Concerns about inappropriate scratching among cat owners are a common occurrence. In some cases, the destruction is bad enough that pet parents consider re-homing their kitty. The good news is that for those facing this stressful situation there are some solutions that can help.
It is vital to understand that scratching is a normal behavior of cats. Cats use scratching to mark their territory and frequently traveled routes. Scratching can occur more at times of change or stress – such as the addition of new furniture, a change in the family, a new pet or a move. It is often a bigger problem in kittens but can be an issue for cats of any age.
Historically, declawing surgery was a common procedure to prevent destructive scratching. Veterinarians now understand that this elective (major) surgery can have life-long consequences of chronic nerve pain as it is an amputation of an entire bone of each digit. As a result, most veterinarians have stopped performing this procedure. Nail caps or frequent nail trims can reduce destruction but may not resolve the issue.
Prevention is often the best medicine with scratching behavior, as with most health issues. It is important to develop positive scratching behavior as early as possible. Behavioral modification is more effective with a younger animal and before an undesirable behavior is established. However, if you are struggling with destructive scratching at any age, there are solutions that may help.
An ideal scratching post/spot should be:
- An appropriate substrate (some cats prefer sisal rope, others cardboard)
- In the right location and height (central, often close to a nap spot or next to a commonly traveled route, and cats must be able to reach it standing on their hind legs – it should not be placed too low)
- Have good stability (when the cat reaches up to scratch, it will not fall or shake)
To train a cat to use a particular area to scratch, you can lead the cat to the post, and reward them for scratching (food, verbal praise, petting) Positive response increases a desired behavior, however both the scratching post and the reward must be appealing to your kitty. Feliscratch is a pheromone product designed to attract cats to a desired scratching area over the course of several days. This is a great option in kittens.
When destructive scratching is already occurring – resist the urge to use punishment (squirting or yelling). This can damage the human-animal bond, is often inconsistent, and can increase fear, anxiety, and stress. The cat will instead learn not to scratch there when you are present. Instead, you may calmly and gently pick up and move the cat to their scratching post. You may also use a feather wand to redirect the kitty to its post, and then offer a reward for doing so. Feliway pheromone sprayed on the scratched object (i.e. couch) gives your cat a message that “another cat has already marked this spot.”
If these techniques are not effective, temporarily decrease access to the areas where destructive scratching is occurring or create a kitten or cat-proof room. Just as you would child-proof an area for human children, this area is safe for exploration by your young feline companions. This area should not have appealing scratching surfaces and could have double-sided tape or plastic temporarily over the furniture. Once the cat is more adjusted and has established scratching behavior in a desirable location, they may have more access and some of the cat-proofing may be removed.
Here is a great resource for additional information and solutions- https://catfriendly.com/cat-care-at-home/living-clawed-cat/
If you continue to have questions and struggle with destructive scratching, the Fairhaven Veterinary Hospital staff are happy to help.