Why do cats scratch?
Scratching has several different purposes for cats:
- it is used to mark their territory, leaving a visual mark as well as scent from scent glands in the paws. They help the cat to navigate their territory, as well as leaving a message to other cats.
- it helps to keep their claws in good condition
- it helps to stretch their muscles.
Cats can also learn that they get attention when they scratch places they shouldn’t so can use it as an attention-seeking behaviour.
Scratching is an important natural behaviour for cats so no attempt should be made to stop this altogether, however it is important to try to redirect it onto suitable items (i.e. not your furniture!).
What do cats like to scratch?
Cats generally like to scratch surfaces such as:
They usually prefer vertical surfaces where they can stretch up fully (for some cats this can be as much as 1m high!). It needs to be stable enough for the cat to put a reasonable amount of pressure through it without it falling over or rocking. Some cats also like scratching horizontal surfaces.
Cats will tend to scratch areas near to their sleeping area, at the borders of the territory and other prominent surfaces such as corners.
Can’t I just have my cat declawed?
Declawing (onychectomy) involves the surgical removal of the 3rd phalange (basically amputating the tip of the finger at the first knuckle). It is banned in the UK as an unnecessary mutilation but is still practised in some countries such as the USA. Declawing causes significant pain to cats and can lead to all sorts of other behavioural problems such as poor litter training (cats find digging their cat litter painful so associate the litter tray with pain).
Another way some people may try to protect their furniture is by using claw covers. These are glued onto the cat’s claws to make the end less sharp. They prevent the cat from retracting their claws so can cause injuries to the tendons, as well as causing distress to the cat as they can’t perform their normal behaviour.
Clipping your cat’s claws regularly can help to reduce the damage to your furniture but it is important to remember that even this will affect their climbing ability and their ability to defend themselves so it is not recommended as a routine for outdoor cats. As cats get older and take less care of their claws they may need regular clipping to prevent the claws becoming ingrown.
How can I protect my furniture?
The key way to stop your cat from scratching the furniture is to provide an alternative. No other treatment method is going to work unless you do this as scratching something is hard-wired into your cat.
Make sure that the scratching areas you provide are of the right sort of material, tall enough for your cat and sturdy enough so that your cat will feel safe when scratching them.
Encourage your cat to use the appropriate areas
Use Feliscratch, a pheromone liquid which is designed to mimic the visual marks and scent on the scratching post. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully to have the best effect.
You can also use positive reinforcement to reward your cat when they use the correct place. Using a marker such as the word ‘Yes’ or a clicker followed by a treat will encourage your cat to use this area more.
Discourage your cat from using inappropriate areas
This will only work if you have followed the above steps first. If there is an item of furniture which your cat particularly likes to scratch, try to remove it for a short while if possible, or cover the area with something which your cat is less likely to scratch (e.g. thick plastic material).
Use Feliway spray on the areas which you do not want your cat to scratch.
Do not give your cat any attention when they are scratching the wrong place. Punishment is unlikely to solve the problem and may lead to other ones.