Scratching Behavior

Cats have to “scratch.”  It is part of the feline package.  This is not a behavior you train a cat not to do.  You can, however, train a cat to redirect the behavior within your territory and, thus, spare your furniture.

Why do cats scratch?  They scratch to welcome us to shared territory, inviting us to come and scratch the “mark” with them.  They scratch as an expression of happiness and joy.  They scratch to help them imbed their claws in order to stretch muscles (yoga is a cat invention).  They scratch to de-sheath their claws and keep them sharp and comfortable.  They scratch to scent and visually mark territory.

CCAC believes that while de-clawing is, in certain instances, the only option, it is preferable to train a cat to scratch appropriately then to rush into the declawing procedure.   Most kittens can be trained to appropriate scratching devices starting at the earliest possible age and using attractive catnip sprays and aversive sprays or tape.  Cat trees and scratching posts should feature bark, sisal or cardboard surfaces, never carpet or fabric.  Cats like to get full extension when they stretch so a post designed for a six-week old kitten is totally inadequate for a 16 week old or a full grown cat.  Four feet is a good height for a scratching post (the taller and more tree-like, the more attractive the post).  The post also needs to be heavy and stable.  Cats can have very enthusiastic scratching sessions so it is important that the post not tip over.  Ideally have more then one scratching post and have horizontal mats as well as cats do vary their preferences in this regard.  Multiple posts and/or mats should be positioned in the most heavily trafficked family areas.  Devices to disincline cats to scratch certain surfaces (such as sofa arms) can be purchased or made during the training period.  Aversive sprays such as citrus scents or a special sticky tape are also effective, remembering cats are drawn by scent left by the sweat glands on their paw pads to surfaces they have previously scratched.

Cat trees can be a wonderful addition to a cat’s world and a good investment in protecting furniture from shedding and scratching damage.  When considering a cat tree, buy the tallest tree you can afford with most of the platforms or perches placed high.  That is where cats prefer to spend their time (studying you!)  Do not purchase trees with carpeted climbing posts as these reinforce carpet as a scratching substrate.  If that is all you can find, strip the carpet and have them rewound with sisal rope.

Cats trained to scratching posts develop a touching welcoming behavior described by many owners as follows:  owners upon entering the house find their cats routinely run to the post and scratch vigorously, pausing with claws embedded, looking over their shoulders inviting them to join in the activity.  This welcome home renews the bonds by sharing scent and marks at their favorite post. In a sense, achievement of this result is like ”making lemonade out of lemons”.