Tattered couches, destroyed drapes, gashes in the woodwork. These are the hallmarks of a house with a new cat in it but it doesn’t have to be like this forever. You can enjoy the presence of your sassy little ball of fur without the damage that comes with the nails attached to it.
Much Ado About Scratching
To know how to keep cats from scratching, we first have to ask why do cats scratch in the first place? Cat owners have to understand that scratching is a part of feline nature. Whether it’s your neighborhood tabby or that tiger in the zoo, you can bet that cats big and small all over the world have the tendency to dig their nails along a surface.
Cats scratch because they want to get rid of the old, brittle, or blunt nail tips to uncover the strong and sharp talons underneath. These claws are essential for survival. Cats need them to hunt and catch prey, to scurry up surfaces quickly to avoid danger, for traction when running, and to protect themselves against predators.
The act of scratching also serves a social purpose. By scratching a surface, your cat is saying “this is my territory” not just visually, but olfactorily. Your cat is depositing its scent as it drags its claws over surfaces, marking that area as their territory. It’s a way of showing rank in households with more than one cat.
Lastly, scratching is a pleasurable exercise. Think of it as yoga for cats. It helps them stretch, tone their muscles and it keeps them happy and preoccupied.
The Truth About Declawing
The first thing many people would think of when trying to solve the problem of cat scratching is to take away what the cat uses to scratch. This operation is known as “declawing”. Its practice was widespread before, but with the advent of animal welfare, it is now frowned upon.
And with good reason! From the name, you might think the operation is just about removing the cat’s nails. But you have to remember that cat nail beds are attached to the last phalange of their digit. To stop claws from growing, you will need to remove not only the nail bed but the bone it is attached to.
This is a big problem because cats are digitigrade walkers. That means they walk on their tippy-toes as opposed to us humans who, as plantigrade walkers, support our weight on the soles of our feet. A good way to imagine this would be to imagine a ballerina dancing en-pointe and removing the last phalange of each of her toes.
As you can imagine, that would not just mean a loss of balance, but also extreme pain for a long period of time. Cats’ last phalange evolved for the function of movement so removing it and making them walk on their second phalange is simply not natural. Even if the wound properly heals and they get used to it, declawed cats will never move as fast or as naturally as their clawed counterparts.
So if you love your cat and do not wish it to be impaired for life, declawing should not be an option.
The Two-Pronged Approach to Stop Cat Scratching
To keep your furniture safe and scratch-free, you need to approach the problem from two sides: discourage scratching in the wrong places and encourage scratching in the right places.
The following tips put both into practice.
To start, look for any place in your home that bears scratch marks and check how you feel about it. If the sight of it makes you want to pull your hair out, then these are the places where you should prioritize your intervention.
Tip 1: Make the scratchable unscratchable
The key here is to take note of what your cat likes to scratch and replace it with something it won’t want to touch. Generations of cat owners who have had the same problem have contributed to a wealth of information as to what turns cats off. This includes:
- Double-sided tape
- Vinyl carpet runners with the knobby part facing out
There are also a number of products on the market made with the specific intention of warding off cat scratching. These also have undesirable textures, but they may have other perks. Some are odor-free, most are formulated to be non-toxic to pets, other chemicals that deter cats from peeing or pooping, and more.
It may be a good idea to place the unscratchable material on top of a furniture protector as well. Which material you use depends on your budget, on the type of furniture you are trying to protect, and how much time and resources you have to maintain it.
Tip 2: Know what your cat likes to scratch and give it to them
Early on, find out what your cat finds irresistible in the scratching department. This includes knowing where to put it, what it should be made of, and how tall or long it should be.
Location is easy. Just place it near whichever furniture has the most number of claw marks. If you’ve done tip #1 and successfully made their former favorite scratch spot untenable, make sure they’ll find it easy to find the alternative that you approve of.
Choosing the material is all about understanding your cat. Before buying an expensive scratch post, try buying a similar sample, and seeing if your cat likes it. Cardboard, sisal rope, sisal cloth, and jute fibers are just some popular options. Note though that you will want the material to be different from the material of your furniture to avoid confusing your cat so it might be better to leave that carpet-covered scratch post at the store otherwise your cat might think all carpets are scratch-approved.
Few things are as satisfying to cats as being able to stretch their limbs up, dig their claws in, and slowly drag their nails all the way down to the floor, so aim to get a post tall enough to allow your cat to do just that.
Make sure it’s firm too! If your cat scratches the post and it falls on them, they might get too scared to go near it again.
Tip 3: Gently correct the wrong behavior
No, you don’t need to learn how to meow or purr to communicate this important message to your cat. What you need to do is find a way to clearly and consistently say “Not there, here!”. You can start this training while your cat is a kitten so they learn it as soon as possible.
If you find them scratching in the wrong place (which may happen even after you’ve done tip #1 – old habits die hard), quickly make a distinctive sound like a hiss or a small “ah!”, then gently take your cat and bring it near the approved scratching area. It is necessary to do this as consistently as possible over a period of time as it will help your cat grasp the idea faster.
Remember: The idea not to punish your cat, but to nudge them in the right direction. Misplaced anger can cause your cat to be scared of you, which we definitely do not want.
Tip 4: Encourage your cat to use the scratch post
Your cat may not take to its new scratch post on the get-go. Don’t be frustrated! It’s all about positive reinforcement.
A little catnip can go a long way. Just rub a little all over the scratch post and you can be sure your feline friend will sit up and take notice of this new scratchable post. Another alternative is to dangle its favorite toy along the post’s surface. As your cat tries to catch the toy, its claws will inevitably catch on the material and hopefully, it will realize just what a wonderful thing this new post is!
The second your cat scratches the post, shower that sweet baby with praises and treats. Make your pleasure is known in any way that you can, whether it’s giving your cat’s favorite ear rub or opening up a celebratory can of tuna. Remember that timing is everything: Let it know it’s getting rewarded for the act of scratching on the scratch post, and not any other behavior. As with correcting behavior, rewarding behavior should be done consistently over a period of time.
Tip 5: Regularly trim your cat’s nails
We saved the best tip for the second-last. Remember that cat scratching is driven by the need for sharp claws. So if you make it easy for them to maintain those weapons, then you decrease their tendency to scratch. Trimming your cat’s nails should be done every 2-3 weeks.
You can choose to do it at a pet groomer’s, or learn how to do it yourself. Be sure to avoid the nail’s blood supply by cutting the lighter-colored tip of the nail. Use a sharp nail trimmer to avoid splintering. Most cat owners cut their pet’s claws while they are sleeping, making sure to be very gentle. If your cat is very young, be sure to do it so they get used to it as they grow up.
Tip 6: If all else fails, use a plastic nail cap
There are some cats with a tendency to scratch furniture stronger than most. For this, you may want to consider getting nail caps made especially for cats. They’re made of hardy plastic and cover the sharp tips of your cat’s nails so they don’t damage furniture. The plus side is that they come in a variety of colors and your cat will look like it got a pedi. The downside is that you’ll have to change it every few weeks as it gets worn out or pushed off by new nail growth.
And there you have it! If you are patient enough and follow these tips consistently, cat-scratched furniture will be a matter of the past. All you’ll be left with is a well-used scratch post, a feeling of accomplishment, and a happy, healthy cat.