Preventing Problem Scratching

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“….you should train your cat to use a scratching post. Other alternatives include a quick, painless trimming of his claws (which you can do at home using special clippers) or covering the claws with soft sheaths (which you can purchase relatively inexpensively).

Scratching is one of your cat’s most ingrained instincts. Keep a scratching post near where the cat usually sleeps or, if he has already picked out a corner of your sofa, keep it next to that chosen spot. You may need to train your cat to use his scratching post. Do not pick him up and put his paws on the scratching post (that will only make him want to avoid it). Make the scratching post appealing to him: rub catnip on it or mist it with catnip spray; drape a heavy string (a long leather shoelace works great) over it and wiggle it to catch his interest; put treats on the very top.

Important: Invest in a scratching post that is 24″ or 30″ tall, with a sturdy base – your cat may be using the arm of the sofa because he can stretch higher than his scratching post will allow. Most of the ones you will find at the store are only 18″ high so you may need to visit a pet supply store.

A few cats don’t like scratching on a vertical post, but will scratch willingly on a flat scratching pad. If your cat prefers a flat surface, you can either buy one of the cardboard scratching boxes (typically available from mail order or pet stores), or buy a scrap of plywood and a carpet remnant, large enough to fold around onto the back of the plywood. Cut the corners on an angle, fold the carpet remnant over the wood, and tack the carpet on using carpet tacks or heavy-duty staples.

Sometimes changing to a scratching post that is covered with sisal rope or a different texture will kindle his interest in the post, as well.

An additional idea, one that worked well when there were more vacant rooms in the house, is to follow the instructions above for a flat-surface scratching pad, then mount it on the wall at a convenient height for the cat, in a hallway or in the laundry room.

Other solutions: If he’s scratching wood furniture, rub strong-smelling furniture polish into it. For sofa and chair sides, cover the edges of the sofa with heavy plastic (available at your local fabric store – typically used to cover footstools or protect tablecloths – you can buy twist-pins while you’re there to hold it neatly in place) or aluminum foil (use velcro or double-stick tape to hold in place). Or spray a cloth thoroughly with one of the sprays formulated for keeping a cat off the furniture, and pin it to the sofa, chair, or your speakers (don’t spray directly onto the furniture). Or, put strips of self-adhesive velcro (loop side out) on the favored scratching spots. If all else fails, everytime you see him actively clawing the furniture, spray him lightly from a bottle of water (do this only when he is actually scratching, not when he is approaching or leaving the furniture). “

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“A few owners have a problem with their cat shredding the carpet, even with a convenient scratching post. First, look at the scratching post from a cat’s viewpoint: it’s covered with carpet …. this stuff on the floor has the same feel. Hmmm…. Since it’s less costly to replace the scratching post than the carpeting, try getting a post that is covered with sisal rope, corrugated cardboard, or carpet turned wrong-way out. Then train your cat to use it. If the cat is always scratching at a particular spot in the carpeting, the reason might be due to a strong smell in that one spot – go to the vet and get an enzymatic cleaner and clean it thoroughly. “

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Initially, put the post where your cat goes to scratch. This may be by a sofa, a chair or wherever Kitty has chosen as her territiory, and you may need more than one post to cover her favorite spots. Security is a major factor in making the post appealing to your cat. If it topples or shakes, she won’t use it. It should either be secured to the floor or have a base wide enough and heavy enough to keep it stable.

Encourage Kitty to use her post with clever enticements. Feed her and play with her by the post. Rub dried catnip leaves or powder into it. Make all the asssociations with the post pleasurable. Reward her with a favorite treat when she uses it. Have her chase a string or a toy around the post or attach toys to it, which will result in her digging her claws into it. Eventually she will learn to love it and regard it as her own. It’s also a good idea to put a post where Kitty sleeps. Cats like to scratch when they awaken, especially in the morning and the middle of the night. If space permits, a scratching post in every room of the house is a cat’s delight. The most important place is the area of the house in which you and Kitty spend the most time. I have many sisal posts in my house, yet often in the morning my cats line up to use the one in the living room.

If at first Kitty is reluctant to give up her old scratching areas, there are means you can use to discourage her. Covering the area with aluminum foil or double-sided tape is a great deterrent. These surfaces don’t have a texture that feels good to scratch.

Remember too that Kitty has marked her favorite spots with her scent as well as her claws. You may need to remove her scent from the areas you want to distract her away from. You will find pet odor removers in pet stores and many supermarkets as well.

Cats have an aversion to citrus odors. Use lemon-scented sprays or a potpourri of lemon and orange peels to make her former scratching sites less agreeable to her.

If Kitty still persists in scratching the furniture, try squirting her with a water gun or a spray bottle set on stream. Another option is a loud whistle or other noise-maker. You must employ these deterrents while she is scratching for them to be effective. The point is to establish an aversion to the spot you don’t want her to scratch.

If you are starting with a kitten, consider yourself fortunate. It’s much easier to initiate good habit patterns than to correct undesirable ones.

From the beginning teach your kitten the appropriate place to scratch. Use the methods already described, especially playing around the scratching post to capture her interest. Take advantage of your kitten’s desire to play and attach toys to the post. She will soon “dig in” to catch her toy and discover how good it feels to scratch this surface.

Do not take her paws and make her scratch the post. This is a major turn-off and will only inspire a bratty “you can’t make me” attitude. Even at an early age, cats refuse to be coerced into doing what they don’t want to do.

If she starts to scratch an inappropriate object, immediately place her in front of her scratching post and begin petting her. Some cats will begin kneading when petted, thus digging their claws into the desired surface and establishing this as a fine place to scratch.

Cats are creatures of habit. Start them off with good ones.

As a checklist, here are the pertinent things to remember:

  1. Don’t declaw!
  2. Understand your cat’s need to scratch.
  3. Forget punishment–it doesn’t work.
  4. Provide a suitable place for your cat to scratch.
  5. Make the scratching post attractive to Kitty– i.e. use sisal posts.
  6. Make the place she’s been scratching unattractive–physical or scent related deterrents.
  7. Whenever possible, start cats young.
  8. You may want to trim your cat’s claws.
  9. For indoor cats, consider Soft Paws® as extra insurance, or an easy alternative.

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One of a cats natural instincts is to stretch it’s body to full length and exercise it’s claws. This promotes shedding of the external layer of the nail, plus exercise for the muscles. Also, kitties mark their territory with scent glands located in the paws. This behavior is seen in all cats, from declawed house cats to large cats in the wild. Research into the psychological development of kittens shows that they learn scratching do’s and don’ts from their mothers at a young age. If the mother cat has poor habits, or if the kittens go to new homes before they have had a chance to learn (12 weeks of age or older is best), you may have quite a problem on your hands.

It is necessary for a cat to have somewhere in your home where they may scratch. If you don’t provide some kind of a scratching post, they will chose a spot themselves, resulting in destruction to your furniture. Many a sofa, chair, record collection, clothes hamper, etc. have met their untimely ends due to a cat’s instinctual behavior.

Scratching posts come in an unlimited variety of fabrics and textures, colors and sizes. Some cats prefer carpet or cardboard, some sisal rope, while others would like nothing more than a good old fashioned section of a tree with bark attached. It is important to provide a post that is tall or long enough for your cat to fully extend it’s body in a stretch. It is equally important that the post is heavy enough not to be pulled over onto your kitty while he is using it. For this reason, the smaller posts that you hang from a doorknob tend not to work as well. There are “cat trees”, some upwards of 6′ tall; using natural wood, sisal rope, and different carpeted shelves and cubbie holes for those cat owners who want to go all out.

To encourage your cat to use a scratching post, sprinkle cat nip on it. An alternative is to hold interactive play time with a toy on a string on and around the scratching post in order to give kitty the idea. If you catch your little angel using your leather sofa, squirt him with a squirt gun, collect him, and take him to the scratching post. A squirt gun or water bottle is the best deterrent- as long as you don’t shriek a warning “I’m going to GET you” ahead of time the cat does not associate you with the water, therefore you don’t have to constantly monitor their behavior. You can also cover the piece of furniture with wide, clear tape. Its not very visible to your eye, and cats don’t like the way it feels. Aluminum foil works too, but doesn’t blend with most decor. There are also plastic pieces which fit over the corners of chairs and sofas available through many cat magazines and supply stores.

Clip your cats front nails every 2 weeks or so. In time the quick (pink part containing blood vessels) actually recedes and you can clip the nails shorter and shorter, duller and duller. Your veterinarian or groomer can demonstrate the proper technique for you. This goes a long way towards saving your furniture. Soft Paws (dull plastic nail covers) are another alternative available through your veterinarian.

It will take some time and effort on your part, but the vast majority of destructive scratcher can be re-trained to a scratching post.