Born to scratch: teaching your cat to stretch her claws in acceptable ways

Is your cat scratching where she shouldn’t? Try these tips to encourage healthy, non-destructive scratching.

Scratching is a normal behavior for cats, and one that they are highly motivated to display. Cats scratch objects in their environment for many reasons, including:

  • To remove the dead outer layer of their claws
  • To mark their territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent (they have scent glands on their paws)
  • To stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws
  • To work off energy

It’s unrealistic to try to prevent your cat from scratching. Instead, your goal should be to redirect the scratching onto acceptable objects. Here are some tips adapted from the Humane Society of the United States to help you understand and modify your cat’s scratching behavior.

Provide a desirable alternative for scratching
You must provide objects for scratching that are appealing, attractive, and convenient from your cat’s point of view. Start by observing the physical features of the objects your cat is scratching:

  • Where are they located?
  • What texture do they have – soft or coarse?
  • What shape do they have – horizontal or vertical?
  • How tall are they? At what height does your cat scratch?

Substitute similar objects for your cat to scratch (rope-wrapped posts, corrugated cardboard, or even a log), placing them near the objects she is already using. Make sure the scratching objects are stable and won’t fall over or move around.

Make favorite scratching spots less attractive
Cover the objects you want to protect from further scratching with something your cat will find unappealing, such as double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper, or a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up. You can also give objects an aversive odor by attaching cotton balls containing perfume, a muscle rub, or other safe yet unpleasant substance. (Be careful with odors, though, because you don’t want the nearby substitute scratching object to repel your cat as well).

Be patient and persistent – new behaviors take time
When your cat is consistently using the new scratching object, it can be moved very gradually – no more than three inches each day – to a different location. It’s best, however, to keep the new scratching object as close to your cat’s preferred scratching locations as possible. Don’t remove the unappealing coverings or odors from the objects you want to protect until your cat is consistently using the new scratching objects for three or four weeks. Then you can remove them gradually.

A few words about declawing…
Declawing is a procedure whereby a veterinarian amputates the end digit and claw of a cat’s paws—similar in scope to cutting off a person’s finger at the last joint. The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing when done solely for the convenience of the owner. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and can be directed to appropriate items. Declawing is almost never medically or behaviorally necessary, and should never be considered routine or done preemptively.

This information adapted from the HSUS fact sheet on Destructive Scratching.

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