Scratching is an instinctive behavior for cats. They scratch to relieve frustration, excitement, anxiety, to mark their territory, to exercise, and to help maintain their nails. So, it’s important you provide your cat with ways to channel this natural behavior.
Set him up for success
There are lots of scratching posts and cat trees on the market. Some scratchers have vertical scratching areas while others are horizontal or on an incline. They have different textures such as corrugated cardboard, sisal rope, burlap, natural wood, and carpeting. Cats have preferences and will typically like some textures or orientations over others. Since you are just getting to know your cat you probably won’t know what he likes yet. However, most cats will go for sisal rope and corrugated cardboard scratchers like these.
When selecting scratchers make sure they’re sturdy. (A scratcher that wobbles when he leans his weight on it will probably never be used again.) Also, look for scratchers with longer surfaces that will allow your cat to completely stretch out when he uses it. For adult cats this means a vertical scratching post should be at least 3 feet tall. If possible, have several scratching options in your home with different orientations and textures. Cat trees which have several levels can also provide your cats with the ability to perch – cats love to hang out in high places!
Place the scratchers in various areas of your home so when the mood strikes, he has an option you both approve of. Put one in a room where your family hangs out the most and in areas where your cat may like to climb, like in front of a window or where it will give him access to a higher shelf. (Be sure to clear the shelf.) Cats often like to scratch when they’re excited (like when you get home), after eating, and when they wake from a nap, so keep this in mind when deciding where to put them.
To help your cat discover the scratcher, use a laser toy or dangle a wand toy over it for him to chase. You can also sprinkle some catnip on it. Be sure to give your cat lots of praise and some treats when he uses his scratcher, especially in the beginning. This will teach him where you want him to scratch.
If your cat starts to scratch a household object, make the object’s texture less appealing to him by covering it with aluminum foil, double-sided sticky tape or a knobby upside-down carpet runner. If there’s a safe way to make it wobbly, do it. For example, if he’s scratching a chair, try putting something under one of the legs so it’s wobbly.
Next, consider the orientation and texture of the object he’s scratching. Place a scratcher that is similar in orientation and texture in front of, or next to, the problem area. For example, if he wants to scratch on the back of the couch put a sturdy vertical post there. Take a little time to train him by using a toy or some catnip to entice him to use the post. Be sure to give him lots of praise and some treats when he scratches on it.
Don’t make it worse!
Punishment such as yelling, startling your cat with a loud noise or squirting him with water can make the behavior worse. The stress and anxiety punishment causes can lead to a host of other behavior issues as well. Not to mention that it’s pretty difficult to have a good relationship with a cat who is afraid of you. Cats associate the punishment with you and just learn to do the behavior when you’re not around. But perhaps most importantly the problem with punishment is it doesn’t teach your cat what you want.
If you haven’t had a cat in a while, you’ll find out that declawing is no longer an accepted method to stop destructive scratching. In fact, it is now banned in many countries. Declawing is not just the removal of a cat’s nails. It involves amputating part of their bone and can lead to ongoing pain as well as lifetime behavior issues such as refusing to use the litterbox and biting/aggression.
If you’ve taken the steps outlined in this article and still having destructive scratching in your home, consult the shelter or rescue organization you adopted from as well as your veterinarian. You may also want to ask your veterinarian about using a product like Soft Paws which are plastic nail caps that go on your cat’s nails.
Following these guidelines will help you satisfy your cat’s innate need to scratch while also building a stronger bond between the two of you. And having that strong bond is what makes your new pet a true member of the family!