Cat Scratching

Scratching is Normal Behaviour

As the owner of 3 cats, I am well aware of the extent of damage that frisky felines can cause!  Although we consider scratching to be a destructive, this innate behaviour is part of healthy cats’ normal daily routine and play.  The good news is that there are ways to help shape this behaviour so that you and your cat(s) can continue to have a happy relationship without having to replace all of your furniture!

Despite popular belief, your cat does not choose to scratch your sofa or expensive dining room table to destroy your home.  Scratching is one of the ways that cats can mark their territory, as it allows deposition of scent from special glands on the paw.  You can no more ‘stop’ this behaviour that you can stop a cat from grooming.  However, you can direct the scratching behaviour so that it does not cause destruction to the items in your home.

The easiest and most effective way to deter your pet from scratching unwanted household furniture is to provide your cat with something that they WANT to scratch.  Watch your kitty carefully – does she prefer to scratch wood, carpet, or some other surface?  Does she scratch up high or on the floor?  When does she scratch – in the morning upon waking, or late at night? Is it after eating or after play?  By noting these things you can then be able to provide her with an appropriate surface to scratch.

There are an array of scratching posts and pillars that are available commercially.  They are often covered with carpet or rope, or a combination of both.  One common pitfall of a scratching post is that it is often too small or too short for your cat.  Many cats prefer scratching a vertical surface (eg your table leg or side of your couch) and like to extend their paws far over their head (think of yourself stretching when after waking – it would not be as fulfilling if you could not lift your arms up over your head!)  If this is the case, you may have to investigate a post that can be mounted or hung on the wall.   It is important that it be sturdy – if it falls of or sways the cat can’t get a good ‘scratch’ in and will then investigate other surfaces.

It is easy and affordable to make your own scratching post with supplies you may either have at home or can be purchased from a local hardware store.  You can wrap a piece of cardboard or wood with rope (cats tend to like sisal rope) and mount it to the wall.  It doesn’t have to be fancy!  If your cat prefers carpet you can also staple carpet to a post.  A google search can quickly provide you with some ideas.

You can use cat nip spray on your post to entice your cat to sniff and use it.  It is important to place or mount the post in an area that your cat prefers to be – hiding it away in the basement may mean your feline friend will continue to use your furniture!!  You can start by placing it near where they prefer to scratch, and then gradually moving it to a location where you prefer to place it. Reward your cat with treats and praise when the post is used!!

You may have to make some effort to make the areas where your cat prefers to scratch less ‘desirable’.  You can place a tower of plastic cups on the couch arm for example, or place double sided sticky tape on a chair leg.  We also have a product called Sssscat that emits a spray when the cat comes near the area where you wish to protect.

Because scratching has a scent-marking component, cats are more likely to re-scratch areas that already have their scent. To help break this cycle, try using an odor neutralizer to deodorize areas where your cat has previously scratched.

In addition, keeping your cat’s nails trimmed short can help prevent damage.  We will happily teach you how to trim your pets’ nails, and if you prefer we can do so for you.  Cat nail trims are also complimentary at Guelph Animal Hospital when you are signed up on our Healthy Cat Program – please contact us for more information. We recommend trimming monthly.

If you still find that your pet is scratching your furniture, you can minimize the damage by placing plastic tips on your cats’ nails – an example of this product is called “Soft Paws”.  While wearing these tips, your pet is able to go through the normal movements of scratching but the soft plastic will protect your furniture.  We can also help teach you how to apply these or do them for you if you wish.

A note worth mentioning – punishment does not typically help prevent the scratching behaviour.  In addition, your cat also learns that they are only punished when you are present, so they often learn to scratch when you are not there.

Despite our best efforts, there are some cats that will still scratch and the destruction they create often causes friction between family members.  For this reason, Laser Surgical Declawing is a surgical option for these patients.  Here at Guelph Animal Hospital we use state of the art LASER surgical technique and proper pain control  to ensure that this procedure is both safe and pain-free for your feline friend.   Look for our upcoming blogs for more information on laser declaw surgery.

Dr. Renee Fleming

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