Why do cats scratch?
Scratching (also known as stropping) is a normal behaviour in cats. Unfortunately, some cats can cause countless headaches for their owners by scratching household furnishings, which leads to damage and great expense. Scratching of furniture is a leading cause of cats being surrendered to shelters.
This article aims to teach cat owners why cats scratch and how to train your cat to redirect the scratching to a more appropriate object.
Cats scratch for a couple of reasons. Predominantly it to sharpen the claws. Scratching also helps remove the outer castings of the claw.
Scratching also feels good to cats. It is a way of loosening up leg and shoulder muscles and tendons in the cat's paws.
Cats have glands all over the body, including the paws. During scratching, pheromones are released from the glands in the paws onto the object. Scratching is a way for cats to mark out their territory.
How to stop scratching:
You can't stop scratching, it is a perfectly normal behaviour. What you can do is train your cat to scratch on specifically designated objects so they will avoid ruining your furniture.
For some owners, declawing (which is prohibited in most countries) is their preferred method to prevent scratching. This is a painful operation which involves amputation of the cat's claw up to the first joint. The majority of people strongly disagree with declawing of cats for a number of reasons. It is painful and unnecessary, it can lead to other behavioural problems such as biting and inappropriate urination and finally, cats derive a huge amount of pleasure from scratching and declawing deprives them of this.
The goal is to make the current target unpleasant while providing your cat with a more attractive alternative such as a scratching post or the cheaper scratching boards which can be hung from a door handle. There's a huge variety on the market which will suit all tastes and budgets. Most scratching posts are covered either in carpet or sisal. If possible, temporarily cover the object your cat is targeting with some thick plastic or double-sided tape, which will act as a deterrent while you re-direct his focus onto the new and appropriate scratching post.
Other ways to prevent scratching include:
- Fill a plastic bottle with water and use when your cat starts scratching the furniture, this may work but it may just stop your cat scratching when you are around.
- You can also try placing orange peel around the location. Many cats find the citrus smell extremely unpleasant.
- Now you need to encourage your cat to use the scratching post provided. You can purchase catnip spray from many pet shops and spray this on the post to attract the cat, or rub some dried catnip on the post. Cats enjoy a scratch after a nap, so try placing the scratching post close to your cat's favoured sleeping location.
- If you see your cat making a beeline for a favourite piece of furniture to scratch on, gently pick up the cat and move it over to the scratching post. If the cat uses it give plenty of praise on your cat. Cats respond far better to positive behaviour than negative behaviour from their owners.
- Cutting your cat's claws regularly will minimise damage caused to your furniture. For help on trimming your cat's claws read here.
- Never physically punish a cat when you catch it scratching inappropriately. Physical punishment serves no purpose and more often than not has a negative effect on how your cat perceives you. A firm "no" and a spray with the water spray are more effective than smacking your cat.
With time and patience, you will be able to re-train your cat to use a more appropriate object than your furniture. Good luck!