Cats should have one or more scratching posts. Declawing a cat, which is still legal in some countries, to save the furniture, is not unlike cutting off someone’s hand to stop them shop lifting. Cats need to scratch. It is natural behaviour important to their emotional and physical well-being. This is why they do it.
a. They scratch to leave a message, often along well-used cat pathways (Feldman 1994). It is a visual and a scent message, as there are glands on the cat’s feet which leave scent behind. Other cats can probably recognise feline friends by the scent from scratching and they may be able to tell if the scratcher is in search of a mate. All this information is conveyed at a distance. The scratch is a kind of Post-It note left for others and also as a reminder to the scratcher, himself.
b. Scratching may increase at times or in areas where they feel insecure, such as the exits or entrances within a home (Heath 2005).
c. They have a need to top up a scratch area regularly with new scent. Therefore once they have a scratching place, they will continue to use it. This may be a way of updating the information conveyed by the first scratch! Therefore it is important to start them scratching in the right place – a good scratching post (Hart, 1980).
d. They scratch to condition their front claws. You will notice that they scratch off the old claw sheaths which can be seen lying at the bottom of the scratching post. Scratching is not essential for getting rid of the old claw sheaths, but it seems to be a pleasurable activity (McKeown et al., 1988).
THE EMOTIONAL NEED TO SCRATCH
Do not punish. If cats get anxious or stressed, they will scratch more or in new places (Rochlitz 2009). Using a water pistol on an already scratching cat will therefore make it even more worried. It may even turn from scratching to spraying. So do not rebuke or frighten a scratching cat.
Cats may also use scratching as a way of asserting themselves, or as a displacement activity, and will scratch in the presence of another cat. A cat who feels insecure about other cats in the home may scratch more.
Finally some cats scratch to get your attention. They often will look at you as they start scratching – like the photo above. Saying “No” or shouting is attention. If your cat is an attention seeker make sure you don’t ‘reward’ it by rebuking it (Casey 2009). Walk out of the room, or ignore it, when it scratches in the wrong place.
GETTING A SCRATCHING POST AND ENCOURAGING USE
Buy (or make) a vertical scratching post enough and stable enough for the cat to scratch at full height or full length, 3 feet or higher with a base width of 1-3 feet with sizal rope (Wilson et al., 2015). The Fat Boy scratch post is a good one. Prime a new scratching post by scraping a screw up and down the scratching area so that it is roughened up and inviting. If your cat likes catnip, try putting this on the post to get it interested. Praise it and give it treats when it scratches the right thing. Or, if your cat is relaxed about this, gently wipe a clean cloth on his pads to collect the scent and then wipe it on the post.
If your cat scratches in more than one room, install a post in each room. Put scratching posts near entry and exit points inside the home. Flat scratching pads or wall mounted pads are available from www.squarecathabitat.com
DON’T CHANGE THE SCRATCHING POST
If possible never change the scratching post (Seksel 2009). The messier and tattier it is, the more it is impregnated with the “Scratch me’ message. You may prefer a new scratching post. Your cat won’t. Don’t move the post. Cats like things to remain the same. If you MUST move it, move it about two inches every three days, making sure the cat is still using it before the next small move.
PERSUADING YOUR CAT TO USE THE POST NOT THE FURNITURE
Place the post near or over the previous scratching area/item. Cover the old area with a non-scratchable substance (see later for details). When the new scratch post is well established, you may be able remove these covers. If this goes smoothly you can then move the scratching post, a few inches every 3 days, to a better area in the house.
If the cat continues to scratch the old area, this is because it is more attractive than the scratch post. The old area still SMELLS like the place to scratch so the cat keeps topping it up. If you can do so, cover this area with something that can be transferred to the scratching post, ie. a piece of cloth or newspaper which, impregnated by the scratch scent, is then tacked on to the scratching post. Then wash the scratched area with enzymatic washing liquid (one part to nine parts lukewarm water) followed by scrubbing with surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol). Spray Feliway Classic on the old scratching post as a deterrent.
PRODUCTS TO STOP CATS SCRATCHING
Easiest of all are products like Sticky Paws or Petslucent scratch deterrent. On amazon you can also buy various scratch guards for furniture just put in”scratch guard.” Use cling film for table legs. Or buy double sided carpet tape from a DIY or online store (www.stikatak.co.uk). This is what I use on furniture and it works. Much cheaper but not as nice looking a Sticky Paws. The sticky outside of the tape stops scratching fast. Leave on for 3 weeks. Google “low tack doublesided adhesive tape” for some more suggestions.
Sofa protectors are now sold online. You can also use self adhesive covering film, the sort sold at stationers for covering books, maps etc. This protects the furniture area though it is a less strong deterrent. It can be carefully adjusted and looks better than double sided carpet tape! Or possibly you could use Patifix. There’s a new vinyl product to pin on furniture here or just buy vinyl carpet protector.
Feliway Classic spray, available from vets mimics the scent mark made by cats when they rub their chin against something and where they rub they do not scratch. First wash the scratched area with enzymatic washing liquid (one part to nine parts lukewarm water) and then scrub with surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol) to get rid of the scratch scent. When it is dry, squirt with Feliway Classic daily for 3-4 weeks. They will still need somewhere else to scratch.
SPECIFIC PROBLEMS – WALLPAPER
Get double sided sticky tape or wire netting or Prickler wall strips and put these on the floor, where the cat’s back legs are while it scratches. (You can’t really put this on the wall!) Thus the cat won’t be able to stand in the place and therefore cannot scratch. You MUST provide an alternative scratching area otherwise it will just scratch on wallpaper elsewhere.
SPECIFIC PROBLEMS – WOODEN FURNITURE
Softwood furniture put a wood hardener then layers of varnish till the surface is smooth and unscratchable. Patch hardener before applying. This won’t work on a waxed surface. For all kinds of wood, add eucalyptus and citronella (scents which cats dislike) to furniture wax and apply (Bowen & Heath, 2005).
Cats scratch outside doors to get our attention. We then let them in. So scratching outside a door trains humans very well indeed. The only possible way to stop this will be stop rewarding the scratching, ie. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. It will take four weeks minimum for the cat to learn that scratching doesn’t pay off. This is going to take so much human self control that it will be difficult to manage. If it really matters to you, then buy some transparent thick plastic from a DIY store – the kind that covers carpets on heavily used walking areas. Tack this down in front of the door where the cat scratches. Then place double sided sticky tape on top of the plastic. Cats don’t like sticky surfaces. And then start your four week programme of never ever responding when the cat scratches to be let in. If you give in once, you will have wasted all the previous effort.
A Cats Protection supporter came up with the idea that you attach to the bottom of the door a flap of wood/plastic on a piano hinge which folds upwards and is kept up with some kind of turnbuckle. When the flap is up, you can move the door. But when you are shutting the door, you let down the flap so that it covers the carpet next to the door – ie the cat will not have a carpet area to scratch. A secondary flap from the main flap turns outward to protect the area just at the side of the door, if needed.
Consult Scratching or clawing in the house on www.icatcare.org
Bowen, J. & Heath, S., (2005), Behaviour Problems in Small Animals, London, UK, Elsevier Saunder.
Casey, R., (2009), ‘Management problems in cats,’ eds: Horwitz, D. F. & Mills, D. S., BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine, Second Edition, Quedgeley, UK, BSAVA, 98-110.
Feldman, H., (1994), ‘Methods of scent marking in the domestic cat,’ Canadian Journal of Zoology, 72, 1093-1099
Hart, B. L., ‘Starting From Scratch: A New Perspective on Cat Scratching,’ Feline Practice, 10, 2-4
Heath, (2005),’Behaviour Problems and Welfare,’ in ed: Rochlitz, I., The Welfare of Cats, Dordrecht, Netherlands, Springer, 91-118
Rochlitz, I., (2009), ‘Basic requirements for good behavioural health and welfare in cats,’ eds: Horwitz, D. F. & Mills, D. S., BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine, Second Edition, Quedgeley, UK, BSAVA,
McKeown, D., Luescher, A. & Machum, M., (1988), ‘The problem of destructive scratching by cats,’ Canadian Veterinary Journal, 29, 1017-1018
Seksel, K., (2009), ‘Preventitive behavioural medicine for cats,’ in eds: Horwitz, D. F. & Mills, D. S., BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine, Second Edition, Quedgeley, UK, BSAVA,
Wilson, C., Bain, M., Deporter, T., Beck, A., Grassi, V. & Landsberg, G., (2015), ‘Owner observations regarding cat scratching behavior: an internet-based survey,’ Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 17: 829–830