Does Your Cat Scratch in Inappropriate Places?
Cats sometimes scratch where they should not. Here are a few things people have used to successfully encourage their cats to scratch in the right places.
- First, make sure you have provided a suitable scratcher. A scratcher should be at least 24 inches tall (or long) and covered in sisal rope. You will find many scratchers are only 16 to 18 inches tall, suitable for a kitten but not a full grown cat. Avoid carpet-covered scratchers, claws can get stuck in the nap which will frustrate the cat and can injure paws as they try to pull free. In addition, carpet scratchers teach cats to scratch carpet – probably not what you want them to learn! Cardboard scratchers can work, although they shed bits of shredded cardboard around. Note also that many cats find that cardboard does not provide enough resistance for stretching and exercising paw and forearm muscles.
- Be sure the scratcher you provide is robust enough to allow enthusiastic scratching. Keep in mind that cat's have complex musculature in their paws to support those retractable claws: muscles and claws that are big and strong enough for them literally carry the cats entire weight while climbing. Scatching is like going to the gym to maintain paw, forearm and shoulder muscles. Cats need a solid and secure scratcher to get the exercise they require. All of our scratchers are designed with this in mind. Interesting side note: cats claws are retractable so that they stay sharp for climbing and hunting.
- One of the reasons cats scratch is to "mark" their territory; visible damage is key to satisfying this need. Cats like to see that they have done some damage when they scratch (this why leather couches are so tempting!) Sisal rope is ideal in this respect because each scratching session raises a few fibers (much like the bark in the picture below.) Cardboard scratchers get marked too, but they shed bits of paper all over your home in the process and don't last very long.
The trees cats scratch outside have textures very similar to sisal rope
- Note where the cat is scratching; if the cat prefers a horizontal surface (such as a carpet) get a horizontal scratcher. If the cat has been scratching door trim or something upright, get a post type scratcher.
- Put the scratcher where your cats hang around so that they
see it and do not have to go find it when in the mood to scratch. Some people
have good luck placing the scratcher near where the cats sleep because cats often
scratch when they wake (they do this to stretch.) Placing the scratcher near
where the inappropriate scratching occurs may help too. Some people find that
rubbing a bit of catnip on a scratcher will attract the cat. Keeping a favorite
toy near the scratcher may help as well.
- When cats scratch to mark their territory, they often choose prominent areas. They may do the same thing inside the house too, which is why they often choose to scratch the side of the couch that faces the room. The implication here is that it will help in some cases to place the scratcher in a prominent area. To help with this, one of our design goals was to produce some scratches that were attractive enough to earn a spot in a nice living space.
- After providing a suitable scratcher, cover the area where
inappropriate scratching occurs with something to discourage scratching.
Aluminum foil can work and there are special papers sold that will temporarily
stick to furniture or walls which have a texture cats dislike.
- Some people find it helpful to put a scratcher on each floor of a multilevel home so that there is always a handy place to scratch (of course the guy who sells scratchers is gonna say that on his website, but you can search the web and verify it! : )
- Cats typically avoid the smell of citrus or other strong smells. Place cotton balls or paper towels soaked in a citrus cleaner, lemon juice or strong smelling muscle rub near the spot you do not want cats to scratch. At the same time, rub catnip on the scratcher to attract the cat.
- When your catch a cat in the act of scratching in the wrong place, say "No!" loudly and firmly. Then gently redirect the cat to the correct place to scratch. Praise the cat extensively for scratching in the right place. The idea is to get the cat to associate good things with scratching where they are supposed to. Never "scare" a cat, this will confuse them and most likely teach them to avoid you. Also, never try to "punish' a cat, especially after the act has occurred. The cat will not be able to figure out why you are mad at them and will just get confused and nervous. Remember that praise works well with cats, punishment is unlikely to work at all.
- Sometimes cats scratch inappropriately because they have anxiety. Many things can cause anxiety; a new person or pet in your home, the loss of another pet or a person close to the cat, a stray cat hanging around outside a window, recent move, etc. Try to figure out what is causing the anxiety and see if you can address it. You can also redirect the cat to a proper place to scratch with lots of praise for scratching in the right place. Sometimes the scratching may be accompanied by other improper behaviors like spraying, yowling and aggression. A visit to vet, especially a vet who specializes in cats, can often be of great help.
- Scratching to get attention. The dead giveaway on this is twofold: (1) the cat scratches inappropriately only when you are around and (2) generally will look right at you while they are scratching (trying to gauge your reaction.) Try some short daily playtime's, tossing cat toys for them, playing with a string toy etc. Many of us lead busy lives, please don't forget that your cat needs your attention! People sometimes mistakenly believe that all cats are aloof and require little interaction with their human owners. While some cats require very little interaction, most require a moderate amount. Cats are highly intelligent creatures who have social needs.
- Part of the reason cats scratch is to remove the
outer "sheath" of their claw and expose a new sharp edge. If your cat
is not regularly climbing trees or using its claws for traction on a rough
surface, the claws will get too long and have a rough edge. Cats with long/rough claws may scratch
incessantly to shorten them. Trimming your cat's claws will address the
problem. If you can hear you cats claws "clicking" when the cat walks on a hard floor, the claws are probably too long.
Online cat forums can be an excellent source of ideas on addressing cat behavior problems. I am active on two that are particularly friendly and helpful:
The Cat Site – a very friendly and helpful site with great moderators. The Cat Site also has an excellent article archive that covers grooming, litter boxes, adoption, health, behavioral issues, ferals/strays and lots more. Before spending money on a book, be sure to check this resource out!
Bengal Chatter – this is a great site if you
have a hybrid cat. The site owner (Rozsmom) is an encyclopedia of knowledge on
cat behavior and health