Scratching Behaviour is Normal in Cats

October 24, 2012

Expect your cat to scratch in the home environment! Scratching is considered a normal behaviour in cats and is done instinctively, but substrate preference is also learned from their mother early on in life. Cats scratch in order to leave a visual and olfactory (smell) territorial marker. Their scent comes from sweat glands located in their paws. To a lesser extent, they also scratch in order to condition and trim their claws, and to provide muscle toning for their front legs.
Prevention is accomplished by first scratch-proofing your home. This is done by closing-off problem areas and keeping your cat confined to an area that does not have any "scratchable" objects. If necessary, cover furniture temporarily with plastic and move your curtains out of reach. 
Provide a scratching post or board (or more than one). The post should be of sufficient size and texture to make it appealing to your cat and be sturdy enough to prevent tipping over. The preferred covering should have a longitudinal weave that allows your cat to dig its claws in and get a long stroke. The post should also be taller than your cat when it stands on its hind legs. It must be placed close to where your cat sleeps, since most cats mark their territory near their sleeping areas and prefer to scratch shortly after waking up. Many cats prefer horizontal posts; the cardboard ones are both inexpensive and easy to put out of the way in a small home.
Other hints to minimize scratching include keeping the nails closely trimmed, providing enough play toys, and, if possible, allowing your cat access to the outdoors under supervision on a leash.
Train your cat to use the scratch post by rubbing the surface with catnip. Give praise or a treat when the post is used. You may need to try a few different types of posts before you find one that your cat takes to. Try a few locations, a few surfaces and orientations first before giving up on the cat. Avoid posts with fabric or carpet since the cat will have trouble discriminating the post from the household materials. Sissal rope is often well accepted as a post substrate.
Plastic nail covers can be bought for cats who do not like the post. These can be glued onto trimmed nails and will need to be replaced every 3-4 weeks. These blunted soft tips will protect your home from damage.
Finally, if these steps prove unsuccessful, you can try applying remote correction. This involves hiding out of sight (or using a video camera or mirror around a corner) and applying an unpleasant stimulus whenever your cat scratches the drapes or furniture. Unpleasant stimuli may involve a loud noise, water sprayer, or shake a tin can filled with stones. In this way, your cat will identify the negative stimuli with the act of scratching, rather than with you. 
If all else fails and you find the bond you have with your cat is weakening, discuss your concerns with your veterinarian, especially if you are considering giving up or euthanizing your cat.