Cats Love to Scratch! Here’s How to Provide a Happy Place for Them to Do It


Last month, the RHS was happy to learn that the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association banned onychectomy surgeries for cats, commonly known as declawing, in our province.  The process involves the partial amputation of each digit of a paw, is painful for the cat and may cause long-term physical and behavioural side effects.  This practice was usually requested to avoid unwanted scratching in the home as a matter of convenience.

Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats to remove worn outer claws and expose new, sharper claws, reduce stress, mark territory and exercise.  Important to your cat’s health and well-being, the best approach is not to stop your cat from scratching, but instead to teach them where and what to scratch by providing appropriate, cat-attractive surfaces to scratch, such as scratching posts. By following these steps you can reduce and even eliminate unwanted scratching in your home – naturally!

  • Provide a variety of scratching posts with different surfaces such as cardboard, carpeting, wood, sisal or upholstery. Some cats prefer horizontal posts. Others like vertical posts or slanted posts. Once you know your cat’s preference, provide additional posts like it in various locations. Determine the perfect location for the scratching post 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.  If their preferred scratching location is not ideal, the scratching post can be moved gradually over time to a more appropriate location.
  • Encourage your cat to investigate posts by scenting them with catnip, hanging toys on them and placing them in areas where they’re inclined to climb on them.
  • Discourage inappropriate scratching by removing or covering desirable objects making the wrong place to scratch less desirable. Put plastic, double-sided sticky tape or sandpaper on furniture or floor where your cat would scratch. Place scratching posts next to these objects, as “legal” alternatives. Over time, the double-sided tape can be removed as your cat is encouraged to use the appropriate location to scratch instead.
  • Trim your cat’s nails (the white part of the nail, not the pink!) regularly or consider using nail caps.
  • Nail caps are rubber caps attached onto your cat’s claws with adhesive.  They’re temporary, lasting four to six weeks. 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 colors, so you can decide what is the best option for your cat. Clear caps are less visible while colored caps make it easy to spot if one falls off.
  • Whenever you see your cat using the scratcher, reward this behaviour with a treat, praise, or petting.  Again, this helps your cat associate the scratchers with positive, happy feelings.
  • Don’t punish your cat for mistakes. Punishing your cat for scratching may scare your cat and damage your bond. Instead, focus on rewarding their good behaviours.

With a little patience and perseverance, scratching can continue to be a happy and healthy experience for both you and your cat!