* Scratching is a normal behavior
* Vertical scratching posts that are >3 feet high are preferred
* Scratching posts should be very stable
Scratching is a normal behavior for cats. We won’t stop them from scratching, so how do we manage our households so our feline family members get what they need and we don’t have to cover all of our furniture with tin foil or double stick tape to deter them?
Let’s start with why cats scratch things in the first place.
WHY DO CATS SCRATCH THINGS?
Cats scratch for several primary reasons – to maintain their claws, as a mode of communication and to stretch their limbs. It’s completely normal (and necessary) for cats to scratch to remove the outer covering of their claws as the claws grow. Scratching also exercises the muscles of the front limbs and along the back, keeping the wild cat in good condition for hunting. While we might not allow our indoor cats to hunt, they remain genetically wired to keep in shape for it.
Scratching helps cats to communicate with each other through the physical appearance of the scratch marks as well as scents deposited from scent glands near the footpads. The scratching is done along the routes within a cat’s territory rather than at the boundaries of the territory. (This becomes important when we discuss choosing a location for your cat’s scratching posts.) Some cats will increase their scratching behavior when stressed, especially in situations of inter-cat conflict. If you have a household with multiple cats, make sure there are appropriate resources (e.g., resting places, food, water, litter boxes) in multiple different locations so that the cats can each access what they need without having to interact with cats they may not get along with.
Some cats will scratch as an attention-seeking behavior. Ensure that you’re not inadvertently reinforcing unwanted scratching. If you need to stop the behavior, gently pick up your cat and move her to the appropriate scratching location. When she’s scratching the post you want her to use, you can reward the behavior with a treat.
WHAT IS NORMAL FOR CAT CLAWS?
Cat claws grow continuously. The sheath (outer covering) of the claw must be shed regularly and cats do this by scratching. As cats age, the covering is thicker and they don’t shed it as well. For some cats this is because as they develop arthritis in their front limbs it becomes uncomfortable to scratch.
WHAT KIND OF SCRATCHING POSTS ARE BEST?
Cats typically prefer the following aspects of a scratching surface:
* Vertical and >3 feet in height
* Base width <3 feet in width
* Sturdy and stable
* Multilevel options
* If your cat is older than 10-12 years of age, she may prefer horizontal options
While this is typical, not all cats read the books! So ask your cat by offering multiple options to see what she prefers. I have a lot of feline patients (and my own cats) who prefer the scratching surfaces made of corrugated cardboard “edges”.
WHERE SHOULD I PLACE SCRATCHING POSTS?
Cats are most likely to scratch after finishing a nap, so provide an appropriate scratching post near favored resting places. Because the purpose of scratching includes marking the paths within a cat’s territory, it’s a good plan to place scratching posts in areas where your cats are most active. Additionally, if your cat is currently scratching somewhere inappropriate, place a scratching post in front of that location to encourage scratching on an appropriate surface.
Feliscratch is a product meant to attract your cat to the appropriate scratching surface. Using it with your newly placed posts helps encourage her to investigate and try that surface. Initially the product is applied daily. Once your cat becomes used to using the post the applications are decreased and eventually discontinued. See the link in the resources section to learn more.
Trimming your cat’s claws regularly should start at an early age. This might help prevent some degree of scratching behavior, but not all. In some instances we still need to prevent a cat from being interested in the couch or dining room chairs or a particularly appealing portion of the wallpaper. Start with looking at the height and surface that they’re using and try to duplicate that as much as you’re able in what you’re providing. Place the scratching post close to the area you don’t want them to use any longer. Once the new post is being used you can slowly move it to the desired location. Move it just an inch or two a day.
While you’re working to get the new surface to be more interesting than the old one, deterrents on the inappropriate surfaces may be needed. Double stick tape can work well but it may need to be refreshed periodically as it’s the stickiness that is unpleasant to the cat. In the case of walls or trim, you’ll want to remove the scratches that are there (e.g., sanding wood trim, replacing or covering wallpaper), as the vertical appearance of the scratches attracts the cat back to the location.
SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR SENIOR CATS
Older cats may find it more difficult to scratch on their posts because of arthritis. For this group of feline family members, horizontal scratching surfaces might help. Provide multiple styles of scratching surfaces so your cat can choose what she finds easiest. Older cats that don’t shed the sheath of their claws regularly will have thicker and longer claws, which can be uncomfortable for them. Providing appropriate scratching surfaces can help prevent this, though your senior cat will still need frequent nail trims.
Inappropriate scratching decreases as more different styles of posts are provided in the home. So offer several options, make sure they meet the criteria outlined in this blog and consider Feliscratch to help encourage use of appropriate surfaces.
Catfriendly.com – scratching posts
Catfriendly.com – living with clawed cats