Destructive Scratching

Why Do Cats Scratch Household Items?

Scratching is a natural, stress reducing behaviour for cats. Scratching allows cats to:

  • Work off energy and reduce their levels of stress.
  • Remove the dead outer layer of their claws.
  • Mark their territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent (cats have scent glands on their paws).
  • Stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws.

Due to the fact that scratching is a normal behavior, it is unrealistic to try to prevent cats from scratching.

In order to happily co-exist with cats, the best methods are to provide the cats with appropriate areas to scratch and to get into the habit of trimming their nails on a regular basis. This will reduce the amount of damage your cat will cause if she happens to scratch in the wrong locations.

Why Punishment Does Not Work With Cats

Cats do not understand punishment the way humans do. Cats are incapable of linking the punishment to the “bad” behavior. Instead, the cat links the punishment to the person punishing them and this can negatively affect your relationship with your cat.

Punishments can make your cat feel vulnerable, anxious, and insecure. They will not resolve the original issue either; in fact, it may make the situation worse.

More importantly, punishment can lead to your cat developing other unwanted behaviors. Some may be intentional, like pooping on the bed; others may be unintentional, like having accidents around the house. Rest assured that your cat does not want to perform these negative behaviours, she is simply reacting to the stress in her life.

Step 1: Provide a Great Scratching Post

What Makes a Great Scratching Post?

When thinking about the perfect scratching post, imagine a tree. Trees provide a perfect area for scratching and like wild cats; cats enjoy this surface as well. The ideal scratching post has the following criteria:

  • A rough surface that mimics the texture of a tree. Cats enjoy items they can dig their claws into and get a good pull on as their goal is to remove the outer layer of keratin on their claws.
  • Cats enjoy scratching on a vertical surface when possible as again, it mimics a tree.
  • The object should be sturdy so that the cat can get a good pull on the scratching post without worrying about the object falling or moving.
  • Sometimes a bit of trial and error may be needed to figure out what type of scratching post your cat prefers (i.e. some cats may prefer traditional style scratching posts where others may enjoy using cardboard scratching posts).
  • Cats are natural born climbers and feel safe and comfortable when they have vertical items they can climb. Providing this in combination with scratching post is the perfect way to provide both an area to climb and a vertical surface they can keep watch of the house from.

Step 2: Determine the Perfect Location for the Scratching Post

This is best achieved by assessing your cat’s current favorite places to scratch. For example, if your cat enjoys scratching a specific couch, place the scratching post right next to that couch. If your cat enjoys scratching the molding of a certain doorway, place the scratching post directly next to that doorway.

You will quickly be surprised by how the cats will be drawn to the perfect scratching post opposed to the item you do not want them to scratch.

Step 3: Make the New Scratching Post a Great Place to Be

This is the fun part! Provide desirable items in the vicinity of the new scratching post. By doing this, you create a positive association and make your cat feel that being near the scratching post boasts positive rewards.

This can be achieved by playing with the cat interactively around the scratching post (i.e. with a feather wand, laser pointer, etc.), providing treats when the cat is around the scratching post, or by placing a small amount of cat nip on the scratching post to encourage their use of the post.

Step 4: Make the Wrong Place to Scratch Less Desirable

This can be achieved in a variety of ways. Cats do not like sticky objects. By placing double sided tape on the area your cat used to scratch should effectively deter her from scratching there over time. You can remove the double sided tape after a few weeks as your cat will begin to avoid this location and in turn, use the appropriate location to scratch instead.

Another option would be to place a hard plastic covering over the area the cat should not be scratching. This prevents the cat from scratching there, and as a result they will be more likely to use the scratching post instead.

Step 5: Trim Your Cats Nails Regularly

Trimming your cat’s nails on a regular basis helps to reduce any damage she may do if she happens to scratch any inappropriate areas within the home. This is also ideal as it prevents the potential for your cat to develop a painful ingrown nail if the nail happens overgrow.

Contrary to popular belief, cutting cat nails is easy. While your cat may resist having their nails cut at first, they will eventually get used to the routine and accept it easily. Over time it will likely become possible to trim the nails without assistance, but having a person to aid in restraining your cat for the first few sessions may be beneficial.

Maintaining a schedule (i.e. trimming your cats nails every Sunday) helps to ensure your cat’s nails never become too sharp. Nails should ideally be cut once per week or at least examined to determine if they need to be trimmed. Each nail grows at a different pace therefore trimming may be required for only some nails at any given time.

The quick is the pink area on the nail that has blood supply and nerve endings. The quick must never be cut as it will cause pain and bleeding. Similar to human nails, only the white part of the nail should be cut. Until you are comfortable cutting your cat’s nails, it is recommended that you trim off only the tips of the nails to blunt them. Once you have more experience then you can trim closer to the quick.

Step 6: Consider Using Nail Caps

There are several brands of nail caps available for cats. These temporary nail caps still allow your cat to extend and retract her claws while protecting other surfaces from damage. Nail caps are fairly easy to apply and can be done by pet owners at home. The caps come in clear or a variety of colours, so you can decide what is the best option for your cat. Clear caps are less visible while coloured caps make it easy to spot if one falls off.