Posted December 14, 2018 by Dr. Dale Rubenstein.
When preparing for a new cat in your house, a good scratching post is as essential as food and water bowls and good litter boxes. Cats will instinctively scratch with their front claws. A cat scratching furniture or carpet is not doing it to annoy you. The action serves to sharpen their claws and stretch their muscles. It is also a natural marking behavior used to communicate their presence to other cats. Cats don’t need encouragement to start this activity, and if they discover an inappropriate surface they like, it can be a hard habit to break.
What makes a good scratching post?
Different cats prefer different materials so it is good to offer several options. Outside cats will have lots of natural materials available, trees being a favorite. For indoor cats, we have to provide something for them, or they will find something we don’t want them to use.
The item should be very large and stable, which is why furniture is so popular. If it falls over easily, it may frighten your cat and not get used. The item can stand up or lie flat on the floor. Encourage vigorous play on and around the scratching post so that it becomes a favorite spot for your cat.
Have scratching posts of varied heights and angles: some straight up, some horizontal, some on a slope. Cats love to climb, so include one or more scratching surfaces in any climbing perches you have. This will encourage your kitty to scratch there.
Have posts made of varied materials. Good choices include:
- sisal rope
- carpet wrapped backward (so the burlap-like side is exposed)
- log w/bark
- bare wood, especially rough cut lumber
How to train my cat not to scratch furniture?
Any use of claws on forbidden areas should be immediately discouraged. The best deterrent is the quick noise from a compressed air canister (often sold as keyboard cleaner), but other noisemakers like coins in a can work well too. Cats should also be encouraged to use their paws only with toys and scratching posts.
Have plenty of options so your cat doesn’t have to go far. If Fluffy likes the sofa, have a scratching post nearby. That way you can pull little Fluffy off the sofa and put on the post as soon as she starts scratching.
On the scratching post itself, apply Cat Attract, Feliscratch ® or even catnip. None of these will draw every cat to the scratching post, but they’re worth a try. Feliscratch is a new pheromone product, similar to Feliway. Be aware that it is a blue liquid, so be careful using it if you have white sofa or carpet nearby.
To discourage your cat from using a particular piece of furniture, cover the preferred area with Sticky Paws ®, double-sided tape. You can find this at many pet stores or online. Also you can cover the sofa with sheets until is “boring”, making sure to have your enticing scratching post nearby.
What if my kitten is scratching me?
Any aggressive play between your cat and a family member should be stopped immediately. The best way to teach your kitten is to simply end the play session and quickly walk away. Be sure to reward your cat with extra attention when the claws are kept retracted but the paws are used for touching someone gently.
For indoor cats, all of the claws should be trimmed regularly (every 2-4 weeks) to avoid injury to family members. Start early training your young kitten so they get used to it. Always give a treat after trimming so is a pleasant experience.
What else can I do?
For a really confirmed scratcher, another option is the use of Soft Paws®. These are soft vinyl covers that are glued on to the individual nails. Soft Paws® must be changed every 4-8 weeks and one or more may come loose, but for some cats they are well-tolerated and are a great option.
Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid winding up with a shredded sofa or replacing your curtains every 6 months!