Prevent Cat Clawing and Scratching: Why Cats Scratch
Scratching is part of every cat’s natural behavior and provides a number of necessary functions. The function that is likely most apparent to you as a cat caregiver is the visual marking of territory, which may not seem important in your home, but in the wild this provides important information to other animals in the area. Aside from visual marking, your cat’s paws contain scent glands that are used to mark their territory by depositing their scent where they scratch.
Scratching also removes the dead outer sheaths from the claws and is a therapeutic activity providing relaxation and stretching; therefore, aside from marking territory, scratching is necessary for your cat’s health and wellness.
Somewhere along the line declawing has become an acceptable means of altering a cat’s natural behavior among some animal caregivers. There are many reasons not to declaw your cat, but the two most relevant and obvious reasons are your cat’s necessary defenses and humane treatment of the animals in our care.
A cat without claws cannot efficiently defend themselves if they happen to get outside, nor can they climb a tree to escape from danger. Declawing your cat will effectively leave them defenseless all in the name of saving the arm of a sofa. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer that my cat shred the hell out of my favorite piece of furniture than to have him injured or killed because I chose my convenience and possessions over his ability to defend his life.
However, even if you are absolutely certain that your cat will never slip out through a door or find some escape to the outside world, declawing is not okay. Although many people seem to believe this procedure is painless and does not affect function, declawing is the cat equivalent of cutting off your fingertips at the last joint closest to your fingernail. Sure, you could learn to live without your fingertips, but after your long and painful recovery, do you think the function of your hands would ever truly be the same?
Now imagine that your hands are your primary physical defense mechanism and are also integral to your balance, and take a second to think about the fact that all the pain and loss of function did not benefit you at all and was purely to prohibit you from partaking in natural behaviors for the convenience of someone else.
Declawing is an inhumane practice that has been banned in some areas and will hopefully continue to move out of the realm of an acceptable practice and into its rightful place as another form of animal cruelty.
It is nearly impossible to prevent a cat from clawing and scratching completely. Cats don’t respond well to punishment, so going that route will likely just frustrate you and harm your relationship with your feline friend. Your best bet is to provide appropriate scratching opportunities, take steps to dissuade your cat from scratching where you don’t want her to and to encourage her to scratch her you-approved scratching post or mat.
The first step is to provide appropriate scratching opportunities that your cat will actually use. When selecting an appropriate scratching tool, keep in mind that the post or mat should be stationary and sturdy. If it moves (or falls over) when your cat attempts to scratch on it, it will likely be disregarded and your cat will go right back to scratching your favorite piece of furniture.
Also keep in mind that your cat will choose what she will and won’t scratch and it may take a few tries to find a scratching tool that suits her needs. For example, one of our cats will only scratch on a round mat of corrugated cardboard that fits inside his favorite toy, which is a round track with a ball for him to push around. They are becoming increasingly hard to find, so I purchased a rectangle cardboard mat for him and placed it next to his favorite toy, figuring that, since it was still cardboard, he would transition to it fairly easily. I even rubbed organic catnip on it to entice him, but he has completely ignored it and has only touched it to move it out of his way so he can lay down and lazily push his ball around the track.
Once you have found a scratching tool that both you and your cat can live with, it’s time to work on discouraging inappropriate scratching and encouraging appropriate scratching. There are several tools available to help dissuade your cat from scratching your favorite furniture, drapes or carpet. Most of them can be purchased online or at your local pet store, or you can make your own. Some of the most popular tools for discouraging your cat from clawing and scratching include double-sided tape, bitter apple or citrus sprays, vinyl caps for their claws, aluminum foil and plastic rug protectors (which are also great for keeping kitty off your counters).
In order to discourage your cat from clawing and scratching in particular areas, you must make that area less appealing for scratching. You can accomplish this by changing the texture to one your cat will find unpleasant (double-sided tape, aluminum foil, the points on the bottom of carpet protectors) and by removing your cat’s scent and adding one that she won’t like. Sprays designed to remove pet odors will remove your cat’s marking scents, which should help make the area less appealing for future scratching. Once you have removed your cat’s scent, add a scent that your cat will not like, such as citrus, which can be purchased at pet stores. Alternatively, you can make your own using orange essential oil or orange zest. You can even just place orange peels in the area and this may work just as well to dissuade your cat from scratching.
Other tips to keep in mind include keeping your cat’s claws trimmed to limit damage, making sure your cat has a variety of toys to keep him entertained and maintaining your patience while you and your cat come to terms on exactly how to meet his needs without destroying your furniture, curtains or carpet.
Do you have a cat that scratches furniture, walls or other spots that don’t particularly please you?
The more tips we share, the less likely frustrated caregivers might be to declaw the cats in their care, so please share your tips for encouraging appropriate scratching in the comments below!
Some scratchers are ridiculously expensive, but I'm including some affordable options below to show that you don't have to spend a lot to find a humane solution!
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