Does My Cat Really Need to Scratch?

Natalie Marks, DVM, CVJ

One of the number one reasons that cats are relinquished to shelters and other homes is inappropriate scratching and destructive behavior.   While declaw historically was a solution to this common problem for pet parents, it is no longer considered a necessary or recommended procedure.  Instead, remember that scratching is a normal behavior of cats and we need to set up our homes to allow them to scratch. Most importantly, they have to scratch where it’s appropriate.  Here’s a few tips and tricks to make this process easier:

Consider LOCATION.

Cats truly love vertical spaces to scratch, but we don’t want them using our couches and door frames.  Because cats get excited when their owners come home and start scratching, a great location for a scratching post is by the front door.  Cats also like to scratch when they wake up, so place posts near windowsills and by other doors in the home.  Remember, each cat in the house needs an individual post.

Use PHEROMONES.

Pheromones are chemical compounds that cats (and other animals) use to communicate with each other.  When scratching, cats deposit these pheromones from in between their toes on to a surface to mark their territory.  Talk to your veterinarian about pheromone products that can help attract your cat to the scratching post and assist with training.

TEACH your Cat How to Scratch.

Although it seems intuitive, some cats truly do need help in learning how to use a scratching post.   Take your kitten or cat to the new post, gently place their paws on the board and use different tempters like catnip or toys to make the experience positive.  Don’t give up if the first try isn’t successful; repetition is helpful and so is patience.   Avoid yelling at or reprimanding your cat; this creates fearful memories and can make training even harder.

Use a TALL Scratching Post.

In this case, bigger is often better, and the taller the post, the more attractive it can be to a cat.  The scratching posts in your house need to be sturdy and large enough to provide a suitable target for an excited cat with a high reach.

PROTECT your Environment.

Even with all of these tips, your cat may have already established some bad habits of scratching inappropriate places and objects.  If this is the case, make sure to discourage these areas by covering the targeted furniture with plastic to deter scratching.  You can also place double-sided tape, sandpaper and even the underside of vinyl rug runners up on strategic areas of the furniture for the same goal of avoidance.  These textures don’t feel good to cats and they will usually steer clear.  Finally, and of equal importance, keep your cat’s nails trimmed frequently. Your veterinarian and veterinary team can teach you how to trim nails safely and without creating another fear factor for your cat.

Whether these tips have been immediately successful or you’ve exhausted everything and your couch is still being shredded, it’s important to see your veterinarian at least once yearly to discuss scratching and all other physical and emotional needs of your cat.  Your veterinarian is always your most trusted source of information.