As veterinary professionals, we often hear many complaints from clients about their cats destroying their furniture by scratching. What is important to remember about scratching behavior in cats is that it is a completely natural and often necessary behavior- even wild jungle cats do it!
So, why do cats insist on scratching? There are many reasons but here and just a few! It is a great form of exercise and gives them a nice stretch for their back and shoulder muscles. (Imagine the good feeling that you get after a good stretch after a good sleep!) Studies also show that scratching is one method many cats use to reduce their own stress. You might think that there is nothing in your home that would stress your feline friends but we often forget that some cats stress about everything! From moving to even just rearranging the living room furniture, cats are often extremely sensitive to even the smallest of household changes. Cats will also scratch as a way to mark their territory. They have secretory scent glands in their paws that allow them to communicate with other cats about where they have been through pheromones.
We have established that scratching is natural for cats but it is important as pet owners to teach our cats which surfaces we deem acceptable for them to scratch. Providing scratching posts, cardboard toys or scratch pads can give your cat nice surfaces to sink their claws into and hopefully save your house from damage!
Ideally, we want to start young! If you are getting a new kitten ensure you have appropriate scratching posts around your home before your bring your new friend into your life. Teach your kitten that the post is a great place to be! Play with them by it, place catnip or treats on it and be sure to positively reinforce appropriate scratching behavior- that is give your kitty a treat every time you see them using their “approved” scratching surface!
For older cats, you can use attractants such as treats or catnip to get them wanting to be near the post. You can also reward them for using the post. It is important to remember that whether young or old, training your cat to use appropriate scratching surfaces will take time – be patient with your feline friends, they are just trying to learn!
Still no luck? There are solutions out there to deter cats from scratching inappropriate surfaces. There are commercial pheromone sprays that are available through veterinary clinics such as Feliway as well as “no-scratch” sprays that are often found in pet stores. These sprays work wonders for some cats but will make no difference with others- remember that every cat is different!
You can also try making your cat’s favorite inappropriate scratching surfaces no fun to scratch anymore. You can make it “un-scratchable” by putting undesirable textures on the surface such as tin foil, sandpaper or the underside of a plastic non-slip mat. Cats also dislike citrus scents so you can try soaking cotton balls in citrus juices and attaching them to the surface to deter them from scratching the surface.
Still having issues? Contact your veterinarian at Mill Creek Animal Hospital for a behavioral consult! Remember that scratching is natural for cats. We just need to teach them where to do it!