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Last updated on April 14, 2016

Clawing/scratching is one of those undesirable behaviors that can get a cat in trouble, especially when the item the cat decides to shred is the owner’s expensive couch or carpeting. Often, this behavior results in a frustrated owner and the cat ends up being tossed outdoors or even surrendered to the local shelter. However, that doesn’t need to be the case.

Cat owners do need to realize that, even though the behavior may be irritating to us, it’s a perfectly normal behavior from the cat’s perspective. Cats claw for many different reasons. They mark their territory that way, using both visual and chemical messages. They also scratch to sharpen their claws, helping to keep those claws in tip-top condition. Clawing is used a means of stretching muscles to keep them healthy and supple as well.

Scratching is a basic need for all cats. Your cat is not clawing your furniture out of spite or vindictiveness. He (or she, as the case may be) is clawing because he’s a cat. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to discourage your cat from using your furniture as a scratching post. Here are some tips.

  • Provide an appropriate scratching surface for your cat. Scratching posts are fine. Cat trees work well also. Some people even wrap table legs in sisal or other fabric for their cat’s use.
  • There should be both vertical and horizontal scratching surfaces. Some cats prefer one over the other; other cats will use both.
  • The scratching post or cat tree should be sturdy enough that it won’t tip over while your cat is using it. In some cases, it may be necessary to secure the post to a solid surface, like the wall.
  • Encourage your cat to use the scratching area by making it as attractive as possible. Tempt your cat by using a favorite toy on or near the scratching surface. If your cat responds to catnip, rub some on the surface. Or place some favorite food or cat treats on or near the scratching area. Do not try to “teach” your cat to use the surface by placing his feet on it though.
  • If your cat has already chosen a scratching location that is unacceptable to you, make that area as unattractive as you can. Placing a plastic runner over the surface usually deters a cat from scratching a given surface. At the same time, place an acceptable scratching surface (e.g., a scratching post or cat tree) near the location and make this surface as attractive as you are able.

Once your cat is regularly using the alternative scratching surface, you can slowly move it (a short distance at a time) to a more acceptable location, if desired. You can also remove the runner or whatever deterrent was used to make the original area unattractive to your cat.

Households with more than one cat will require a separate scratching area for each cat. Scratching surfaces are an essential basic need for the feline and your cat may not want to share.

There may be additional help in the future in the form of a pheromone product that simulates the pheromone released from glands in your cat’s feet (called the plantar pad glands) during the clawing process. These pheromones are used as a chemical marker and serve as a means for your cat to tell the world that your home is his territory. A recent study funded by a grant from the Winn Feline Foundation looked at a synthetic version of this pheromone (named the feline interdigital semiochemical, or FIS) and found that “the presence of FIS can influence and prime the location for this important feline behavior (scratching). It also gives specific, long lasting information to other cats. Using the semiochemical approach can modify the choice of areas selected spontaneously by cats. In the future, it could be used as a preventative measure for a cat arriving at a new home or control or change inappropriate scratching behavior.”

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: ktynzq / Shutterstock

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