Tips on How to Deal with Destructive Scratching from Your Cat
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on June 12, 2018
Posted in Behavior Management
Owning a cat is an overall great experience. Cats are playful, independent, cuddly and full of fun and love… until you notice they are starting to rip up your furniture by scratching at it!
Scratching is a normal behavior for cats—armed with sharp claws necessary in the wild, cats feel the instinctive urge to sharpen them and to mark their territory. Unfortunately, this often comes at the expense of your couch, speakers, cabinets and more.
Many pet owners get extremely frustrated when faced with a cat that won’t stop scratching because they do not know how to handle it. Luckily, there are a few methods you can try to discourage your pet from scratching on your things.
Why do cats scratch?
Cats have claws that extend and retract into their feet. These claws grow and need to be trimmed down, so cats often scratch to remove the dead outer layer. In other instances, your cat might just be doing it as part of their everyday habits, including:
- When it gets excited
- Out of boredom
- To stretch
- Marking territory
- To get the owner’s attention
In the case of scratching to get the owner’s attention, destructive scratching is less common as a behavioral issue. It is far more likely that your cat is simply scratching because it is natural for it to do so, but you can speak to your veterinarian to see if the scratching may be linked to an underlying health problem.
Stopping the scratching
When you begin to notice your cat scratching on surfaces it shouldn’t be, the first thing you’ll want to do is observe its behavior. This may be difficult to watch—especially if it is tearing up a beloved piece of furniture—but close observation can help you nip bad behavior in the bud.
Watch your cat to see how they scratch (vertically or horizontally) when they tend to scratch most often and what kind of surfaces they scratch on most. Once you have an understanding of your cat’s behavior, you can begin preventing future scratching by covering the most-scratched areas with textures and scents your cat won’t like.
For example, try covering a piece of furniture with double sided tape, sandpaper or aluminum foil, or spray citrus-smelling things on it. Cats are typically deterred by specific textures and smells, and this might be enough to keep them away.
However, deterring them from one piece of furniture is not enough. Eventually, your cat will need to scratch again and will move on to another area of the home. To fix the issue, you’ll need to purchase or make a scratching post for your cat to knead at to its heart’s desire.
It’s a good idea to place a scratching post near the area the cat used to scratch to encourage it, but you may also want to put posts in multiple areas of the home for your cat’s convenience. Additionally, place toys on the posts and rub catnip on them to make them more enticing.
When your cat begins using the scratching posts, reward good behavior with treats. Don’t remove the coverings from your furniture until you are certain the cat will keep using the post to scratch on.
Avoid punishing your cat as much as possible. Yelling at your cat will likely make it fear you without understanding what it did wrong. If you catch your cat in the act of scratching, try clapping your hands loudly to deter it instead.
Sometimes scratching posts just aren’t enough to keep your cat satisfied, and it will continue to scratch your furniture or other objects. In that case, there are a couple alternative methods you can try.
- Vinyl nail caps: You can purchase vinyl nail caps that adhere over the top of your cat’s claws with surgical glue to prevent them from scratching sharply. These caps only last a little over a month but allow the cat to extend and retract its claws normally without pain.
- Trim nails: You should have your cat’s claws trimmed down regularly to prevent them from getting too long and causing it pain and to prevent its scratching from doing additional damage. You can trim the nails at home if you are brave or ask for help from your groomer.
With a little patience and love toward your cat, you’ll be able to transform its destructive scratching behavior into a harmless pastime using a scratching post. Just remember to be diligent about covering scratch-able furniture and encouraging your cat to use the post instead.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan