It’s a problem that many homeowners face: they’d love to have a cat, but are concerned that they will have trouble preventing the cat from scratching the furniture. Some homeowners opt to declaw their felines, but this practice is frowned upon by most cat-friendly vets and organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States. In “Declawing Cats: Far Worse than a Manicure” the society notes, “Pet caregivers should not consider declawing a routine prevention for unwanted scratching. Declawing can actually lead to an entirely different set of behavior problems that may be worse than shredding the couch.” The article details why the practice can cause pain for the animal and create issues that will be upsetting to both the pet and its guardian.
So if you want a cat but you also want to protect your furniture, what are your options? CatScratching.com explains that scratching is a natural behavior for your cat. Scratching is a territorial instinct employed by cats to place their mark in an area that they wish to establish as their turf. Cats mark their domains not only with visible signs of claw marks, but with a scent that comes from special glands. Scratching also serves as a type of exercise, as the act stretches the cat’s body and pulls and works the muscles of a cat's front quarters. Also, according to the site, it simply “feels good to scratch.” And the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) adds that scratching helps cats to sharpen their claws, another natural behavior. So it’s best not to attempt to eliminate the behavior, but instead to learn how to channel it in a way that will make both you and your beloved cat happy.
According to the ASPCA, “the best tactic when dealing with scratching is not to try to stop your cat from scratching, but instead to teach her where and what to scratch.” Providing scratching posts with different qualities and surfaces is a good start (some cats like horizontal posts, others vertical, for example). Once you notice that your cat enjoys a particular type of scratching post, provide additional, similar posts in a variety of locations around the house. Posts should be sturdy and tall or large enough for the cat to stretch fully. Some more tips:
- Scent posts with catnip to encourage your cat to investigate them. Hang toys on them and place them in areas where your cat will be inclined to climb on and use them.
- Discourage inappropriate scratching by removing or covering other desirable objects. Examples: Turn speakers toward the wall and put plastic, double-sided sticky tape, sandpaper or an upside-down vinyl carpet runner (knobby parts up) on furniture or on the floor where your cat has scratched inappropriately. Place scratching posts next to these objects so your cat has an acceptable alternative.
- Clip your cat’s nails regularly. This can be a tricky exercise, and it must be done right for the safety of both you and your pet. To learn how, read “Trimming Your Cat’s Claws” here.
- Consider putting plastic caps on your cat’s claws (see Soft Claws) so that your cat will do no damage if he or she scratches on something in your home.
- If you catch your cat in the act of scratching an inappropriate object, try startling him by clapping your hands or squirting him with water. Use this procedure only as a last resort, because your cat may associate you with the startling event (clapping or squirting) and learn to fear you. Keep in mind that punishment is never an appropriate or successful way to teach your cat.
- Ask a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) for help if you can’t seem to help your cat alter inappropriate scratching behavior.
According to the ASPCA, you should never do the following:
- Do not hold your cat by the scratching post and force her to drag her claws on it. This practice could seriously frighten your cat and teach her to avoid the scratching post (or you!) completely.
- Do not throw away a favorite scratching post when it begins to look used. Cats prefer shredded and torn objects (they can really get their claws into the material). Used posts also appeal to your cat because they smell and look familiar.
The ASPCA discourages declawing and tendonectomies (a procedure that severs the tendons in a cat’s toes so that she’s unable to extend her nails to scratch) because of the extreme pain that these surgeries inevitably cause. Both procedures are illegal in some European countries because they’re considered cruel to animals. The ASPCA only recommends such surgeries if a cat caretaker has unsuccessfully tried everything else to resolve scratching behavior and is considering euthanasia. With the help of the above tips, it should happily be unnecessary.