.
Sometimes it helps to put a tall post on its side for your cat to explore. You can sprinkle some catnip on it to help make it even more enticing.
You can also use play to help your cat begin using a new scratching post. Start an interactive play session with a wand toy and then drape it over the post. Or place a favorite catnip toy on top of it. Once a cat’s claws sink into a good scratching post covered with sisal material, they often figure out that it’s awesome and keep going back.
In addition to using Feliway where you DON’T want a cat to scratch, you can apply Feliscratch where you DO want her to scratch, like on the new scratching post.
Other Tips for Dealing with Stressful Inappropriate Cat Scratching
One thing you can do while you work to implement the changes listed above is to apply Soft Paws® claw caps to your cat. These are vinyl caps that cover your cat’s claws and help decrease or eliminate the damage done to your items when your cat scratches on them. This can help reduce your stress level while you work to teach your cat which things are appropriate for her to scratch, and they don’t hurt the kitty or interfere with her ability to go through the motions of scratching or retracting and extending her claws.
Additionally, be sure to keep up with your regular relaxation techniques while you work on solving this issue. Keep yourself as peaceful as possible, which will help you and your cat. Never yell at or hit your cat for scratching at items in your home. Doing so increases your cat’s stress and can actually lead to more inappropriate scratching as she tries to deal with that stress.