By Francine Miller

Life with a hard-core shredder can prove challenging for pet parents. However, many people don’t understand why their cat needs to scratch and how to create ideal places for her to scratch. Most people think the only reason is to sharpen their claws. That assumption is part of the reason they are having this problem. Cat guardians need to understand their cat’s needs and motivations. Many people have purchased what they thought was an acceptable scratching post, yet their cat has repeatedly ignored it. Most people purchase scratching posts and litter boxes to appeal to them, rather than to appeal to their cat. They need to have the right information in order to supply the cat with what she needs.

Why Do Cat’s Scratch?

1) To remove the layered sheaths that comprise their claws.

2) To leave visual and olfactory marks. Not only do cats leave behind a part of their sheaths, they also leave behind the scent from their interdigital glands.

3) Scratching is a communication device that helps cats modulate social interactions.

4) The act of scratching itself is a confident display that indicates that the cat is willing to be seen by physically marking an area. The damage or mark left by the scratching is actually a longer lasting ‘mark’. (A dominant cat may scratch in front of a subordinate cat for example.)

5) Cats also scratch to stretch, exercise and relieve pent-up emotions.

Cats use their claws for balance, for the climbing that’s so important to their feelings of safety, and to stretch the muscles in their back, shoulders, legs and paws. They stretch their muscles by digging their claws into a surface and then pulling back in a form of isometric exercise. In fact, clawing is probably the ONLY way they can exercise the muscles of their backs and shoulders.

Cats have interdigital glands, by vigorously scratching they leave both visual markers of their presence in the form of sheath fragments and claw marks, as well as olfactory markers. The act of scratching is also a behavior that is very obvious and can be seen by any watching cats. The scratches left by the behavior act as a mark to inform other cats who was there and when that ‘tree’ was last scratched.

You can’t remove your cat’s wild instincts, but you can orchestrate where they’re acted out. Accept your cat for what she is – a cat – and accept that cats come with claws and a drive to use them.

If your cat is already destructively scratching furniture, rugs, draperies, etc., then you will want to try to deter the unwanted behavior. So, what’s the plan?

Do’s and Don’ts of Cat Scratch Training:

DON’T reprimand. It doesn’t work and only causes the cat stress, which may increase scratching and can lead to an ‘owner absent’ problem.

DO begin to make the inappropriately clawed area unattractive to undo the habit. TIPS:

In small areas and especially on furniture you can use Sticky Paws™ (double sided tape made for this purpose). In larger areas you can drape or secure a plastic shower curtain liner or vinyl carpet runner with the pointy nubs up. Deterrence is the most effective method. Help your cat learn that her once favorite scratching areas are now verboten.

  • If covering your furniture with a deterrent doesn’t appeal to you, you can experiment with plastic nail caps to cover your cat’s nails, though these require maintenance every 6-12 weeks.
    • You can distract your cat (by tossing a toy for example) when she’s on the way to or even looking at the inappropriate scratching location.
      • Often overlooked, you can reward your cat with a treat, petting or play when she is using an appropriate scratcher.
      • DO promote the new areas where you do want her to scratch (at the same time you are using deterrents). TIPS:
      • Is your cat scratching vertically, horizontally, or both? This will tell you if you need to purchase a horizontal scratcher, or a tilted scratcher that is close to the floor, vs. a standard vertical scratching post. It’s best to start with scratchers that are positioned like the objects your cat is drawn to. You may need to experiment.
      • You should place one or more scratchers on the way to and near where your cat normally claws. Other scratchers should be placed near the core areas of the home, because that is where cats instinctively do most of their scratching. They scratch somewhat less on the perimeter of their home range, so don’t put scratchers in far off corners of the house – or the basement or the garage where the cat is less likely to use them. Try to locate the scratchers in areas that are as enclosed, or as open as the previously favored scratching spot.
      • There are many cat scratcher substrates (surfaces) to experiment with. You’ll want to find a substrate that exactly or closely matches the substrate of her favored inappropriate locations. Sisal rope, carpet, hemp, fabric, logs and cardboard are great textures to try. Cats generally like long, straight fibers and are less enthusiastic about tightly woven nubby fibers.
      • Make sure all cat trees and scratchers are stable and don’t wobble when your cat claws it. Add a little catnip or drag a wand toy across the new scratcher to lure her there so her scent will be added to it. NEVER force your cat’s paws toward or across the scratcher as this will be counter- productive.
      • DON’T use facial scent or pheromones (Feliway spray) on the scratchers. Cats don’t like to claw mark where they facial mark.
      • DO use facial scent or pheromones in the surfaces you DO NOT want your cat to scratch. This can be a great deterrent as the pheromones will promote facial marking instead. You might also consider adding pheromone plug-ins near inappropriately scratched areas to reduce any kind of stress-related claw marking.

      After your cat is consistently using the scratcher you can remove the deterrents from the previously scratched areas!

      Have questions about your cat’s behavior? Contact us here.

      To learn more about Francine's animal behavior services, visit her website:

      **Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Drake Center.

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